The Committee met to discuss the Department of the Premier 2019/20 Annual Report.
Members asked the Department for a breakdown of the location of the 630 internet hotspots and if rural areas are included; if there were set targets for internet access by communities as the figure of 120 000 people connected to internet was very low; who sits on the Advisory Central Committee and how it is appointed; if there were plans to address the lack of capacity in the Director General Support component and to fill vacancies in the Department; about decentralisation of staff as a strategy; if the Department provides guidance to other departments on employment equity and follows Employment Equity Commission recommendations; and about the R1.6m under-expenditure on the records management system.
The Committee met to discuss the Department of the Premier 2019/20 Annual Report with the Western Cape Premier Alan Winde and Director General, Dr Harry Malila,
Mr R Allen (DA) commended the Department on the clean audit outcome. He asked the Department to provide a breakdown of the location of the wi-fi hotspots and if rural areas are included in the mix.
Premier Winde replied that the Department website shows all the hotspot locations, including those in rural areas. It also shows all the schools benefiting from the programme.
Mr C Dugmore (ANC) asked if the five Vision-Inspired Priorities (VIP) focus areas – safe and cohesive communities; economy and job creation; empower our people; mobility and spatial transformation; innovation – would still remain the focal points for this current period. The figure of 120 000 people having access to internet each month was very low. This translated to 1.7% of the population, and he asked if the Department has set targets on this. He asked for the top 10 issues that have been raised by the public in the Contact Centres and if these have been shared with the relevant departments. The crime statistics were far away from the vision of safety in the Western Cape and he asked what the constraining factors are.
Premier Winde explained the VIP focus areas were still in place. Some of them touched on post Covid-19 recovery plans. The plans have been disturbed by the resurgence of the pandemic. The focus now was on having a vaccine and strategic discussions are ongoing. The VIPs are in the five-year strategic plan of the Department and tough decisions due to the budget adjustments had to be taken. More details would be sent to the Committee on the roll-out of internet to120 000 people, but it all depends on what one is measuring in terms of internet usage.
Western Cape Director-General, Dr Harry Malila, said that internet penetration is not only related to the 120 000 people, as access is given to 1900 schools in the province. More than 70 e-centres and libraries, including those in rural areas, have access to internet.
Mr Hilton Arendse, Deputy Director General for e-Innovation Centre: Department of the Premier, stated rural libraries were connected to the internet. The focus of the Department is on the outcome of the internet access programme.
Premier Winde informed the Committee that information on the top 10 issues comes out every Thursday of the week. The information is sent to various affected departments. These issues are not directly affecting the strategy of the Department and are mostly about employment and women’s issues.
Dr Malila said the current concerns are mostly about Covid-19, local government, jobs, housing, tenders and safety. These issues are reflected in the key strategies of the Department. Safety is the number one priority of the province and there are specific plans in place to focus on law enforcement, safety enhancement and crime prevention in vulnerable areas. There is close collaboration with the Departments of Health and Police as crime is a problem of the Health Department. The Department of the Premier is working closely with neighbourhood watches, education and Public Works Department, and religious institutions. He went on to say there is a joint safety plan between the Departments of the premier and safety. The Premier is the chair of the Safety Cabinet and works closely on the VIPs. Every fifth week the provincial cabinet deliberates on crime matters with the City of Cape Town and Departments of Police and Justice.
Ms W Philander (DA) asked in which Department programme did the vacancies have the most impact, and were there attempts to develop skills within the Department.
Dr Malila explained the filling of vacancies depends on budget availability and the critical nature of the position. The budget for filling of positions is approved by the Budget Committee after it has received a motivation for the filling of a critical post.
The Chairperson asked for the set targets to achieve the vision of Safe Western Cape; and asked for the latest on the Neotel contract.
Dr Malila replied that discussions on safety are held weekly in cabinet meetings. The SAPS Provincial Commissioner attends these meetings. New measurements have been set for targets for crime prevention. The mayors of districts are also given a platform to update the safety committee on what is happening in their areas. The Neotel contract would still run for the next four years. The Department has started discussions on the contract and would continue to look at the changes happening in the environment to see if the private sector would like to be involved in broadband rollout.
Mr Dugmore asked if the Department had set targets for internet access in communities as he felt the figure of 120 000 people connected to the internet was very low.
Dr Malila replied that their focus was looking at the impact of internet access on people and to see how the system has improved their livelihood. The focus is not on the numbers.
Premier Winde replied that it has been observed that people are checking the internet for jobs, research (for school projects), and health related questions.
Mr Arendse replied that the Department has requested to do a presentation to the Committee on the broadband rollout to get into more details about it. Education and Health are the Department's clients for broadband. The Department would do an impact evaluation and look at technology landscape. It would also look at how the broadband financial model would be funded and if the Department would need to source it from more than one service provider. The Department does not have a specific target for the internet hotspots. The ultimate target is to have 1600 hotspots, but the Department does not have a set target on the number of people who have to have access to internet. The major focus is on impact.
Dr Malila explained that when it comes to safety the main focus is to reduce interpersonal violence. The Department wants to implement its strategy across the hotspots and track the causes and consequences of crime. Since the Department has looked at what is happening in crime hotspots areas, the focus would be on data alerts and the interventions that would be made. The Department would ensure there is alignment between national, provincial, and municipal priorities. The Premier has held discussions with religious institutions on crime, especially on gender-based violence in both urban and rural areas.
The Chairperson asked why the Department could not piggyback on the current broadband supplier instead of waiting for another four years with Neotel.
Premier Winde replied that the Department has got to look at this matter differently. The private sector rollout has costs because there has to be a return on investment. Discussions are ongoing about contracts and there is a need to look at the legalities.
The Chairperson asked who sits on the Advisory Central Committee and how it is appointed.
A Department official replied that the Advisory Central Committee is set up by Provincial Treasury and its members are from Provincial Treasury and the Department of the Premier CFO. It deals with procurement matters above R5m or transactions of high value.
Mr Dugmore asked if there were plans or resolutions to address the filling of vacancies in the Department, and asked about the decentralization of staff as a strategy.
Dr Malila indicated they have information on every post that is in the advertisement process. They are not aware of any challenges about the filling of vacancies. The centralization of staff was a model that has been running for the past six years and is being reviewed. It is efficient and the Department is busy with analytics to see where people are deployed and if they are effective. They are looking at skills gap and training.
The Chairperson asked about the status of the Presidential Hotline in the Western Cape. He asked for definitions of the following: resolution and contact ticket. He referred to the achievements on social media and asked if the figures refer to unique users or the number of times one has gone to the link with the same address.
Mr Arendse replied that the provincial Hotline is linked to the national programme. It has dedicated people to manage the calls related to national, provincial, and municipal matters. Responses to callers are given after three days. ‘Resolution’ refers to when you report back to the caller within three days. ‘Contact ticket’ refers to when an entity makes a contact with the Department. That contact is logged into the system. ‘Social media’ refers to the people who are following the Department on social media and engage with the Department.
Mr Dugmore asked if there were plans to address the lack of capacity in the DG support component.
Dr Malila replied that all positions at senior management level have been filled. The challenges are in the middle level as they are unaffordable to fill. That is why the Department started to re-use people in different spaces. The Department needs to balance between filling the vacancy and ensuring money is available. The operating model of the Department has been changed on key items that need to be delivered. The DG support component is not optimised. There is no Chief Director to pull things together. The CFO is looking at the financial component. The responsibilities of the Chief Director are being shared by other staff members. The challenge is the Department does not have the financial muscle to deal with vacancies.
Mr Arendse added the risks are few. The Department was re-organising itself and putting up a new model. They need to look at the whole CI. Critical posts have been filled. The process is being managed successfully. The Department is optimising what it has got.
In response to Mr Allen asking if there are plans for Pay Project interns next year, Mr Arendse said that the matter was still under discussion by management.
The Chairperson asked what measures are in place to deal with management that is under stress. How are expectations managed when a person has been acting for three years?
Dr Malila explained they communicate with teams and the staff get feedback on internal matters. A wellness programme is provided. There are counselling services, trauma debriefing and group sessions are also provided. There are webinars that guide management on the dynamics of a diverse workplace. Temporary capacity depends on the availability of money if there is excess work. An acting period is allowed for six months; others do act only for personal development purposes.
Mr Dugmore asked what progress has been achieved on the alcohol reduction strategy during 2019/20, and he asked if the Committee could get the evaluation report on Higher Education.
A Department official replied that a fair amount of work had been done on the alcohol reduction strategy. Illegal establishments have been shut down. The challenge has been on focusing on tricky legal matters; for example, alcohol gets confiscated, then the illegal owner pays an admission guilt fee and get the alcohol back. Many amendments have been done. The City of Cape Town does not give liquor licences easily because there is zoning that needs to be considered. The legalization of shebeens has advantages because the owners will get alcohol cheaper than using a middleman.
The Department official then went on to say the CHET Evaluation Report looked at how to increase research grants and strengthening of partnership and collaboration between the four universities in the Western Cape. An Investment of R500 000 has been made.
The Chairperson asked for clarity on the under-expenditure of R1.6m.
A Department official replied that the expenditure was related to an enterprise content management (ECM) system. The Department had to sort out allocations with sister departments, but that came too late for the Department. The ECM is a Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport (DCAS) project. The Department can only procure once it gets funds from the other departments. There was a delay in performance. Challenges were experienced in the licence procurement from DCAS as DCAS could not get different packages for different departments. Hence the under-expenditure on ECM.
The Chairperson asked for clarity on the meaning of ‘insufficient progression’ as stated during exit interviews.
Dr Malila replied that the supervisor talks with the staff member who has resigned. People who resign are not obliged to give reasons and, in fact, staff members choose not to give reasons. ‘Insufficient progression’ means the person has an opportunity elsewhere to progress and the person sees limited progression at the current workplace.
Mr Dugmore remarked that the Department needs to provide guidance to other departments about employment equity. Diversity has taken a blow, for instance, in the Education Department. He asked to what extent is value given to diversity. He wondered if the Department of the Premier was taking seriously the Employment Equity Commission recommendations.
Mr Michael Hendrickse, DDG for People Management, Department of the Premier, replied that it is important to ensure compliance when dealing with employment equity. The Department has a recruitment policy to ensure employment equity is given consideration. The appointments are done by the HOD or delegated personnel below the HOD. Employment equity is about diversity and inclusivity. A draft was being finalised on these two areas. The Department does consider the Employment Equity Commission recommendations.
The Chairperson asked if employees working in the e-centres are permanent or contractual. He asked if the beautification of the e-centres was done by the Department of Public Works or sub-contractor, and if these centres were disability friendly. He asked for the definition attached to leave because a person exposed to Covid-19 cannot be in the office physically but may not have medical aid to access a medical certificate.
Mr Hendrickse replied the Department has a special leave policy when the employer initiates the leave. This means it does not come off the employee’s annual leave. A good example is the Covid-19 lockdown rules. Sick leave requires a medical certificate. If you work from home, you are still deemed to be on duty. The matter is still being considered for those for those who have to be physically at work.
Mr Arendse replied the Department was providing strategic oversight on the e-centres. The Cape Access user is meant to give rural users a chance get computer skills and experience so that opportunities are open for them to move on. Local contractors are used for doing the beautification. Employees of these e-centres also come from the same locality. Everything is localized, and provision is made for the disabled, including those who have eyesight problems.
Premier Winde thanked the team for providing answers to the Committee. He said the Annual Report process gives one time to reflect. Commitment from the DG and his team is clear. They are stepping up. He commended the Committee for exposing the weaknesses of the Department ensuring it continues to strive for improvements.
The Committee resolved that the Department should forward the following:
• a report on all disciplinary findings
• latest report on the Pay Projects
• monthly breakdown of top 10 issues received from the Contact Centres for 2019/20
• document providing targets for people to have access to the 630 internet hotspots
• list of faith-based organisations involved in the forum set up by the Premier.
The Committee raised concerns that there were no targets set for people to have access to the 630 internet hotspots and that the figure of 120 000 people having access to the internet hotspots was very low.
The Committee adopted the meeting minutes of 27 November 2020.
The meeting was adjourned.
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