DPSA, CPSI, NSG & PSC Quarterly Reports; with Deputy Minister

Public Service and Administration, Performance Monitoring and Evaluation

03 February 2021
Chairperson: Mr T James (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee convened in a virtual meeting to consider the quarterly reports of the Public Service Commission (PSC), the National School of Government (NSG), the Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI) and the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA).

The PSC’s report highlighted that some government departments were not adhering to the requirement that invoices had to be paid within 30 days, and this had resulted in an influx of complaints from irate unpaid suppliers. Members were concerned that over R320 000 had been spent on personal protective equipment (PPE), despite the fact that Covid-19 had curtailed its face-to-face activities and many staff members were working from home. They also wanted to find out how the Commission was engaging and assisting the provinces to fill vacant commissioners’ posts.

The NSG drew attention to the work it had done to conduct online classes during the lockdown. Fully virtual classes were being held in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, whose participants included political officer-bearers and senior public servants. Because it was now more exposed to the internet, new advanced cybersecurity software had been deployed and included a new advanced internal firewall, in addition to the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) government firewall. It would be piloting the zero rating of online learning offerings, which would benefit learners as there would be no data costs involved.

Members asked about pre-entry examinations and whether these would now be mandatory across the public service. They encouraged the NSG to invest more in online and virtual training capabilities in response to the pandemic, and to solicit help from other departments on cybersecurity. They also questioned the role of the Chinese government in providing training to South African public servants, and expressed concern over the appropriateness of receiving training from a state that was not a multiparty democracy.

The CPSI said a repository of innovations – both local and global -- in response to Covid-19 challenges was being compiled, and would be available online on its website. The e-leave management system from the Eastern Cape province would be replicated at the CPSI as part of assessing a possible national-wide roll-out. To support this and other digitising initiatives, it was exploring ways of strengthening its internal system development capacity. SITA had been approached in this regard, due to its current lack of internal capacity.

Members wanted to know about the innovations the CPSI had developed in response to Covid-19, and their impact. They were concerned with its 16% vacancy rate, and asked it to fast track the appointments into those positions. They encouraged the CPSI to move aggressively towards e-government.

The DPSA’s reports showed that some departments were not complying with the required finalisation of disciplinary cases within 90 days, while quarterly reports on compliance and performance had not been produced due to disruptions largely caused by Covid-19.

Members asked the DPSA to submit a written list of departments that were missing the deadlines in disciplinary cases so that they could be brought to account. They also asked it to clarify why there had been delays in implementing budgeted salary adjustments for the NSG. The Committee was generally worried that quarterly reports had not yet been submitted.

Meeting report

Opening remarks

The Chairperson welcomed all Members to the Committee’s first meeting of the year. He said Corona Virus was still making it impossible to meet normally, and many lives had been lost around the world. In the past week, they had lost Minister Jackson Mthembu, who was an upright public servant with high moral standards and ethics. He requested Members to observe a moment of silence in honour of the Minister.

He introduced a new Member to the Committee, Dr M Gondwe (DA), who replaced Ms M Clarke (DA).

The purpose of the meeting was to receive presentations on the first and second quarter performance for 2020/21 of the Department of Public Service and Administration (the DPSA), the Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI), the National School of Government (NSG) and the Public Service Commission (PSC).

Ms Sindi Chikunga, Deputy Minister of Public Service and Administration, was present in the meeting. Minister Senzo Mchunu submitted an apology for non-attendance.

Public Service Commission quarterly report: quarter one and two

Advocate Richard Sizani, Chairperson: Public Service Commission, thanked the Chairperson and expressed his condolences for the loss of the Chairperson’s family member on behalf of the PSC. He welcomed the new member of the Committee Dr Gondwe, commenting that he noticed that the DA had reinforced its ranks with doctors, as there was now both Dr Schreiber and Dr Gondwe. He also welcomed Dr Somadoda Fikeni to the Commission.

The PSC would be giving a report on the first and second quarters of 2020/21, from April to June and from July to September 2020. These two quarters were heavily affected by the Covid-19 lockdown, which also affected the performance. The PSC had adjusted, like many other government departments, and was able to ensure that staff worked outside and that they had computers and all the equipment needed to deal with the protection of staff. As such, they were able to perform and meet some targets, although they did not meet all of them.

Secondly, one of the things that had affected the PSC in 2020 were the allegations made against the Director-General (DG), which had caused him to be suspended by the President, and for Minister Mchunu to be assigned to conduct disciplinary proceedings. This had affected the PSC badly, because it dealt with ethical issues and they had to fight to deal with it. He thanked the Committee, the Presidency and Minster Mchunu for helping PSC to deal with the matter, which was sensitive. He reported that the Disciplinary Committee had sat, and the Director-General was dismissed from the PSC. Now, through the Presidency and Minister Mchunu, the post of DG was being advertised. The PSC was working hard to rebuild the image of the Commission. It had never stopped working, which was why it had managed an audit, but they acknowledged the knock it had taken during the period.

Although the Corona virus was very hard throughout the country, the PSC did not lose any members of staff. However, 6% of their staff had been affected by the virus and they had to go for isolation for 10 to 14 days, and work was affected. They were confident that by the end of the year, they would meet their targets. While they were still trying, there were some shortfalls which would be indicated in the presentation by the Acting DG.

He thanked the portfolio committees in the provinces and nationally for helping the PSC with Commissioners. During the period under review, it had received Commissioner Gxoyiya on 20 June 2020 from the Northern Cape, and the national Committee had also assigned Dr Fikeni, who began on 1 February 2020. He looked forward to the opportunity to build the Commission to further heights and profile it as an institution of good governance and ethical conduct. There was still one vacancy for a National Commissioner which was supposed to have been be filled in the Fifth Parliament but had not been filled. They expected that it would be filled in this sitting. They needed the help of the Chairperson and the Committee as they tried to exert pressure for this, as there were still three outstanding Commissioners from Mpumalanga, KZN, and Limpopo.

He said PSC had had very fruitful engagements with the Committee during the period, and the Committee had given it several tasks on which the Acting DG would report. The PSC was, however, restricted by limited resources and the need to address outputs. While he was not using this as an excuse, during the period they had had two cuts in their budget from Treasury -- a cut of 8% and another of 11%. They still believed that the PSC would still achieve its tasks. Its performance indicated that in the first quarter, the Commission had met 100% of the targets, and it the second quarter, it had met 83%. He had been assured by all the teams and commissioners that by the end of the financial year, with all the challenges, they would still meet all the targets. He handed over the Acting DG to give a full presentation.

Ms Irene Mathenjwa, Acting Director-General, PSC, said the report of the first two quarters covered the performance which was carried out mostly during COVID-19 lockdown levels. Although it was limited when compared with the previous years, it demonstrated the PSC’s resolve to ensure that there was continuity in the work.

In Programme Two (Administration), the late payment of invoices by delinquent departments made a mockery of the country’s democracy. From October to November 2020, it had received 89 new grievance cases and it was also anticipated that the number of grievances would increase as departments and employees struggled to comply with the prescripts given by the current environment. The PSC also facilitated outstanding pension payouts to retired public servants.

In Programme Three (Monitoring and Evaluation), the quarterly media briefings on the non-payment of suppliers by government led to increased visibility of the PSC, with an influx of complaints received from irate unpaid suppliers. In the financial management report, there was R11.3m (4.9%) under-spending on the cost of employment (COE) due to vacant posts, including those of commissioners. For Covid-19 expenditure, R320 523 was used to purchase face masks, gloves, acrylic screens, social distancing stickers and tape.

Discussion

Ms B Maluleke (ANC) welcomed Dr Fikeni and wished him well. She hoped there would be some changes and good input that he would bring to the PSC. She asked about the existing vacancies for Commissioners, and how far the PSC was in ensuring that the provinces that had vacancies for Commissioners were filling them? Some things may have been delayed because of Covid-19, but there was a need to ensure that provinces had a full component of Commissioners.

On expenditure, the presentation showed that about R320 000 had been used for personal protective equipment (PPE). She thought that because of the lockdown during the two quarters, most staff members were working from home. As such, why was so much money used on PPE, when people were not working from the offices?

Ms M Lesoma (ANC) aligned with the Chairperson’s sentiments in his opening remarks about the late Minister Jackson Mthembu and other colleagues who had been lost since December to date, and extended condolences to the families. She welcomed Dr Fikeni and said the Committee looked forward to working with him through the PSC, as he also brought in new ideas to restore an ethical public service, as expected. The Acting DG had addressed some of the questions that she wanted to raise.

On the level of grievances that the Commission had been receiving during Covid-19, which were now increasing, which Departments were leading in receiving complaints? At what level were these, and what was the turnaround time in responding to the grievances? This was important, because the public servants needed to be healthy and emotionally stable. She said the Commission may opt to respond to this in writing, since it required a detailed explanation. The Acting DG should use whatever mechanism she had to ensure that she conveyed the message of the Committee to the provinces that still had vacancies for provincial Commissioners that had not yet been filled. While it was the responsibility of the Presidency, writing to the Committee through the Public Service Commission, it was all the same family, so she could add value to make sure that there was a positive response from the remaining provinces.

Mr S Malatsi (DA) congratulated Dr Fikeni on his appointment, and asked a question to follow up on what Ms Maluleke had asked regarding vacancies within provinces. Could the Commission provide a target deadline for when provinces with vacancies aimed to fill them, so that in the Committee’s tracking of developments, it would be able to do so while being mindful of the timelines?

Regarding the late payment of invoices by departments, he noted that in the presentation there was an interesting choice of words used, referring to the departments as “delinquent.” The failure of departments to pay invoices on time was a persistent concern. There was lack of punitive measures for the Accounting Authorities of these departments, and lack of consequence management for Executive Authorities. There should be a point where the Committee stopped bemoaning the repeated offences by these departments simply because there was no punitive element. The consequences in a Covid-19 period were far higher, because both small and big businesses which were doing business with the state and the private sector were going through a very difficult period. The government should be exemplary in the payment of invoices, especially when all compliance matters had been dealt with. There should be consequences to ensure that there in progress in the interventions that had been put in place to improve Government efficiency.

Ms R Komane (EFF) congratulated Dr Fikeni on his appointment and wished him well in his new office. She welcomed Dr Gondwe as a new member of the Committee. She commended the steps that had been taken against the DG of the Commission, who had been found guilty and dismissed. She urged that the filling of the post be fast-tracked, so that the work of the Commission became more efficient. She commended the Commission for the clean audit for the financial year.

The Committee had raised very serious dissatisfaction because there were still invoices not paid within the 30-day period, especially during the lockdown period. While accepting the Commission saying there had been warnings issued, but issuing a warning did not necessarily send a clear message. Though the Commission should be commended for having consequence management, it was the hope of the Committee that this would be a lesson learnt, and that people would be working harder so that there should not be incidences of some invoices not being paid within the stipulated timeframe.

There was need for the Commission to work with more speed in filling vacancies. Listening to the presentation, it may seem that it was only 10%, but 10% was far too many vacancies, especially with the current unemployment rate in the country. The Committee recommended that the Commission work with speed in filing the positions. Could the Commission indicate how they were engaging and assisting the provinces to fill the Commissioners’ posts?

On the Covid-19 presentation that was made, it was very alarming to note that PPE spending was way too much, given the fact that staff had been working from home. Could the Commission indicate why this expenditure was so high?

Dr Gondwe thanked Members for the warm welcome to the Committee. She was happy to note that the PSC was proactive in its work. It was good to hear that they have been proactive by conducting inspections at schools when they heard that schools were opening. The Commission had also helped some public servant with payments for their pensions. She encouraged the PSC to continue being proactive.

While it was good to have publication of opinion pieces, it would also be better to do things that were measurable and tangible, such as helping with the resolution of disciplinary cases at various government departments, and ensuring that invoices were paid on time. The presentation had made mention of a document compiled with details of the challenges impacting service delivery during the pandemic, and interventions that the PSC had made. Could the Commission share this document with the Committee?

Although the Commission held a lot of media briefings, were the recommendations and interventions of the PSC reaching the ordinary person? Was it communicating with members of the public? She felt that many people were still looking to the Public Protector for recourse instead of coming to the Commission for things that they could be helped with. She wondered if there was interaction with members of the public, not just the media and high-level interactions, where articles and communiqués were published. There should be more visibility on the part of the PSC so that the work trickled down to the ordinary person. Seeing what happened at the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), where people were standing in long queues in the sun, gave one the impression that there was very little that was being done. If the Commission had worked with SASSA and the South African Police Service (SAPS), they would have found they were available and willing to assist, especially on service delivery.

Mr C Sibisi (NFP) commended the PSC for assisting public servants who had failed to get their money while the Government Pension Fund (GPF) was failing. He recommended that the Commission find out what the problem with the GPF was. Why was it paying public servants so late? The Commission must assist in solving the problems.

The Commission had visited the provinces prior to the re-opening of schools, and it would be proper for the Commission to share their findings with the Committee on the state of readiness of the provinces. There were many complaints that schools had not complied, especially with water and sanitation. What were the findings of the Commission? Were they happy with the findings presented by the Department of Education in all the provinces?  

Ms M Ntuli (ANC) referred to the late payment of invoices and the warnings issued, and asked if the PSC had its own reporting strategy for monitoring and evaluation on weekly basis. The PSC should not be reactionary, as this was jeopardising its work. If invoices were paid after 30 days, it meant there was no proper monitoring. Did the PSC have such a reporting strategy? Were there meetings before the month ends? Much had been said about working with departments, especially SASSA, during the lockdown. Was the Commission listening only to the whistle blowers, or did they have their own mechanism for getting into the findings?

The issue of the R350 grant was very new, and obviously the Commission was expecting a lot of unexpected outcomes. She was once hijacked in one of the post offices by people who knew her as a Member of Parliament. They were telling stories of what was happening around the grants. The queues remained very long, and people were not paid. Some post offices were complaining that people would come, only to find that SASSA had not yet transferred their money. There were a lot of complaints about this.

Sitting on 10% of vacancies was not a good thing, because everyone was allocated a task, so it meant the 10% of tasks were now added to other people’s tasks. This was not a good thing. How would the Commission fast-track this? Vacancies were not welcome at all.

Ms C Motsepe (EFF) said she did not want to repeat what other Members had already said, but she wanted to emphasise the fact that the Commission did not honour the requirement for 100% compliance. It had indicated that a person who was responsible would be disciplined -- could it indicate the outcome of the disciplinary measures that had been taken? On the delay in recruitment of Commissioners, could the Commission submit to the Committee a finalised report in the next meeting? Were the 89 grievances related to Covid-19 challenges? The Commission should be specific on each grievance in the next meeting, or send the information to the Committee in writing.

PSC responses

Adv Sizani referred to the vacancies of Commissioners, and said that there was one vacancy at the National Commission, which was from the fifth Parliament. They had already asked the Presidency to write to the Speaker to get it filled. They had also asked the Speaker, who had also written to the Presidency, to write to the provincial Premiers to insist that the three vacancies must be filled. They had acted to ensure that this was done. They had no excuse at the national and provincial level for why there were delays in filling the Commissioner vacancies, because every time he would alert the Presidency three months before a Commissioner leaves, and the Presidency would write to the Speaker and the Premiers to advertise a full three months before the Commissioner would leave. That was why the National Parliament should be congratulated, as they had done very well on Commissioner Fikeni. They had filled the position before Commissioner Ben Mthembu left in December. This showed that it could be done, but the Portfolio Committees sometimes delayed. For the provinces, he was not aware of what was happening with Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KZN, but they had asked the Presidency to write to that. On assistance given to provinces to fill the vacancies, he said in a number of cases --as had happened in KZN, the Western Cape, and Eastern Cape – they had invited the Commission to tell them what competencies of Commissioners were required, as well as the mandate of the Commission and what it did. The NSC provided these briefings and support, but it was largely upon request, because the Commission usually sent documentation to the provinces related to the filling of the vacancies.

The Commission would respond on grievances to the Committee in writing as soon as possible. A full report would be given, because the Commission did a trend analysis.

On filling the vacancy of the DG of the Commission, Minister Mchunu had been delegated to fill the DG position, and he had already been aligned with the Commission and was being assisted. He was already processing the filling of the role. As such, the Commission had no worries about this. This process would be fast-tracked.

The late payment of invoices by Departments was a very tragic situation. The Commission had studied the situation and had even had workshops on it. They had read the information from Treasury and had looked at the departments and provinces. In his Department, 30 days was the maximum. The PSC managed to pay within seven days, except for the one staff member who had made a mess and was given a warning and disciplinary measures. In many Departments, the Commission checks, but what they had found was that one of the problems was not following processes properly when the item was procured. There were procedural and procurement procedures which were justified, and then the Department could question. Sometimes, there was a question of overclaims, fights about the claims, and whether the work had been done and completed. The Commission understood that there could be legitimate delays in such cases. However, what they had found was that there was also corruption involved, as there was the notion of “the 10%.” The official calls the service provider and says, “I am going on leave tomorrow, but I have your invoice on my desk. I could sign it now or when I come back. What are you saying?” Others do it crudely, and demand that the service provider would get paid only when that was done. Corruption was so embedded, because it started from the day the application was submitted. The person who received it wanted a bribe. The one who processed it wants a bribe. The person who approved it wanted a bribe. There was a lot of corruption. The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and Treasury were now looking at this process of procurement. Sometimes, when the officials mess up, they try to look for a small non-existent problem to act as an excuse. The PSC had made a recommendation which was accepted, that a DG who had not kept to the 30-day payments regime and had undermined small businesses especially, must not get a bonus. Secondly, the PSC had insisted strongly that if the invoice was not paid on time, the Department must pay interest. This interest must reflect on the DG. With the AG’s powers now, the DG must probably pay back that money. The Commission was trying push very hard on this, and were dealing with it.

On the comments made by Dr Gondwe, he said the Commission was having challenges because of Covid-19 and sometimes a lack of resources. There were citizen forums held in the provinces, where issues of service delivery were discussed. Commissioners who worked in those areas could confirm that they had been involved in KZN with children who were crossing a river on foot, and had managed to get a bridge built. Houses had been built in Mpumalanga through the same citizen forums. Sometimes the Commission worked with the Public Protector and the Human Rights Commission as partners in the constitutional sphere.

Another important thing which the Commission did, which Commissioner Fikeni would likely be doing since he was media friendly, were inspections. The Commission carried out both announced and unannounced inspections, where they could just drop in at Steve Biko Hospital -- sometimes with the media and other times without them. They inspect and produce reports. They talk with the CEO of the hospital about the problems, or raise them with the Department.

Where the Commission had previously asked the Committee for help or where a matter was worrisome, they would ask the Committee to hold a hearing. In the hearing, the Commission would present, including the concerned departments or non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and the matter was handled. There had been some hearings with the Committee before on such matters of importance.

On the question of SASSA, he said unfortunately SASSA was a public entity and the PSC did have oversight over public entities. It was the Public Protector which handled Public Entities. However, where the Commission heard about entities like the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) in transport, they would follow up by approaching the Department, or in this case, Social Development, to let them know that their agency was creating problems so that the Department could write and advise. If the Commission were to write to the CEO, the CEO would just ignore it because they knew that the Commission did not have a mandate.

Acting DG Mathenjwa responded to the question on the Covid-19 expenditure and the line item of R320 000 which Members were concerned about. She said PSC had procured items such as face masks, gloves, acrylic screens, social distancing stickers and tapes before the lockdown. Members would recall that everyone was preparing and waiting for guidance from the President on the lockdown, and at that time Covid-19 was already there, so procurement had to be made for all officials. This was a once-off item at both the national and provincial level. These were permanent items. Cloth masks had been procured so that they could be washed and worn. Staff were still wearing the same masks.

The PSC had not shut down completely. There were sections of the office that had continued to operate when other officials were at home, such as grievance and corporate services sections, and those investigating anti-corruption cases. The other problem, with items such as the acrylic screens, was that from the level of deputy director downwards, people shared offices, often with three or four people. It was therefore critical to procure acrylic screens so that everyone could feel secure in their own space. That was where the money had gone. It was a once-off purchase and was meant to make sure that officials who were in the office were really protected and not exposed to Covid-19. Part of this procurement was also to make sure that when everyone returned to the office, the items were in place. Officials were asking whether these things were in place to make sure that people felt safe and their lives were not threatened.

As the chairperson of the Commission had responded, it would give a written report detailing the Department’s grievances and their nature, those that the Commission dealt with and also those that were dealt with at the level of the Department.

A report would be given to the Committee on late payments, indicating which departments were defaulting. The Commission engaged with them continuously and raised this matter. This was one area where the Commission really wanted to have the support of the Committee. She asked for approval from the Chairperson to alert Members of other Committees on departments that were defaulting in this area.

There were two issues where public servants had not been paid their pensions. To a certain extent, there was a general lack of care among those who were sitting in departments and Human Resources to make sure that when their colleagues left the service, they packaged all required documents appropriately so that the file was complete when it went to the GPF. However, the problem was not only the departments -- there was also a problem at the GPF. The Commission had engaged National Treasury, but as the Chairperson of the Commission had said, the PSC did not have a mandate over public entities. National Treasury had been engaged at that level to request that they put their house in order by providing oversight over the GPF. The Commission was also engaging departments, heads of corporate services, and DGs of those departments where officials were not assisted. The Commission had also recommended to the GPF that continuous training should be offered to those in corporate services, to make sure that files were properly constituted so that when an official left the service, the file was processed with speed and payments were made.

On the readiness of schools, she said the PSC had paid several visits to schools, not only during 2020/21, but even before. Some of the things that the Commission had found when they visited schools were those that had already been raised with the Department of Education, such as infrastructure and the teacher-learner ratio. These issues had been raised in the past and the Chairperson of the PSC had written to the Minister of Education to say attention needed to be paid to them. It was unfortunate that at the time of lockdown, the same matters had been found wanting -- social distancing in a class of 50 learners with one teacher became difficult.

There were also issues relating to the cleanliness of schools and the use of pit latrines, which was totally unacceptable at the time of Covid-19. Some schools did not have water. The Commission had liaised with local municipalities and other Departments, such as Water and Sanitation, to make sure that those schools also had a supply of water. They had also found that on the first day of learning, some schools did not have masks. The Commission had worked with teachers in those schools to also alert their heads of departments (HODs) and the senior management service (SMS) personnel in those provinces on the issues that needed to be attended to.

Regarding the warning to the PSC official, she said the Commission had issued it when it was found that the official had contributed to the delay. Only one invoice had been involved. A warning was issued as consequence management for such behaviour. The track record of the Commission had been clean for several months in the past financial year. It had been communicated in the organisation that such behaviour could not be tolerated.

The Commission’s vacancy rate was at 6%, and they were working very hard to fill those posts. The issue with the PSC was that the vacancies were at the Commissioner level. A 10% vacancy rate was the norm, but they were currently at 6%.

Dr Fikeni thanked Members for the warm words of welcome, and said he would do his best in working with the team of PSC and the executive. He said in the Commission’s analysis, they were anticipating that there was higher risk where there were huge transactions of activities. The vaccination roll out, the stimulus packages on economic recovery, and tourism and infrastructure, were some of the areas that may be prioritised for monitoring and visits so that the risk of corruption was minimised.

 National School of Government: quarter one and two performance

Mr Busani Ngcaweni, Principal, National School of Government (NSG), offered condolences to the Chairperson and all Members who had lost their loved ones. The Executive had lost Minister Mthembu, which was painful for the NSG because he was a great supporter of the school. He always encouraged ministers and deputy ministers to be involved in the training as students. Unfortunately, they would be reporting on what had happened up to September, which was a bleak picture, but there was good news in the later months.

Describing highlights for the first two quarters, he said the online pre-entry programme for senior management service personnel, which went live on 15 July 2019, continued to be rolled out. Fully virtual classes were held in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, whose participants included political officer-bearers and senior public servants. The NSG had a fully effective eLearning presence, with courses being offered in the form of open and paid online courses.

The financial report indicated challenges due to limitations of the Covid-19 lockdown regulations, which meant face to face training had to be cancelled.

The full reconfigured organisational structure of the NSG had been consulted extensively with the DPSA, and was being submitted to the Minister for approval. Once approved, the NSG would consult with organised labour and follow a “match and place” process. The reduction in the compensation of employees (CoE) budget did place a significant strain on the NSG, particularly in light of the expanded mandate to provide education, training and development. Furthermore, key posts in the vote -- Chief Director: Corporate Services and Director: Legal Services – could not be filled.

On ICT, new advanced cybersecurity software had been deployed across the NSG and included a new advanced internal firewall, in addition to the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) government firewall. The NSG had appointed a new service provider for ICT outsourced services.

Spending for the six months was at 44% of the annual budget, and 98% of the year-to-date budget. The under-spending was mainly on CoE (R1.2 million), and was due to vacancies and budgeted salary adjustments not yet implemented. The NSG would also be piloting the zero rating of its online learning offerings, which would benefit learners as there would be no data costs involved.

Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI): quarter one and two performane

The Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI) told the Committee that two innovation workshops were not held since face to face gatherings could not be held as originally planned due to Covid-29 restrictions. Two online public sector workshops would be held in the third quarter.

Ongoing support was provided to the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Education towards the development and operationalisation of a School of Innovation. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was drafted to define the areas of cooperation and respective roles and responsibilities. A repository of innovations in response to Covid-19 challenges was being compiled, and included both global and local innovations. It would be available online as part of a revamped CPSI website.

The e-leave management system from the Eastern Cape province would be replicated at the CPSI as part of assessing a possible national-wide roll-out. To support this and other digitising initiatives, the CPSI was exploring ways of strengthening internal system development capacity. SITA had been approached in this regard, due to a current lack of internal capacity at the CPSI.

An amount of R9.1 million had been spent on COE up to 30 September, which was 40.88% of the compensation budget. The spending was slightly lower, by R1.4 million, than anticipated due to the vacant executive director's post. These functions were performed by internal capacity since February 2020. Consultancy services had amounted to R489 000), as the appointment of a service provider to provide risk management services for the 2020/21 financial year had taken longer than anticipated. The appointment was finalised in September, and the work would be concluded by December 2020.

In the replication project, the service level agreement for the implementation of the Sunward Park High School solution was not concluded in the first six months as anticipated. The replication of the solution in two other schools was expected to be finalised by 31 March this year.

 

Discussion

Dr L Schreiber (DA) said he welcomed the NSG’s move towards pre-entry requirements and examinations. He asked for confirmation if this meant it would now be mandatory across the public service, or limited to a specific part? How widespread was this requirement for pre-entry exams? If it was widespread, would they not be moving to a situation where there would be a need to have annual dates, when prospective public servants would get to write the exams en masse?

He asked about the draft framework on the professionalisation of the public service. Even though Members of Parliament were not listed on the schedule of people to be consulted, would they at least be given an opportunity to make inputs? He said the Committee was well placed to make practical suggestions, given all the reports it received. He had read through the document, and while there were some good aspects, it lacked in certain important respects. He hoped the NSG would consider getting input from the Committee.

He asked about the recent reports on the role of the government of China in providing training to South African public servants. What amount was being spent by the government of South Africa in getting that training provided by public servants from China? What were the principal's views on the appropriateness of getting training from a state that was not a multiparty democracy like South Africa? Did he view this as appropriate?

Dr Gondwe said she noted that in the 2019/20 financial year and into the 2020/21 financial year, the NSG performance training had been severely impacted due to the suspension of face to face training, and revenue of more than R10 million had been lost. She encouraged the NSG to invest more in online and virtual training capabilities, because there was talk of a third or fourth wave of the pandemic which the country would possibly go through. It was very important that the NSG put resources into online training, while face to face and contact training was important for those who did not have access to online resources. The NSG may consider having hybrid training venues, where they would ensure that people were receiving the training while observing Covid-19 protocols. She encouraged the NSG to continue developing online and virtual learning capabilities.

She asked about the concern mentioned in the presentation that the NSG had had a huge cybersecurity scare and had put in place cybersecurity tools to protect the ICT environment. The reality was that due to Covid-19, more people were engaging in online activities, including online work. The NSG would be compelled to invest in cybersecurity and capabilities. She encouraged it to work with other government departments that had mastered this. She was not sure if government departments were aware of this, but Defence Intelligence had a solid cybersecurity capability. They had helped banks that had been subjected to cyber-attacks or cyber terrorism to beef up their cyber security. She urged the NSG to solicit help and support from other government departments that had done very well, because as they continued with online activities, cyber terrorism and cyber-attacks were increasing.

She said the CPSI was supposed to be at the forefront of introducing innovation in the public service, and asked what its role had been during the pandemic. What had it done to ensure that the public service was able to meet the service delivery demands that had been brought on by the pandemic? The presentation talked about the compilation of a repository of innovations in response to COVID-19 -- could the CPSI give an insight into this repository? How many innovations were developed in response to COVID-19 by the Centre? What had been the impact of these innovations? Were they translating into tangibles and measurables in government departments?

She asked about the CPSI’s partnerships and collaborations with certain institutions mentioned in the presentation. However, she had not heard any mention about the Council for Industrial and Scientific Research (CSIR) or the Department of Science and Technology and Innovation centres at tertiary institutions. Were partnerships with those institutions taking place? It was important to tap into the capabilities of other centres that were leading in innovation. The presentation had indicated that the CPSI had software limitations, so those partnerships and collaborations were very important at that level.

Ms Lesoma said she did not have many questions because in the Committee’s previous engagement with the entities, Members had raised some of the issues which were also covered in the Deputy Minister’s opening remarks and during the presentations. She appreciated the CPSI for the ever-positive energy that the Acting DG continued to demonstrate. The organisational repositioning was still under way, which probably indicated that they would not be able to do some of the things pointed out by Dr Gondwe because of their limitations and further budget cuts. However, the example of the innovation that was happening in KZN and Gauteng would probably answer the question that Dr Gondwe had asked about relationships with other sciences centres. Was the CPSI not supposed to develop an innovation, whether internally or externally, and then bring it to the public sector so that it could improve the government’s service delivery -- not only just to improve it, but also to speed it up and save costs where possible? Was it not time for both the NSG and CPSI to move aggressively towards e-government? Could the NSG not improve its online and virtual training intake?

Referring to financial management, she said her understanding was that people who worked within finance or supply chain management (SCM) in various departments had tools of trade that would require them to attend training. This was an area that the Acting DG should address as an area of emphasis. She suggested that they should partner with the Public Service Commission to investigate thoroughly why there was a zero appetite for public servants at that level to register and take the opportunity of being trained and reminded about financial management protocols and good ethics.

While 2020/21 financial year money was also being spent on Covid-19 requirements, could they borrow from the activities and the chat box of the Auditor General’s (AG’s) timeline so that when they were audited, the issues that the AG may raise would have been dealt with. She appreciated that in the previous years there had been clean audit reports.

Ms Komane said it was worrying that the NSG still had vacancies, and that they were mentioned in every presentation. How far was the process towards the finalisation and approval of the organisational structure of school?

She applauded CPSI for working towards building internal capacity, which was what the country was striving for, but what had caused the failure to conduct the public sector workshops? There were not many financial and material logistics involved in organising these workshops. How safe were they from corruption in terms of doing bidding and evaluation processes through online committee engagements, since the CPSI had indicated that there were cyber threats? The 16% vacancy rate was far too high. What was CPSI doing to fast track appointments into the vacant positions? How could the Committee assist? There was so much unemployment, yet there were many vacancies. We could not celebrate the savings in vacant posts because there was a need to maintain the sustainability by addressing unemployment. There was also a need to maintain the SMS attractiveness to employees by avoiding contracts. In the presentations, they had stated that there were contracts which were due to end soon. This meant there would be a higher unemployment rate.

The CPSI had indicated that had saved on consultancy service fees. This was a very good step in the right direction. However, there was need to maximise the capacity within that institution so that they could move away from consultancy fees. By building capacity, officials would be able to do a better job than was being a being done by the consultants.

Ms Ntuli said there had indeed been disruptions because of the pandemic, but the Department was still there and operating. Clearly, there was an “elephant in the house” in the form of the vacancies at both the NSG and CPSI. She understood the disruptive effect of the pandemic on the NSG, as not everyone enjoyed the network and online training would not be smooth sailing. She commended them for what they had tried to do, and the new developments that they had introduced.

The Portfolio Committee had continually spoken of compulsory courses for the departments. Had they already undergone such courses? What had been the response from the departments, and had it yielded any results? It was not certain when this pandemic would return the country to normalcy, so they had to adapt to the new normal. However, work was guaranteed for the NSG, as this would help to lift the level of understanding and good work by the public service.

Ms Motsepe said CPSI had failed to conduct online workshops, since there were no financial implications. When there was money available and material logistics, there was plenty of corruption, but they did not want to conduct the training as there were no financial implications. What challenges were preventing the CPSI from holding training? Could it provide the Committee with details of the challenges? She asked if there would be a country-wide replication of the software solution of the distribution of the e-books and interactive contact, enabling the digitisation of handwritten lessons, assessments, homework, classwork, assignments, tests and exams.

Responses

National School of Government

Mr Ngcaweni responded to the question on the pre-entry examinations. He said that the NSG would send detailed information sheets on the new course called the Nyukela, which was a pre-entry course with an examination administered to anybody in the Republic who wished to apply for a post in senior management service (SMS) in government. Whether a person worked for an NGO, in the private sector, or was unemployed, they were eligible to apply. Those who worked in government, who may already be a director, chief director or a DDG, and wished to apply for a senior post, it was mandatory for them to do the course. One would not be appointed as a DG or an HOD in a provisional executive committee unless one had done the Nyukela as a pre entry examination. After taking a few questions from journalists about the Nyukela, he had challenged those who wished to understand and accept that this course prepared people to become ethical and modern civil servants, to do the course themselves because it was online, and it cost less than R300. When one successfully got an SMS job, the benefits far exceeded the R300.

In the professionalisation framework draft that was mentioned in the presentation, there were proposals to implement pre-entry exams at levels lower than SMS. However, these were only proposals, and they would have to go through a very long process before they could be realised. In countries like India, China, and others, it was compulsory for people who worked in government to write the pre-entry exams. These exams included modules, tests and assessments on issues of ethics, integrity, knowledge of government, and appreciation of the constitution. If one had not read the constitution, it was a guarantee that they would fail Nyukela. This was a filter for people who wanted to work as senior managers in the public service. This applied only to the national and provincial spheres -- it had not been adopted by the local government sphere yet.

This was the first full year of implementation. An assessment and review would be done. Based on the outcomes, the NSG would then negotiate with relevant structures like the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), who may decide to implement it in the local government sphere. If so, some modifications would have to be done, adding in the relevant modules. During the interviews, candidates were expected to bring their Nyukela portfolio.

On the professionalisation framework, NSG was consulting more than the stakeholders on the list that was shown earlier in the presentation. It wanted to come to the Portfolio Committee, having had the benefit of getting input and advice from professional bodies and other stakeholders. They would have engagements with organised labour. When the process was done, they would have a full workshop engagement with the National Planning Commission and the Public Service Commission, where they would be able to provide advice. The NSG would also come before the Committee. As would be indicated in the next presentation by the DG of the DPSA, there were important processes under way of making amendments to the Public Service Act and the Public Administration Management Act (PAMA). Some of the amendments that would be made in the two pieces of legislation would give effect to the proposals emerging from the professionalisation framework, and those that required legislation would then be factored into that process.

Regarding the partners of the NSG, he said it was a knowledge institution and had partnerships with universities in France, the USA, China, Germany, and Canada. They would be expanding. They had relationships with schools of public administration, just like the NSG itself, and mainstream universities in the countries mentioned and local universities. The type of training that it provided to public servants through these partnerships was not a political party ideological training. It was about practice and statecraft. The NSG’s view was that public servants, Members of Parliament and all employees of organs of state must be exposed to as much practice on statecraft as they could from global institutions. However, applying those practices in the South African content was different. For example, in the course that was being done with the China-Africa Institute in China on agriculture, public servants were exposed to methods of successfully supporting small-holder farmers at a district level and provide fertiliser and other essentials to a point where they became sustainable. Those were the principles that the country could learn from China, India and other countries. There were similar interventions in other countries, but in the USA the farming sector was highly mechanised, and there were not as many extension offices as there were in India, China and Latin America. This was what NSG was doing -- exposing public servants to the best practice models on statecraft. It did not get involved in the party politics or any such activities in any of those countries. It had relationships with universities in the USA, Europe and elsewhere, and these were helping South African public servants to be exposed broadly.

The R10 million revenue a month that had been lost had happened especially during the COVID-19 lockdown levels five and three, as fewer people were attending courses. The NSG had begun to recover in October, as more people were coming. That was why the NSG had even brought in ministers and mayors, because they wanted to show that the School was now open for business. Space was limited, but up to 35 people could be accommodated in a course in one of the biggest rooms. As earlier indicated, it had invested its limited resources in building ICT capability. They previously did not have Microsoft Teams, and had had to buy Zoom and Teams because they did not want to use the free versions, since those were risky. However, the challenge was that not all public servants could have access to Zoom and Teams. Even those who did, could access them only in the office. This limited their ability to be in training all the time.

For the virtual courses, most people were attending from the office because the computer and internet was located in their offices. However, for synchronous and asynchronous courses which were online, either guided or unguided people did need data if the course could be done in the comfort of their homes during weekends. Therefore, the zero-rating issue was very important. The NSG was encouraged because the Minister and the Deputy Minister were leading the conversation that a laptop should be a common tool of trade, regardless of an official’s level. In many departments, it was people at the deputy director level and upward who had laptops. As such, it became very difficult to bring the best of professors globally to train the public servants if they did not have a computer as a tool of trade. The laptop was critical, because some of these courses, like the ones with universities in North America, required one to be up at midnight. If they did not have a laptop, then they could not participate in the course. With some of these courses, the participants receive the same quality here in South Africa virtually, the same way as a student who would be attending in North America, the UK, Beijing and anywhere else. As such, tools of trade were important.

On cyber security, the NSG was collaborating with other organs of state, such as the University of Johannesburg, which would be seconding a cybersecurity expert to it. There was also a training programme involving the NSG, the Presidency and the University of Johannesburg for public servants on cyber security. The move to e-governance would be very important for the NSG, but for it to charge a premium, they had to invest in the quality of the content provided and bring in the best professors. It did not pay the government of China to provide the training programmes that were being delivered. The NSG did not pay, but rather made money, so in the strategic partnerships they had, they charged a management fee and the money came to the NSG. The government of China was not paid for a relationship with them -- instead they bring their expertise to South Africa. For most of the programmes within the European universities, there was generous support from the European Union, which was coming to an end this year. The NSG was putting in an application for a renewal of those programmes.

They were hoping that the new organisational structure would be approved by the end of this month. When the NSG came to report to the Committee again, it would be a done deal.

Ms Phindile Mkwanazi, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), NSG, responded to the question on why new salaries had not been implemented. She said the salary negotiations had been dealt with at a high level, and the salaries had not been approved. However, they were budgeted for, but could not be implemented until the approvals were in place. 

She said the vacancy level was affected by CoE budget cuts that were implemented just after senior personnel left the entity, and the positions could therefore not be filled.

Centre for Public Service Innovation  response

Ms Lydia Sebokedi, Acting Executive Director, CPSI, responded to the question about online workshops. She said the CPSI had planned for face to face workshops, where the content for face to face had some physical activities that attendees had to perform. When they revised the terms of reference, they had to consider that some of the physical activities could not be done. This had led to a delay, since they had to withdraw and start the process afresh. The CPSI was planning to host the workshops in the second quarter. The purchase order had been issued only in September, and it was too late for it to organise those sessions. That was why the delivery of the two workshops had been pushed to the third quarter. The money was in the budget, but they had spent less because they had gone online, so there had been no spending on venue, catering and other costs.

The CPSI had a replication programme, but they were also limited by the budget. For instance, with the e-learning solution, it cost about R170 000 to link one school, and with the CPSI budget of R34 million for goods and services and compensation, they were not able to roll it out to the whole country. Although they were limited by the budget, what they had done as part of creating awareness around this solution was to share with the provinces, so that they could find money within their budgets to link schools and deliver lessons through innovative ways. If the CPSI had enough money, they would roll the programme out to all the provinces, but unfortunately they could do only so much with a limited budget.

While the vacancy rate was high, they were hopeful that before the end of the financial year they would be able to fill the vacancies, as indicated by the Deputy Minister. This was becoming more urgent.

Regarding saving on consultancy fees, she said that as the structure was now, the CPSI was not even full-fledged in Programme One. Looking at its organisational structure, one would not see legal services, labour relations or internal audit, because the DPSA was rendering those services on the CPSI’s behalf. However, despite the budgetary constraints, the CPSI may have to take over those services. Unfortunately, because the CoE budget was ring-fenced and capped by National Treasury, it could not increase it. They had therefore been left with no option but to outsource some of the services. They would like to approach Treasury one more time, to see if additional money could be provided. As of now, if the DPSA stops rendering the services, the CPSI would have no choice but to outsource because the current savings on compensation had been only R1.4 million in this financial year. They could not create sufficient posts with R1.4 million.

On learning from other best practices on innovation, she said the CPSI did not have to reinvent the wheel. If it found an innovation in KZN, for example, they would take it to other provinces to implement. Sometimes the innovations were found in the worldwide media. However, the CPSI was limited by procurement processes in rolling out the innovations. They were trying their best, but the one person responsible for the reputation programme could only do so much. It would have been better if there were more posts in the reputation programme, so that foot soldiers were there who could that push its replication in the provinces. Unfortunately, they were currently limited by internal capacity.

Mr Pierre Schoonraad, Head of Research and Development, CPSI, responded to the question on the COVID-19 repository. He said the focus was slightly different, because it was a real time project that the CPSI was compiling, but the focus was to build future resilience in the public sector. The Committee could understand when dealing with a crisis, given the decentralised nature of the public service, one could not impose oneself on a hospital CEO who was inundated with challenges, for example. What the CPSI was looking at was building a more resilient public service also in the future. The repository covered issues of infection control, treatment, solutions like chatbots, self-assessment, screening, poverty alleviation in the midst of a crisis and different ways of doing that. It also dealt with behavioural insights, such as how to strengthen positive behaviour, contactless public service, including contactless education, online work, and identity verification. These were currently being uploaded on to the CPSI website, which was being revamped and would be available, with the focus on building future resilience.

The reason why the CPSI looked at cybersecurity and processes was to ensure the cybersecurity of their online work. If an official was working from home or remotely, issues of signatures, declarations of interest, scoring and checklists, and document management, become very critical in terms of both cybersecurity but also having an auditable process, so that when the AG looked at CPSI’s processes at the end of this financial year, everything would be auditable. The CPSI had looked at how to deal with electronic signatures with processes so that these could be managed, and that there would be no delay in procurement and accountability processes. That was the purpose. The CPSI was happy to say they were relatively speedily able to implement this, and all their processes were now done online.

On the initiatives that the CPSI had undertaken during the Covid-19 period -- apart from basic things like ensuring that there were online screening forms – it had also supported online “hackathons,” and had conducted several webinars by using the opportunity for training and innovation. They were engaging with the Northern Cape on developing a virtual centre that could be used beyond Covid-19. They were using the impetus to take it further.

Because the CPSI was so small, they could not build very strong partnership networks and sustain them. What they were doing was to work on project-specific partnerships. Where the solution required involvement from a university, the CSIR, an NGO or a youth group, the CPSI ensured that these were strengthened during the specific project, while maintaining general partnership with the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), SITA, the Innovation Hub and the CSIR. No innovation could happen in isolation, and they needed to have those strong partnerships in place. This applied not only on the supply side, but also to the partnerships in the departments and how they implemented innovation. They did not always talk about it, but the CPSI had a whole network of innovators across the country that they worked with closely to take innovations into institutions and departments. These were departments that were not the “normal suspects,” such as the Department of Correctional Services, which had a very strong unit that works with the CPSI in building innovation capacity within the Department.

The Chairperson said the meeting was supposed to end at 5pm, and he asked for the indulgence of Members to go to the last issues of this meeting and close after that. He invited DPSA for their presentation.

Department of Public Service and Administration

The DPSA presented its quarterly performance trends for the first two quarters, during which it did not incur any fruitless or irregular expenditure. The monitoring of fruitless, wasteful and irregular expenditure was conducted on a monthly basis. The concept document on the policy review areas in the Public Administration Management Amendment Bill had been developed in April 2020. The quarterly report on the compliance by national and provincial departments with DPSA policies was not produced due to disruptions largely caused by COVID-19. The national and provincial departments had been granted extensions for the submission of compliance reports. These reports would form part of the annual report compliance during the fourth quarter period.

The identification of departments that were not complying with the finalisation of disciplinary cases within 90 days had been conducted in April 2020. An audit of departments implementing the national e-Government strategy was conducted in May 2020, and had revealed that the major challenges on ICT included the lack of connectivity, use of old technology such as copper, slow bandwidth and poor provision of service by service providers.

The guidelines on conducting lifestyle audits in the public service were drafted in April 2020. Ministerial letters were sent to departments who had long overdue disciplinary cases (one year and longer). Meetings were scheduled with identified departments and provinces, to visit them and provide support. The first intervention was with the North West Province in September 2020.

The quarterly report on the compliance of national and provincial departments with DPSA policies was not produced. It had been reported during the first quarter reporting period that a consolidated annual compliance report would be developed at the end of the financial year, as per the stipulated regulations.

Discussion

Ms Ntuli thought it was unwise for the DPSA to bring unfinished business related to fruitless expenditure to the Committee. Although it appeared as if the fruitless expenditure had been incurred, when they provided the details, it was clear this should not have been brought to the Committee because the matter was still pending. Although the disruption of the pandemic had affected compliance, departments should have been proactive in order to submit their reports on time, otherwise it appeared as if they did not really care. She asked about the huge number of vacancies. While understanding that the Department was facing problems of budget cuts, the tasks were still there and needed to be executed. Maybe it needed the Committee to plead with the Minister to sit down with Treasury and explain the situation, because the DG had said clearly that due to the cuts, they could not really employ people.

Ms Komane said it was worrisome that the Department had indicated that Members should not worry, yet there were that were reports that had not yet been submitted, which would then be submitted in the annual report. The annual report should be informed by the quarterly reports. As such, that statement was neither here nor there. The Committee could not just be told, “Do not worry, it will be sorted out later.” People must learn to do their work as and when the work was expected. If quarterly reports needed to be submitted, it did not matter what the challenges may be -- they should be submitted, because the first quarter should inform the following quarter, and so on. The Committee could not just be listening to the DPSA saying there was no need to worry about the report not being submitted now, as it would be covered in the next report. The Committee needed to engage on that quarterly report. This was a very serious cause for concern.

When Members were engaging with National School of Government, the NSG had indicated that the salary adjustment had not been implemented because the mandate was not with them, but was with the DPSA.  She said the Committee needed to be presented with a report on the fruitless and wasteful expenditure. If the report was wrongly placed, it should not have been a sent to the Committee, because when the report was sent to the Committee, the DPSA would have known of the outcomes of the investigation and the recommendations from the Legal Department. Was there something that was being hidden? The Committee should be respected by being presented with the information that needed to be presented, so that Members could engage on those matters.

The vacancies were a worrying factor one would speak about over and over again, with no end. While there were budget cuts that were well known, the Department was now saying that 60 of the 120 were to be filled. After cutting 50% of the posts, how would they counter this increase in unemployment? The Department could not keep on saying that they were still working on a plan. The budget cuts should have addressed a reduction in vacancies as well, so that the Department could then present a plan to the Committee stating when those posts would be filled.

Dr Gondwe referred to Programme One (Administration), and commended the Department for not incurring any irregular or fruitless expenditure for the first quarter, and for also reporting that they monitored irregular expenditure. How were they getting it right? How were they monitoring irregular and fruitless expenditure? Were there systems in place to make sure that it was curbed? What were the consequences when this was incurred? In quarter two, they had mentioned that there was a nominal amount, which probably did not qualify as fruitless expenditure, but what were the consequences? There were still government departments that were struggling with irregular and fruitless expenditure. How was the Department getting it right, and what were the consequences for officials or units that incurred irregular or fruitless expenditure?

In Programme Six, the presentation had mentioned guidelines on conducting lifestyle audits which had been drafted in April 2020. When were these guidelines likely to be finalised and rolled out in the various departments? Who would be monitoring the rollout of these guidelines at the various departments? The presentation stated that when the DPSA had drafted the guidelines, they had consulted the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the South African Police Service (SAPS), but why were neither the State Security Agency (SSA) nor the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) consulted? They could bring in a lot of value on what to flag when one looked into auditing the lifestyles of government officials.

In the second quarter, under Programme Three (Public Employment and Conditions of Service), the presentation had indicated that the DPSA had identified eight departments that were not complying with the requirements of finalising their disciplinary cases within 90 days. They had also indicated that support was provided to the 21 departments on implementation of the performance management and development system. Did this figure of 21 departments include those eight identified as not complying with the requirement to finalise cases within the 90-day period?

In Programme Four (Government, Chief Information Officer), this target was not achieved, and the reason given was that it was due to delays in securing engagements with the Department of Communication and Digital Technology (DCDT). Could the Department elaborate on this? Was it probably not escalated because of the DPSA’s principals in both departments saying they were unable to meet targets because of their inability to secure engagements with the DCDT? If they were not able to engage with them, this target would not be met.

In Programme Five (Service Delivery Support), the presentation referred to the Batho Pele Frontline Monitoring Framework, and she was worried that of the idea of these principles were not fully entrenched in the public service. There was a perception that public servants had little or no regard for these principles, although the public service should be citizen-centred in its approach. This was especially so for public servants at the frontline of the delivery of services. Could the DPSA clarify this framework and the purpose it served?

Dr Schreiber said the issue of disciplinary cases was something that had been dealt with a lot in the Committee. Occasionally it received indications of departments that were failing to live up to the deadlines. He requested the DPSA to submit a list of these departments in writing so that the Committee could call them to account for why they were missing these deadlines. Although it was something the Committee had discussed before, it needed to happen, and there was no better time than the present for this.

On the timelines for the amendments to the Public Service Act and the Public Administration Management Act, he asked for an indication of where exactly the process was. The DG had mentioned discussions at Cabinet level. At what point could the Committee look forward to having its voice heard in this process?

Ms Motsepe requested the DPSA to go back to the drawing board and return with a proper, precise and confirmed report. This was another year, and there must be a way forward, rather than always working backwards. The Committee was representing citizens, and had to be honest with them.

DPSA’s response

Ms Yoliswa Makhasi, Director-General, DPSA, responded to the question on fruitless expenditure, and the matter of R2 500. The CFO would explain this better, but she could confirm that the information was correct. However, the issue had been reported in the manner that it was because the DPSA were reporting on quarters one and two. There was work that had subsequently been done in the quarters after the ones being reportedon.

She did not mean to downplay the compliance report issue, but just wanted to assure Members that work would still be done. The DPSA was not in a position to do the compliance reports, when the departments that were being monitored on compliance were unable to submit their reports because of the objective results that they shared on the impact of Covid-19 on their work. In addition, many reporting timeframes had to be shifted to later in the year. For instance, one of those timeframes included issues such as the assessment of DGs, which had to be moved to the end of March 2021 because of the complete cycle of that process. They were monitoring and following this. As indicated earlier, Departments had started submitting their reports, and the DPSA was following that up. By the end of the financial year, the work that was to be done still had to be done.

On vacancies, the DPSA would take the feedback from the Committee. There was a plan in place and several vacancies had been filled. The DPSA would come back with specific statistics of some of the vacancies that had been filled. Throughout the year, they had been in the process of filling vacancies, as they were also not happy about the high number. However, the process of rolling out the new structure and consultations with labour had also taken a lot of time. This was not a defence, but explained that it was not a matter of just advertising sooner, since the Department had to go through a lot of processes with labour. There was a plan that had been approved, but it had to be reviewed and reprioritised according to the available resources. They were working on timeframes. This morning they had met and were planning to consult with labour again early next week. After that consultation, they would make a submission for approval by the Minister, because if those positions could not be financed, they must be abolished from the structure.

The salary adjustments issue affected all public servants, as it was related to the updates given earlier on Resolution One of 2018. Treasury had indicated there was no money to finance the last year of Resolution One. The issue around Resolution One was payment of the last leg of the three-year agreement, which was 2019/20 financial year. The matter had seen the DPSA go to court with labour, and the judgment had gone in favour of the employer, which was government. However, the unions had now taken the matter to the Constitutional Court, and DPSA had received papers in that regard. The reason why salary adjustments were not done was because there was no budget to finance them. Even though departments had said they had provided for this from within their budgets, the point was that the envelop for the compensation of employees that was given by Treasury covered only the two years. The third year of the increases was not covered. The DPSA could not pay increases if there was no approval for them from Treasury, even if they were budgeted for in the department.

They were noting the concerns around vacancies, and assured Members that the DPSA was very committed to filling them. They had already been filling a lot of vacancies in the Department.

She said the guidelines for the lifestyle audits had been finalised, and ethics officers in the various departments had been trained so that they could be ready to do the first assessments. This was because not everything could be taken to law enforcement. It was those cases that were flagged in the system from the disclosures as being cases that required further attention that would be taken to law enforcement for detailed investigation and an intrusive lifestyle audit. Since the guidelines were finalised, they would be tested through the training, and get feedback. The DPSA planned to publish them before the end of the financial year. The lifestyle audits that would be implemented through these guidelines would be effected at the beginning of the next financial year. The source of information to be used was the data that the DPSA received from the financial disclosures that public servants were already making. Consultations had been completed. Those highlighted in the report were the ones who had been engaged at that particular time, but certainly the DPSA worked very closely with SSA, the SIU and the FIC, who had also been consulted on how best the DPSA could work with them in rolling this out, since they had the investigative capacity that DPSA did not have.

On disciplinary matters, the list that Members had asked for could be provided, with an update. The DPSA had done a lot of work. The Minister had also been greatly involved in escalating matters to the executive authorities at those departments that were failing to comply by settling disciplinary issues within the required period. The eight departments included other departments in the second quarter, because there was ongoing support and monitoring, and prioritisation for engagements with the Minister if they

The information on disciplinary cases was available, as this was done on a quarterly basis. The DPSA had generated a report on the interventions that had been done by the Minister, and they were monitoring for improvements. It was waiting for the quarter three and four reports of the departments, because they would show as if there were any improvements.

Regarding the timelines for the amendments, according to the DPSA’s plan they expected to have a draft amendment by June 2021. It was on that basis that extensive consultations would be done. There were already consultations with some of the critical partners already, including SALGA.

On the concern for a proper and precise report, she wanted to confirm that the report presented was proper and precise, but Members would recall the Department was reporting historically on things that had happened in the past. They could not change the report because they were only reporting now. However, they could supplement the information and give the Committee an update of what had since happened on the relevant issues.

Mr Masilo Makhura, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DPSA, responded to the question on fruitless expenditure. He said the Department was not hiding anything. When their books were closed at the end of September, the amount of R2 500 had been recorded in the books as fruitless and wasteful. Financial statements were submitted on a quarterly basis to Treasury, and these were submitted with that amount recorded. One of the duties of the CFO was that every month, after all expenditures had been incurred, there was an exercise of comparing the cheque list against the payments that had been made to see whether they met the definition of normal expenditure. If a certain expenditure on the list did not meet that, it was recorded as fruitless and wasteful, with the reasons why they had done that. Once the fruitless expenditure had been recorded, or whether it was irregular expenditure, it was subjected to investigation, which may confirm that it was not irregular expenditure, and they got an opinion. All these experiences were subjected to investigation, which was why the presentation had stated, “investigation to be made.” They could probably have updated the slide before the meeting. Unfortunately, Legal Services gave their final opinion only in the morning. This had been passed on to the DG’s office, and she may not have seen it.

There were two things that could happen when there was fruitless expenditure. It could either be recovered from the official, which first required investigation, as the official may refuse responsibility. Another way was to write off the fruitless and wasteful expenditure after the investigation. In this case, the investigation was done after end of September, and this was the opinion. There was nothing that the DPSA was hiding, because if they had not reported that at the end of September, they would have had an irregular expenditure, and then somebody would go to Treasury to get the DPSA financial statement with that amount recorded, and it would be accused of misleading Parliament. That was what they did not want to do. They had reported in terms of what the financial books were saying, pending the investigation.

On how the Department monitors the expenditure, he said they had been consistent because in the past financial year they had not had even a single irregular expenditure. This was confirmed by the Auditor General’s report. Every month, they looked at all expenditure with a checklist to confirm that all normal expenditure must have an order that had been issued, and that certain procurement processes had been followed. That was how the DPSA monitored both irregular expenditure and the 30-days payment. Once every payment had met the criteria, it was then concluded that the expenditure was normal expenditure. In case an irregular expenditure, they were expected by the guidelines from Treasury to keep a list of all irregular expenditure. When payments were made on a daily basis, the team would also look at the checklist as to whether it was a normal expenditure which would not be irregular at the end of the month. The overall check was done at the end of the month to confirm.

Besides monitoring, there was also a need for proper internal policies to prevent irregular expenditure. This was what DPSA had. The policies were updated regularly and on the website. In senior management meetings and staff meetings, the accounting officer needed to emphasise that people must always adhere to prescribed procurement procedures. In cases where an irregular expenditure was incurred, and somebody was responsible, it had to be investigated and action taken. Consequence management set an example.

What had been found in other departments was that when there was irregular and fruitless expenditure, investigations would take place but there would be no consequence management. Later one would hear that the person had left the department or had resigned, and that irregular expenditure was still in the books for many years without being dealt with.

The Chairperson said the meeting had gone way beyond the time, and Members’ condolences would be deferred to the next meeting.

Parliamentary programme

The Committee Secretary said that in the initial programme, there was no meeting on 24 February. However, because there were some discrepancies in the final first term programme which was received last week, a meeting had been slotted in on 24 February. The final programme would be sent to Members. The Committee would be dealing with the Government Employees Health Scheme, on the allegation of racial profiling and transformation, and the findings of the advocate. There would be a briefing by the PSA regarding the Government Employee Housing Scheme on challenges encountered by public servants in accessing the benefits and the schemes.

The meeting was adjourned.

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