In a virtual meeting, the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME), Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) and Brand South Africa (Brand SA) presented to the Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration on their first and second quarter performance of the 2020/21 financial year.
The Deputy Minister in the Presidency said that the Department and the entities had had to make many amendments to their annual performance plans (APPs) and targets due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She pointed out that if Stats SA were not afloat and statistics were not available, the country would not be able to plan. The planning of the Presidency through the National Planning Commission was highly informed by the data from Stats SA.
The DPME said it was continuing to work on a book that would be published shortly that recorded everything that the country had done regarding the management of the pandemic. It had started to monitor the impact of interventions by the government. This was done by going into communities and establishing focus groups to establish a voice for the people on what their thoughts were on the government interventions. Among the Department’s highlights were a reduction in its vacancy rate from 10% to 2%, as well as an improvement in gender equality in the workplace.
Members asked about the provisions put in place to ensure that infrastructure such as the Presidential Hotline continued to provide a maximum resolution of issues that were reported on. The DPME responded that the Khawuleza App was dealing with this issue efficiently.
Brand SA said the organisation had been quick to develop new ways of doing things. The period under review was filled with several highlights, including the launch of the “Play Your Part” visual series, which it had developed in response to challenges associated with the pandemic. The series recognised and showcased exemplary citizens. Through research, the organisation continued to develop tailored environmental analysis, updates focused on domestic and international dynamics, whether they were related to the pandemic or to foreign direct investment trends.
A Member asked if Brand SA could give the Committee a sense of the impact that the COVID-19 corruption scandals that had been exposed in the media had had on the perception of South Africa as a brand. The Committee expressed dissatisfaction at the organisation’s high vacancy rate.
Stats SA said that to deal with the new environment and transform the organisation’s capability, there had been investment in technology involving computer-assisted web and telephone interviewing. With over 80% of staff working from home, the organisation was making use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN), MSTeams, etc. Reskilling of staff had taken place to adapt to the changing circumstances, and an extensive reprioritisation exercise had been undertaken concerning operations, resources and funding due to the impact of COVID. The demand for statistical information was growing, and already exceeded the supply. This was placing information on the gross domestic product (GDP), the consumer price index (CPI) and poverty information at high risk. The Income and Expenditure Survey (IES) had already been discontinued. They would be meeting with the Committee, as well as the National Treasury, on 17 March to discuss this matter.
The Chairperson asked all Members to observe a moment of silence in honour of the Minister of the Presidency, Jackson Mthembu, who passed away on 21 January 2021.
He said the purpose of the meeting was to receive presentations on the first and the second quarter performances of the 2020/21 financial year from Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME), Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) and Brand SA. In the last meeting, the Committee had decided to bring the historical budget shortfall to the Minister of Finance’s attention. The Secretariat had put the matter on the Committee’s programme for discussion.
Ms Thembi Siweya, Deputy Minister in the Presidency, said they had conducted a monitoring programme of the metropolis the previous day, which was a project the President had launched. The Minister of Finance had always committed resources to the project.
She said that they had to make many amendments to the annual performance plan (APP) and the targets due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The DPME had filled all the vacancy positions, and the vacancy rate had dropped from 10% to 2%. There were also many females at a senior management service (SMS) level. Stats SA was continuing to do a lot of work, and had been able to work from home. If Stats SA were not afloat and statistics were not available, the country would not be able to plan. The planning of the Presidency through the National Planning Commission was highly informed by the data from Stats SA.
Regarding Brand SA, there were two vacancies. One was the former Deputy Chairperson, and the other was Mr Geoffrey Rothschild. Towards the end of 2020, nominations had been called for to fill those vacancies. She apologised that those vacancies had not been filled speedily, and said they would ensure that they were filled soon.
She apologised on behalf of the Acting Minister, Ms Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, for not being able to attend the meeting.
DPME Quarterly Performance Report
Mr Robert Nkuna, Director-General (DG), DPME, presented the performance report for the first two quarters of 2020/21.
He said that they have been focusing on stabilising the DPME, to the extent that they now had a vacancy rate of 2%. The three filled positions were the Deputy Director General (DDG) for Corporate Services, the DDG for National Planning Coordination, and the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Of the five DDGs, three were women, which meant that overall the control over the organisation was evenly spread between males and females.
The performance agreements of the Ministers had been finalised and been signed by the Ministers and the President. The DPME had always published all of the agreements except one on www.gov.za.
The review on the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) would be completed in the next two weeks. In the upcoming week, the DPME would be meeting with all the provinces to ensure that there was integration between the work of national government and the provinces. It was working with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) on the translation of the medium term strategic framework (MTSF) and the annual performance plans (APPs) into the District Development Model (DDM). In 2020, the DPME had presented the bi-annual report to Cabinet, which focused on all the sectors of society, both economic and social. The report was accepted by the Cabinet committees and eventually by Cabinet itself.
The DPME had been doing a lot of work during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as continuing to work on a book that would be published shortly that recorded everything that the country had done regarding the management of the pandemic. It was also involved in the COVID-19 vaccination programme, providing the entire secretariat for the inter-ministerial committee (IMC), which was chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza.
The DPME had started to monitor the impact of interventions by the government. This was done by going into communities and establishing focus groups to establish a voice for the people on what their thoughts were on government interventions. One of the key factors that the DPME would be focusing on was impact assessment, to see what citizens were saying.
Dr Ntsiki Tshayingca-Mashiya, DDG, DPME, presented the organisational performance for the first two quarters.
Programme 1: Administration -- targets achieved nine, targets not achieved, three.
Programme 2A: National Planning Commission (NPC) sector – all four targets achieved.
Programme 3: Sector Monitoring -- targets achieved two, targets not achieved, one.
Programme 4: Public Sector Monitoring -- targets achieved two, targets not achieved, three.
Programme 5: Evaluation, Evidence and Knowledge Systems (EEKS) – one target achieved.
In total, 69% of targets were achieved, and 31% were not achieved.
Programme 1: Administration -- targets achieved seven, targets not achieved, three.
Programme 2A: NPC Sector – all four targets achieved.
Programme 2B: NP Coordination -- targets achieved four, targets not achieved, three.
Programme 3: Sector Monitoring -- targets achieved two, targets not achieved, two.
Programme 5: EEKS – all two targets achieved.
In total, 79% of targets were achieved, and 21% of targets were not achieved. The overall performance for quarter one versus quarter two had improved by 10%.
The vacancy rate had decreased from 10.5% to 2.8%. The average vacancy rate over the third quarter was 3.8%. 4% of appointments were internal candidates and 26% of appointments were external candidates. The vacancy rate per branch at 31 December 2020 had been 5.3% for Corporate Services, 3.8% for NPC Services, and 1.8% for Sector Monitoring Services. There had been no vacancies in the other branches.
Ms Marilize Hogendoorn, CFO, DPME, presented on the financial status for quarter one and two.
2020/21 Estimates of National Expenditure (ENE)
The total budget spent was 42% per programme, and 42% per economic classification.
She said the reasons for underspending as at the end of the second quarter included compensation of employees (CoE), where the under-spending was due to vacancies, although average spending was expected to increase with the planned filling of vacant funded posts. Baseline reductions had resulted in the un-funding of 30 of the 46 vacant posts. There had also been expenditure reductions in goods and services, building leases, consultants (business & advisory services), computer services, travel, advertising and training.
Potential savings identified within the 2020/21 ENE allocation had been:
- Programme 1: Administration - R 1 239 000.
- Programme 2: National Planning Commission - R4 150 000.
- Programme 3: Sector Monitoring - R 425 000.
- Programme 4: Public Sector Monitoring and Capacity Development – Nil.
- Programme 5: Evidence and Knowledge Systems - R910 000.
Total savings had amounted to R6 700 000, which had been used to upgrade information communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and software licenses (R3 800 000) and CDMAS projects (R2 900 000).
Ms M Ntuli (ANC) said that she acknowledged the disruptions of the pandemic and its effect on the DPME, and appreciated that it was still trying its best. What strategies had it put into place to deal with the pandemic? She commended the DPME on the reduction of the vacancy rate and the observation on the gender perspective. The CFO had mentioned that one of the underspending factors was caused by outstanding invoices, and this could not be accepted as an excuse. What strategy had the DPME put into place to ensure that they could do the same work without being able to travel, due to the pandemic?
Ms C Motsepe (EFF) congratulated the DPME on the five new vacancies that had been filled and being gender-inclusive. However, within those five vacancies, was there a position filled by a person living with disabilities? What had been the impact of the removal of the target in the APP of the 2021 budget prioritisation framework? Was this not a critical target for planning to ensure budget alignment and planning coherence across the spheres of government? What was the intended purpose of the new indictor in the APP on the framework for monitoring COVID-19? How was the training on the quarterly performance reporting guidelines conducted with the offices of the Premier?
Mr S Malatsi (DA) asked about the training on the quarterly performance reporting guidelines, and why training had not taken place in the Eastern Cape. Regarding the targets on the resolution of cases reported on the Presidential Hotline, the second quarter indicated that there was a shortfall and this was attributed to Presidential Hotline officers and other officials working from home. What provisions were put in place to ensure that infrastructure such as the Presidential Hotline continued to maximise the resolution of issues that were reported on it? What were the provisions for people working from home and for ensuring that there was always a staff member available at all times of the day?
Dr M Gondwe (DA) asked if the DPME had been able to develop a monitoring tool to effectively monitor and evaluate the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP) by various government departments.
Regarding Programme 2 (National Planning Coordination), the presentation had indicated that a research report on all research projects to review and support the implementation of the NDP was produced. The presentation showed that there were two engagements held, aimed at reporting on the implementation of the NDP, and three plenaries to inform the National Planning Commission (NPC) were also held. She would like DPME to share this report with the Committee. It was nine years into the adoption of the NDP, and the Committee was yet to get a full picture of the extent to which implementation was being carried out.
What exactly would the DPME be monitoring regarding COVID-19 and what would its purpose be?
Ms R Komane (EFF) commended the DPME for including females in the senior positions in the government, and commended it for paying service providers within ten days.
Were the vacancies at a senior or junior level? She requested that the DPME provide a time frame when they anticipated those positions would be filled.
Regarding personal protective equipment (PPE), how much did the DPME budget for, and how much of that budget was used?
Had the DPME had any irregular or fruitless expenditure during the first and second quarter?
Deputy Minister Siweya responded to Mr Malatsi’s question regarding the Presidential Hotline, and said that during the pandemic the DPME had launched the Khawuleza App. This had been put in place so that if people could not reach the Hotline, they would be directed to the App and would then be advised further on their concerns. The DPME had been to the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies SITA, which was responsible for hosting the Presidential Hotline, to see what the most important calls were. The staff members did work in shifts.
Regarding the monitoring framework, the DPME did assessments, and monitored the performance of DGs and Ministers. This was available on the government website. The framework was there to make sure the departments could do checks and balances on their own. The monitoring tool was a tool that looked into all service delivery points of government, therefore assisting the Department to monitor situations like schools opening and what would happen with the Covid vaccine.
Regarding the MTSF and NDP targets, she said it had been very difficult to live up to the targets due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The APPs would therefore be reviewed to find budget cuts so that the Department could send money to the Treasury which could be redirected to respond to the pandemic.
Mr Nkuna responded Ms Ntuli’s question about the strategies used during the pandemic. He said that the DPME was fully embracing the new situation that they were in due to the pandemic. It was not a frontline service, so it had been easy for them to make the transition. It was in the process of moving its offices and would be joining the Government Communication and Information Service (GCIS) in the JR building. The Department would have a plan for employees return to their offices when this was required. The guidelines for the occupational implications of working from home had not been developed by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) yet. The DPME was advising the DPSA to provide universal guidelines that would apply to the government. This would help to finalise its strategy.
Regarding the deferral of the guidelines related to the MTSF, because of the review of the MTSF, the Department could not achieve that target. However, it was engaging with the provinces and today they were meeting with three provinces to share what was coming up in the guidelines.
The DPME had continued to seek information from a cross-section of stakeholders across the board regarding the constraints of the lockdown and not being able to travel. They relied on the information given to them by stakeholders on what needed to be done -- for example, when social grants could not be given due to the lockdown.
The DPME was working on filling the vacancy rate of 2.8%.
It had presented the budget prioritisation framework at the Medium Term Expenditure Committee (MTEC) with the National Treasury, COGTA and the DPSA. The DPME’s framework was crucial for the budgeting process, because the departments used their tracking process.
Monitoring the NDP was crucial for the DPME, and there were various levels of monitoring. The first level was to ensure that when the APPs were submitted to the Department, they did an audit of the targets to ensure that the targets the departments sought to implement were in line with the MTSF and the NDP.
Regarding reporting on a quarterly basis, the DPME received feedback from the Electronic Quarterly Performance Reporting System (eQPRS), which was an electronic mechanism that allowed them to give the Department information. They had decided to keep the EQPRS because it gave them the information they needed to process to the biannual report. After a department reported to them, the DPME could do an analysis and identify challenges, so when they went to the impact assessment they could prioritise those areas that had challenges.
The Department met regularly with the Auditor-General (AG) so that they could identify the issues that required follow-up. An example of one of the areas the Department had been focusing on was when departments were affected by fraud during the distribution of the economic stimulus package. The Department had wanted to know what constraints the departments faced. Then there had been a challenge in accessing each other’s databases. The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) had no active Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) database, and vice versa. The DPME had then approached the Information Regulator, which was the custodian of the circulation of data, and asked that the government departments be allowed to share data so that they could function. The Department had asked for an exemption that the rules did not apply to government departments because they needed to work as an integrated whole as government. The Information Regulator would determine who would be entitled to exemptions or not.
Regarding what was being monitored by DPME, the Department’s priority was on monitoring the stimulus package, and the current focus was on the actual impact as it was reflected in the voices of the people in the community.
Dr Annette Griessel, DDG: National Planning Coordination, DPME, said the budget prioritisation was not achieved in quarter one, but was achieved in quarter two and had been used to influence the budget. The training on the quarterly performance reporting system guidelines had been done in quarter one, and other provinces were trained in quarter two. Her colleagues were constantly working with national departments and provinces to ensure that they could effectively utilise the eQPRS system. They also analysed the extent to which there was compliance. For example, in the Eastern Cape, there were one or two departments that had not submitted on the QPRS, and follow-up work was then undertaken. The report on the Integrated Planning Bill would be provided in March and the Department was currently updating the path to legislation, taking into account several considerations.
Deputy Minister Siweya responded to questions about the PPE expenditure, and said that between December and January, the Department had spent R26 400 on fogging, sanitisers and masks.
Regarding employment of people with a disability, they were over the 2% target, at 2.1%. They had filled 15 positions, and 10 were at the SMS level.
Ms Hogendoorn responded to the question on outstanding invoices, and said that the Department paid timeously. However, the requirement was that it must be a valid invoice that they considered and met the contractual agreements. The outstanding invoices that had been referred to were those on which the DPME was performing vigorous follow-ups to make sure that they were aligned to the contractual agreements. There was an issue with the SASSA invoice, because there had been a disagreement and therefore it was not regarded as a valid invoice for payment. This had been followed up and paid in January.
The Department had extensive controls over areas of fruitless and irregular expenditure, and managed the recovery thereof in cases where it was recoverable in terms of the prescribed National Treasury instructions. It had a loss control unit that was situated within supply chain management (SCM) that reviewed each transaction, as well as the Loss Control Committee that investigated each case and then recommended further action. The Department had a comprehensive internal audit review of the SCM transactions during the period 1 April to December 2020, and no cases had been reported during that period.
Brand SA Quarterly Performance Report
Ms Thandi Tobias, Chairperson of the Board, Brand SA, said the COVID-19 pandemic had had a severe impact on the nation’s brands across the globe, and could have lasting effects particularly on economic growth due to lower investments, closure of businesses and job losses.
The organisation had been quick to develop new ways of doing things. The period under review was filled with several highlights, including the launch of the “Play Your Part” visual series, which had been developed by Brand SA in response to challenges associated with the pandemic. The series recognised and showcased exemplary citizens. Through research, the organisation continued to develop tailored environmental analysis, updates focused on domestic and international dynamics, whether they were related to the pandemic or to foreign direct investment trends. The work with Miss South Africa, the “Play Your Part” Ambassador of the Year award winner, which created a sense of pride among South Africans, was one of the many highlights from the first two quarters of the year.
Ms Thuli Manzini, Acting CEO, Brand SA, presented the quarterly progress report.
Quarter 1 Performance Overview
She said 86% of targets had been achieved, and 14% not achieved.
A review of organisational corporate identity work to date which had been recommended by the Executive Committee (ExCo) had not been completed in this period due to funds being re-channelled to COVID-19 initiatives.
The draft operating model consulted at the Management Committee (Manco) was not achieved, and a service provider was still to be appointed through the SCM process. The target had been revised to cater for the delay in 2020/2021. The evaluation of the work study tender responses had been delayed due to the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
The 91% quarterly organisational performance rating was also not met due to COVID-19.
The target of four integrated reputation and communication activities implemented at strategic platforms internationally target was not achieved as they were cancelled due to COVID-19.
The pre-Nation Brand Forum engagement was not achieved due to funds being channelled to COVID-19 initiatives. Approval of the discussion paper on the Nation Brand alignment policy by Exco was not achieved.
Referring to human resources (HR), the total workforce capacity was 57. The current number of staff was 49, with eight vacant posts – a vacancy rate of 14%. Training and development had seen eight employees trained on employment equity Bid Committee (13 employees), while training was conducted for 13 Equity Bid Committee members.
The occupational health and safety (OHS) policy was approved by the Board of Trustees on 27 October 2020. The organisation had implemented measures to address the spread of COVID-19 including, but not limited to fortnightly OHS meetings, regular communiqués to Team Brand South Africa, regular sanitising of the building, and safety regulations such as ensuring the procurement of PPE.
An advertisement to appoint the two interns in Finance and Legal had been sent out and the short-listing process was under way. With regard to women’s empowerment, the General Manager: Communications had resumed her acting role as Chief Marketing Officer during the quarter. 87.5% of employees trained on employment equity (EE) were female, while 69% of Bid Committee employee trained were also female.
The demographic composition of Brand SA workforce as at 25 June 2020 was 63.27% female, and 50% overall were at management level. The workforce was 92% black (45), 2% white, 2% coloured and 4% Indian. There were no employees with disabilities.
Quarterly board and board committee meetings had taken place to ensure proper governance and oversight. There had been three special board meetings and two special audit and risk committee meetings to deal with urgent matters.
Ms B Maluleke (ANC) asked about the vacancies, and what would happen to the budget when those vacancies were not filled. Would this harm Brand SA’s audit report? She expressed concern about not having a workforce inclusive of people living with disabilities. What role had Brand SA played during lockdown Levels Five and Three in changing the perception of the pandemic? How could an ordinary citizen approach the organisation for collaboration to promote Brand SA locally, such as the Dumisani Netball Tournament?
Dr Gondwe asked why Brand SA had been able to achieve and even exceed some targets, but on the other hand, most targets could not be achieved. How had the pandemic restricted it from achieving targets? Some of the recommended action plans did not have timelines, such as the Business Continuity Policy and the Business Recovery Plan, and there needed to be dates for when these policies would be put into place. Were there plans afoot to advertise the vacancy of the CEO and fill the position?
She agreed with Ms Maluleke’s point of it being unacceptable to not have a workforce with people living with disabilities.
What had been the impact of the pandemic on the country’s brand?
Ms Komane also asked how Brand SA had managed to exceed targets while other targets were not being achieved, and said she did not think the pandemic should be used as an excuse. What was the organisation doing that was causing people to leave the organisation? The vacancy rate of 12.28% was unacceptable, and the organisation needed to inform the Committee if there were any other critical vacancies. If there were, what was being done about it?
What had the budget for PPE been during the pandemic, and how much had been spent? Was there any fruitless and wasteful expenditure in both quarters? If there was, what measures were put into place for this and what were the consequences? How did the organisation prioritise which provinces to attend to first, and what system was in place to determine the order?
Had the internal audit unit verified its quarterly performances?
Dr L Schreiber (DA) asked if the officials could give the Committee a sense of the impact that the COVID-19 corruption scandals that had been exposed in the media had had on the perception of South Africa as a brand. Where was the slide showing the breakdown of skills, qualifications and achievements in Brand SA?
Ms R Lesoma (ANC) said that alarming concerns were raised by the AG report at Brand SA about record keeping and adherence to daily and monthly controls. Had the entity sorted out any mechanisms to deal with the concerns? If so, what were they?
Monitoring compliance with key legislation had been a growing concern at Brand SA, particularly at the SCM level. Had there been any progress in addressing these concerns? This was problematic, because if the challenges were not addressed, they gave rise to non-compliance. She also requested a breakdown of the skills and qualifications for the filled positions.
Ms Motsepe asked if the position of the CEO had been filled, and what some of the other crucial positions were that had not been filled yet. What role had Brand SA played in assisting the government in marketing the country to attract more investors during this pandemic?
Ms Ntuli said that Brand SA needed to strive to fill the vacancies. Could it help to instil patriotism in young South Africans at schools in the rural areas?
Inkosi R Cebekhulu (IFP) asked what Brand SA was doing to assist the struggling tourism sector.
Mr Malatsi asked about the status of the disciplinary actions that had been initiated against the CEO, and what the plan was on filling this position. When would the two vacancies be advertised and what was the projected deadline for filling them?
Deputy Minister Siweya responded to the question about the adverse audit finding which had been made by the late AG, Kimi Makwetu. Brand SA had realised that they were in error and had already put measures in place to correct the situation. She would have a conversation with the Acting Minister to fill the two vacancies on the board. The process would not take more than a month.
Brand SA ensured that they placed the correctly skilled people in the positions with the needed skills. The Acting CEO would provide a record of these delegations.
The previous CEO’s contract had come to an end. She would first like to find out what they should do legally about the allegations against him before she said what they would do. There would be an advertisement for the CEO, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and the CFO.
Ms Tobias said the organisation had written to the Minister to fill the CEO, CMO and CFO vacancies, but due to budget limitations, they were told they should not fill these vacancies. They had reported back to the board and the board had mandated them to meet with the Minister during the holidays. They could not meet with him as he was ill, but they wanted to discuss the idea of having temporary contracts so that there was at least some form of employment. The Deputy Minister had said she would pursue this approach.
The indices that they got from external sources for internal analysis within the institution had been delayed. The impact of COVID-19 could be responded to only once they received the indices.
No disciplinary process had been initiated against the CEO except what an external body had presented to them, and they could not, for now, say that there was a charge against him.
The marketing strategy was to represent Brand SA as the country incorporated. Their strategy to lure investment was something they could present to the Committee in a meeting.
Once Cabinet had given the organisation the approval, they would fill the vacancies as soon as possible. They were awaiting the decision of the President on the two board members whose positions must be filled.
Regarding the skills breakdown, Brand SA was the most skilled institution that she had ever come across. There were four employees with doctorates, and most employees were highly skilled. A breakdown would be presented soon.
Ms Manzini said that when they advertised positions, they used platforms that were available to people with disabilities, such as Disabled People of South Africa. The chairperson of this organisation was one of the members of the board and part of the Human Resources Committee, so he ensured that they advertised on all platforms.
There were many initiatives that Brand SA ran to promote people’s perception of the country under the COVID-19 pandemic. They had run a proactive communication campaign to promote Covid-19 awareness on community radio, and reported on COVID-19 interventions quarterly. They collaborated with several stakeholders to assist disadvantaged communities, as well as partnering with SA Taxi to distribute masks and sanitisers at certain taxi ranks. There were ambassadors across the provinces who wanted to collaborate in assisting them, by ensuring that the organisation could reach people. The means of approaching Brand SA to collaborate was available on their website.
By the third quarter, things had become much more stabilised because they had been able to adjust. The targeted performance had improved over time, and Brand SA was not using the pandemic as an excuse.
Regarding employees leaving the organisation, Brand SA had a retention strategy in place for when employees left. Some employees wanted to leave, but could not do so due to all the perks and conditions that the organisation had, which were lucrative depending on which people were needed for certain positions. Employees also left because of factors that could not be predicted.
The annual target was to reach all nine provinces, but they did not plan to cover all provinces at the same time.
Dr Judy Smith-Hohn, Acting CMO, Brand SA, said that the entity used their domestic perceptions research to monitor the impact of COVID-19 and the effect it had had on the perception of the country. Monthly surveys focused on specific elements, such as the public response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as their confidence in a range of government measures and the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC). They look at the tonality of negative reporting in that quarter and also at what the issues were that effect that -- whether it be a crime, corruption-related news, or the health of the nation due to COVID-19. The organisation used these insights to develop engagements with stakeholders. For example, they had partnered with the Nelson Mandel Foundation on an anti-corruption campaign. They had repurposed the campaigns to include COVID-19 messaging. They made an effort to engage with all levels of society on what was relevant to them.
The Chairperson said that Brand SA must respond to the rest of the Committee’s questions in writing due to time constraints.
Stats SA Quarterly Performance Report
Mr Risenga Maluleke, Statistician-General, Stats SA, said he had taken note of the questions that had been raised by the Committee, as they would apply to all departments. Presenting the first and second quarterly report 2020/21 for the entity, he said it had six strategic priorities. These were driving legislative reform; sustaining the quality of national indicators; modernising the statistics value chain; leading a transformation and change agenda; rolling-out the Integrated Indicator Framework; and conducting the Census 2021 pilot.
The organisation had achieved 64% of its performance targets in the first quarter, and 94% in the second. Of the annual targets, 38% had been achieved, and 58% were on track for achievement. 4% had been delayed. There were a total of 342 annual targets.
HR information was that the vacancy rate hovered above 16% in the two quarters, just over 40% of SMS positions were held by women, and 1.4% of employees were people with a disability. In the first quarter, 18 staff had left, while 16 had left in the second quarter.
Financial information was that expenditure had been 15% of the total budget in the first quarter, increasing to 34% in the second. Payment of invoices within 30 days had been above 98%. The adjusted baseline allocation 2020/21 was R3.252 billion, made up of capital assets (R314 million), compensation of employees (R1.6 billion), transfers and subsidies (R526 000) and goods and
In the first quarter, Stats SA had published 48 statistical releases, of which 42 had been published later than scheduled. There were three new releases on the Business Impact Survey of COVID-19 and Essential Products consumer price index (CPI). Three new online surveys measuring the impact of COVID-19 on society dealt with health behaviour and perceptions; employment, income and hunger; and education, mobility, migration and time use.
In the second quarter, Stats SA had published 84 statistical releases, of which 17 had been published later than scheduled from Q1. It had also launched Census of Commercial Agriculture (CoCA) results in four provinces on an electronic platform, and released a Covid-19 vulnerability index.
Key achievements in the first quarter included work on Census 2021, developing multi-mode data collection for the pilot census the provincial equitable share (PES). Training and data collection for household surveys had been delayed. It had introduced computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) data collection for the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS ), with independent monitoring and verification.
In the second quarter, key achievements included developing and testing multi-mode data collection for the Census 2021 pilot, and conducting a Census 2021 trial project between August and September. QLFS data collection was again conducted using CATI, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as was data collection for other household surveys.
With regard to interconnected statistical systems, in the first quarter a draft Bill was re-registered in May for parliamentary processing, but had not yet been presented to Cabinet. There had been new emerging statistical partnerships as a result of COVID-19 involving a Forum of South African Directors-General (FOSAD) data and statistics workstream, delivering to the National Joint Operations and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) and the NCCC. An observatory was being established at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Global and continental engagements included online communications between the Southern African Development Community (SADC) DGs, and UN technical working groups conducting online communication. A methodological note had been sent to the African Union (AU) on QLFS sampling in South Africa.
In the second quarter, a draft Amendment Bill was presented to the Ministerial cluster on governance, state capacity and institutional development in September, which had recommended that it be discussed with the Information Regulator before being tabled to the Cabinet. New emerging statistical partnerships as a result of COVID-19 had seen a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), and observatory data embedded in NATJOINTS’ decision-making.
Virtual global and continental engagements had included the sixth International Conference on Big Data for Official Statistics, and submission to the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) on developing capacity for Gender-Based Violence (GBV) statistics
To deal with the new environment and transform the organisation’s capability, there had been investment in technology involving Computer-assisted Web Interviewing (CAWI) and CATI systems development and testing, and with over 80% of staff working from home, use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN), MS Teams, etc. Reskilling of staff had taken place to adapt to the changing circumstances, and an extensive reprioritisation exercise was undertaken concerning operations, resources and funding due to the impact of COVID. A revised work programme had been tabled in the second quarter, with the agenda changed to the new strategy, while there had been a focus on the procurement of PPE and decontamination.
Mr Maluleke listed achievements in the legislative reform progress:
- The socio-economic impact assessment system (SEIAS) had been finalised with Policy and Research Services in the Presidency.
- The certification of the Statistics Amendment Bill 2020 had been finalised by the Office of the Chief State Law Adviser, and a final legal opinion was given.
- Approval was granted through the SEIAS process to consult the cluster of DGs for Governance, State Capacity and Institutional Development (GSCID) for a cluster sign off.
- Support was received from the cluster of DGs and approval given for Stats SA to present the Amendment Bill at the Ministerial Cluster for GSCID.
- Sign-off was received from the SEIAS process to present the Amendment Bill to the GSCID Ministerial Cluster.
- The Bill was presented on 11 September and the Cluster resolved to: “note the presentation and the comments received, in particular, the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act as the prominent legislation in managing personal information and the need to consult the Information Regulator.”
- Stats SA had made contact with the Office of the Information Regulator, and would be meeting them in the week of 26-30 October.
- The GSCID Ministerial Cluster would be notified of the developments from this meeting through the Minister’s Office.
- The next steps would be to present the Amendment Bill at Cabinet for approval, to be submitted for processing by Parliament. The envisaged timeline for going to Cabinet was in the fourth quarter.
Referring to the strategic risks, Mr Maluleke said the demand for statistical information was growing, and already exceeded the supply. This was placing information on the gross domestic product (GDP), the consumer price index (CPI) and poverty information at high risk. The Income and Expenditure Survey (IES) had been discontinued.
COVID-19 had had a major impact on the business operating model, and changes to the statistical value chain had not been tested. Further budget cuts would create staff constraints and affect investment in technology.
The Chairperson said that Members could ask questions, but the responses would be received in writing.
Dr Schreiber asked about the vulnerability index that the Statistician General (SG) had mentioned, and if they could get that distributed to the Committee, because it was something he had not seen in the media. He also commented on the SG’s statement on the determination to continue protecting basic statistics, despite the impact of the pandemic and also the financial cuts. The responsibility to protect the basic statistics did not lie only with Stats SA, but with everyone who had an interest in understanding the problems of the country and the solutions to those problems. He requested that the SG give the Committee a report on the organisation’s financial situation. He said National Treasury should be in one of the meetings so that all parties could be on the same page about the necessity to protect basic statistics and the statistics function of the country.
The Chairperson said that they had already arranged a meeting with Stats SA and National Treasury.
Ms Ntuli said it was commendable to see that all departments were prioritising women in the workplace.
Mr Malatsi said that it was worrying that 23% of staff leaving was because of deaths, and he wanted to know if this was because of COVID-19. Was Stats SA confident that they have the basic essentials required to conduct statistical research and continue the studies that needed to be done on an annual basis? How would Stats SA ensure that there was stability among the talent in the organisation so that people stayed with the organisation for longer?
Ms Lesoma said that Stats SA’s budget constraints and Treasury’s allocation to them had been an ongoing concern. She was happy that they would be meeting with the Treasury soon. How could they shorten the process of filling vacancies without undermining any of the required legal processes?
Had the entity addressed the challenge of delays in meeting its targets due to the skills constraints? Stats SA needed to provide a roadmap to indicate the timeline for when these delays would be eliminated. How much was budgeted for PPE and what was spent?
Dr Gondwe commended Stats SA for almost doubling their achievement of quarterly targets. In quarter 1 they had they published 42 statistical releases later than scheduled, and she wanted to know when they expected to publish these releases and what had caused the delay in their publication. Regarding Census 2021, was there a system in place that would improve access to deep rural communities?
Ms Komane urged Stats SA to ensure that there were more females in key positions. Had there been procurement of PPE during the pandemic by this institution? If so, how much had it budgeted for it, and how much had been spent? If there was any irregular expenditure, how had it been addressed?
The Chairperson referred to the underfunding of Stats SA, and said the Committee had arranged a meeting with Stats SA and National Treasury to discuss the funding concerns on 17 March 2021.
Members would be given an opportunity to give their written tributes on the late Minister Mthembu to be sent to the Department. There was not enough time for this to be done in the meeting now.
Stats SA would respond to all questions raised in writing.
The meeting was adjourned.
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