The National School of Government (NSG) in its 2021/22 Annual Performance Plan briefing said that the Covid-19 pandemic posed many threats to the School's operations, however, transitioning its courses to virtual platforms had yielded improved enrolment numbers.
The Minister of Public Service and Administration emphasised the NSG role in assisting government to achieve the goal of a capable and ethical state with a professional public service. The President had shown firm interest in the affairs of the public service and has had a 'hands-on' approach in their meetings.
The NSG Principal highlighted that the NSG was receiving increasing support from its stakeholders. Having key members of the government and the public service attend courses offered at the NSG would help improve the School 's credibility. The NSG strategic objectives and interventions were heavily influenced by the School being at the forefront of the professionalisation of the public service of South Africa.
Members asked questions about the NSG funding model, its repositioning and the basis of its international partnerships.
The Public Service Commission has had to downsize its work due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it has ensured its work remains effective. It has delivered amendments to its enabling Act to the Minister.
Members asked about the Commissioner vacancies; the research reports it produced on the public service; its method for oversight; public servants conducting business with the state and the PSC's impact.
The Acting Chairperson asked the Public Service Commission to send their presentations well in advance going forward to allow the Committee enough time to prepare effectively.
Research briefing on NSG and PSC
Mr Mlungisi Biyela, Committee Researcher, took the Committee through a brief he had prepared on the background and performance of the National School of Government (NSG) and the Public Service Commission (PSC).
Minister's opening remarks
Minister of Public Service and Administration, Mr Senso Mchunu, acknowledge that the process of the NSG and himself appearing before the Committee was a necessary process to ensure accountability. NSG's mandate is to deliver quality education, training, and development interventions to public servants across all levels and spheres of government. The service offerings are key in ensuring public servants are empowered to fully serve the citizens of South Africa and to achieve the vision of the NSG – an ethical and capable public sector. Chapter 13 of the National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 envisions a capable and ethical state consisting of a professional public service.
In working towards this, the MTSF presents this as priority number one. We believe it is an opportunity for the public service to occupy our space in the minds and eyes of the people of South Africa. To assure them that we are doing everything in our power, in all aspects of the public service. We are looking at not only developing professional public servants but also those that are happy and passionate about working for the people of South Africa. Individuals that are patriotic about serving and do not simply value the work according to their salaries.
Chapter 13 of the National Development Plan speaks about this effectively. It is only when the individuals within the departments are capacitated, will we achieve the goal of Chapter 13. The President thoroughly explained in the State of the Nation Address (SONA) that the National School of Government would continue to provide courses and training programmes to government officials throughout the spectrum.
This is indeed the task NSG prides itself on. It has been public knowledge that the NSG has been repositioning itself since 2015 to effectively provide the services as explained by the President in the SONA. The President has taken a firm interest in the affairs of public service and the NSG. He chaired a Cabinet Committee meeting earlier in the day, where there was a presentation on the new human resource development plan framework of the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA). The NSG is gearing itself to play a key role in the dispensation that is envisaged.
This Annual Performance Plan (APP) presentation will reflect the improvements made by the NSG and further plans to improve its reach. This is despite the budgetary changes made amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The School has shown resilience to survive these tough times.
The NSG has consulted on the draft National Implementation Framework towards the Professionalisation of the Public Service since February 2020. In March, it presented a series of master classes in a range of areas. It has also prioritized the use of strategic partnerships with institutions from around the world in pursuit of knowledge sharing. It will continue with its shift towards providing more virtual training opportunities in working towards a capable and ethical public service. Its partnerships are critical in mapping out the NSG vision and creating its platform to share its expertise in training public servants. The NSG is planning partnerships with certain domestic higher education institutions to train public servants in leadership, management, accountability, and other areas. The School is paying specific attention to the needs of public servants in the different ranks and departments to provide the requisite skills training.
National School of Government 2021/22 Annual Performance Plan
Mr Busani Ngcaweni, National School of Government Principal, indicated that aside from the budgetary cuts the NSG had experienced and the loss of the bulk of its revenue, they had to transition their operations to virtual platforms.
The NSG has received increasing support from various stakeholders such as the President, Ministry, Cabinet, and Parliament.
The NSG is at the forefront of redeveloping the country and having the President of the Republic attending NSG courses helps build the credibility of the School .
The NSG has derived 10 key elements of what should characterise SA's developmental capable state in their presentation.
Many of the NSG’s courses and operations are conducted online and the NSG also plans to empower candidates to adapt to the new technology.
Mr Dino Poonsamy, NSG Chief Director: Strategy and Systems, presented an overview of the NSG’s five-year strategy that had five strategic objectives and seven key interventions.
The NSG made provision for declining training numbers and revenue generation; however, NSG did better than they had expected. The online Nyukela Pre-Entry into the SMS programme, the Ethics, and the Master Classes are all proving to be successful and attracting interest. There has been an increase in total enrolment numbers over the past year and this can be accredited to the NSG services being offered virtually. Partnerships are the future of the NSG and there are plans to acquire further partnerships with both local and international higher education and training institutions.
NSG performance priorities for 2021/22 include the delivery of Education, Training and Development (ETD) programmes and courses, quality ETD practitioners, responsive ETD interventions, partnerships, learner administration and finance, and functionally integrated institution. NSG identified four 2021/22 SONA priorities and presented an overview of its budget (see presentation).
The key emerging issues for the professionalisation of the public service are:
• Framework must strongly advocate for ethics across the Public Service.
• Internship programmes need to be ramped up and allow for creation of permanent opportunities for interns due to the skills imparted to them.
• Training (reskilling and upskilling) are important pillars to ensure professionalisation of public service.
• Framework for Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and ensure preservation of organisational memory.
• Emphasize and ensure the promotion of constitutional values and principles.
The way forward is to continue to have targeted consultations on the draft National Implementation Framework throughout May 2021. The appointment of a Ministerial Task Team will happen within May 2021 to ensure the finalisation of the Framework and its tabling in Cabinet in October 2021.
The key issues for discussion and consideration are:
• The NSG funding model and revenue sustainability continue to remain a crisis for the NSG. This requires executive intervention to adequately fund the School to strengthen state capacity.
• Heads of all public sector institutions have a responsibility to ensure their employees have the tools of trade to perform and learn within the fast-paced digital transformation unfolding in our public sector.
• Data service providers must ensure that NSG programmes are offered to public servants at zero rating for data costs. This allows all public servants, especially our front-line workers, the ability to learn without data concerns and at a time that is suitable for them to learn.
Public Service Commission (PSC) 2021/22 Annual Performance Plan
Adv Richard Sizani, Public Service Commission Chairperson, acknowledged the challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic on both the PSC budget and physical operations. PSC has had to downscale its work and target specific areas to ensure they are still effective.
The PSC is developing a draft Amendment Bill based on needed amendments to address the previous ‘loopholes’ in the Public Service Commission Act.
Ms Irene Mathenjwa, PSC Acting Director-General, explained how the PSC will be working towards building a new culture within the public service as part of its strategic focus for the next five years. For 2021/22 the PSC has a total of 23 annual targets in the APP – split across its four programmes.
Mr Zwelinjani Momeka, PSC Chief Financial Officer, presented an overview of the 2021/22 budget and expenditure estimates per programme.
The Acting Chairperson noted the importance of the Committee researcher's background briefing.
Ms M Ntuli (ANC) thanked the Committee Researcher for his preparatory briefing which clearly explained the NSG mandate and developments. It was pleasing to hear the School had made progress in enrolling even Members of Cabinet.
National School of Government
Ms R Komane (EFF) welcomed the presentation and acknowledged the Minister's presence. Is there a budget to conduct a perception survey for national and provincial government? If there is, how much is allocated for this?
Considering the reduction of training numbers, did NSG scale down more than necessary? If so, what is the plan to attend to this matter?
Ms M Kibi (ANC) acknowledged the gains made by NSG despite the budget cuts it faced. ETD interventions are available across all levels of the public sector according to the four bands. Was there an assessment and consultations on these bands to ensure the ETD interventions address the real and not perceived needs?
The School was able to adapt its business model to face the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is proven by the unprecedented growth of e-learning registrations. When the pandemic ends, its economic effect will still exist, what would happen to this business model?
Ms C Motsepe (EFF) asked if the newly accredited and non-accredited NSG courses were fully marketed to potential learners for the upcoming intake? If so, how was this done? How is the response so far?
What is the progress report on the zero-rating of data costs by service providers?
Does the Nyukela online programme include rural areas, considering that these areas may have connectivity problems? Are you able to present the number of people registered online, classified according to the nine provinces?
Dr L Schreiber (DA) referred to Minister's response to a parliamentary question he submitted about the NSG training provided by the China National Academy of Governance and the University of China Academy of Social Sciences. What are the Principal's views on references made by the Minister on the appropriateness of civil servants receiving governance training through Chinese stakeholders, despite the vast differences in governance systems between the two countries? Is there any ideological content being conveyed in these programmes from the Chinese state?
There have recent revelations on cadre deployment. Does the NSG Principal have concerns about political parties influencing public service appointments? How does this fit with the vision of building a professional public service?
Dr M Gondwe (DA) acknowledged the diversity of individuals attending NSG programmes and the expansion of their partnerships. Is revenue sustainability still a challenge for NSG? Has NSG made attempts to develop a new suitable funding model? What is the nature of the intervention that they require?
The Acting Chairperson asked for more detail on the prepaid system.
Public Service Commission
Ms Ntuli welcomed the presentation. With oversight being part of the PSC plans going forward, how will this be done? Will it be dependent on whistleblowers or on the discretion of the Commissioners to determine over which provinces/departments to do oversight?
Does the PSC have specific strategies to prevent corruption and government employees doing business with the government?
Does the budget include the compensation required to fill current vacancies or will there be amendments at a later stage? The PSC presentation noted it has four commissioner vacancies, which impacts its mandate. What is the current vacancy rate for commissioners both at national and provincial level? How long have the positions been vacant? What role can the Committee play in ensuring these vacancies are filled? Are the PSC Commissioners required to complete performance agreements?
Is the PSC intending to conduct programmes to improve the negotiating, arbitration, and conflict resolution skills of the Commissioners?
The PSC mentioned improvements in the turnaround time of dealing with investigations, through the review of standard operating procedures. When was the review undertaken? What are the specific improvements the PSC has witnessed in the public service?
What are the successes of Programme 4 which deals with public administration investigations and corruption?
How often does the PSC assess its performance against the NDP? Has the PSC ever conducted an impact evaluation on the NDP outcomes specific to the PSC?
Ms Kibi asked if the Commission's inspections are conducted according to the mandate or on a priority basis, due to the effect of budget reductions.
The Acting Chairperson noted that as part of the Committee's duty to recommend the PSC Chairperson to Parliament and the President, the Committee could not do this without assessing the PSC performance under the outgoing leadership. The Committee had received documents that identified how many commissioner positions are vacant.
Ms Komane asked if there were public servants still doing business with the state? If so, what is done about them? If nothing comprehensive is done about this, why not?
In the new Public Service Commission Report on Financial Misconduct, what is the percentage of financial misconduct involving public funds? What is the purpose of Public Service Commission communique on Grievance Trends in the Public Service? Who consumes it? What happens with this report?
National School of Government response
Mr Ngcaweni replied that he has both a personal and professional view on cadre deployment. Considering the dictionary definition of cadre deployment, there is nothing wrong. However, it is wrong for cadre deployment or decisions on deploying individuals are based on the discretion of a single individual – that undermines the whole process. This is mitigated by having a process that has rules, guidelines and minimum requirements, which systematically selects/identifies the best suitable candidates.
The Professionalisation Framework led by NSG on behalf of the Ministry of Public Service and Administration (MPSA) is making practical recommendations that include but not limited to:
• Develop specific competency assessments to be conducted in application processes.
• Introduction of a pre-entry examination for Senior Management Service (Nyukela Programme).
A variety of South Africans are participating in the Nyukela programme, including those working in the private sector looking to transition into the public service. The NSG can present in the coming weeks the demographics and provincial classification of the programme's participants, thanks to the implementation of the online system 12 months ago.
There are plans that include the Minister updating the Executive on the progress made in the repositioning of NSG. The funding model will be explained in a broader context with more detail.
The NSG is aware of mechanisms available in the instruments of the State that can sustain the School without it receiving a bailout. If they were to require a bailout, it would be a once-off incident. If 2.5% of the budget for training the public sector can be allocated to NSG, this will fully cover NSG costs allowing for normal operations to continue. Also reserving some of the courses that department officials undertake for NSG will also suffice their basic costs.
The NSG courses cover the needs of the public service such as the Economic Governance course for Members of the Executive which deals with the quality of the decisions they make about the economy, and many more.
The courses offered through partnerships with international institutions deal more with philosophical content than theoretical, which serves to enhance/broaden the thinking of course participants. Some of the partner institutions are world leaders which some countries have made it mandatory for all public servants to attend courses through some of these institutions.
The Acting Chairperson asked that all questions not answered by Mr Ngcaweni be provided in writing.
Deputy Minister's response
Ms Sindisiwe Chikunga, Deputy Minister of Public Service and Administration, said the Deployment Committee was explained in detail at the Zondo Commission on State Capture by both the National Chairperson and President of the African National Congress (ANC). In South Africa, cadre deployment is not only where the ANC leads where a governing party imposes people which should take particular positions, this is the case even in the Western Cape where the Democratic Alliance leads. It is not something that happens only in one party, it happens even at an international level.
There are guidelines for the appointment of people in the public service and those specify the requirements, experience, and so forth. There is not any governing party, even the DA in the Western Cape, that can decide to appoint an individual that does not meet the requirements.
On China, the Deputy Minister said if we are to look at the internal issues of countries, then we will never work with anyone. We would not work with the likes of the UK because we say its constitution does not have a Bill of Rights like ours, so we will look for countries with Bills of Rights in their constitutions – which would be beneficial to us. We look at what we require for South Africa that will improve our work and, on that basis, we work with the countries.
We need to appreciate the work NSG has done in ensuring the professionalisation of the public service, which is the project that speaks to the capable, capacitated, and ethical developmental state. This is indeed the number one priority of the President, the Minister, and the country at large. If we cannot do this, we will not achieve what we want to achieve.
The content covered in the courses is supported and coordinated by ensuring that entities and units do the work. For example, the principles and values required in public servants, the Department strengthens with the assistance of law enforcement to ensure those involved in corruption are dealt with. There is that integration of the course content and coordination to support those doing the work.
The NSG work has been extended to local government. It has now provided training for local government politicians and officials. This is something we want to see continue as we have challenges at that level.
The NSG is also looking into domestic partnerships to strengthen it and put the School on the map.
Public Service Commission response
Ms Mathenjwa explained that the oversight was service delivery inspections at the service delivery sites, which are selected based on investigations, which are informed by research and evaluations. However, third-party information may also influence a service delivery inspection. When planning for service delivery inspections, the PSC allows room for spontaneous inspections when the need arises.
Preventing corruption is difficult. Ideally, the PSC would like to prevent 100% of public servants from doing business with the state. The Public Administration Management Act (PAMA) pronouncements indicated that individuals found to be doing business with the state will have to resign. There are still public servants who do this, and through our partnerships with National Treasury and the Auditor-General, we will receive the Central Supplier Database to trace these individuals.
Ms Mathenjwa replied that all PSC vacancies are accounted for in the budget.
The mediation skills training programme attended by PSC commissioners and officials ensures that mediation is used where full investigations cannot be conducted. There will be engagements with NSG for the training to be opened to department officials as well to ensure we tackle the root of the issue. Further skills such as arbitration will be added when the training is opened to the entire public service.
The purpose of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) is to allow the PSC to monitor and intervene when investigations take longer than expected.
Considering the corruption in the country, it is hard for the PSC to claim that Programme 4 has been successful. It worth noting that corruption involves various stakeholders who are not always all from the public sector. It remains the duty of the PSC to deal with those within the public sector and have partnerships with institutions such as the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) who can deal with those in the private sector.
A report was produced a few years back about the effectiveness of the PSC's work, there are plans underway to look into the impact of the work of the PSC. However, there are key recommendations which the PSC has made, which have been implemented and have made visible impactful changes – for example, public servants doing business with the state and professionalisation of the state.
The PSC is doing what it can with the financial and human resources it has.
Adv Sizani reiterated that the PSC does not appoint commissioners, the Portfolio Committee, the President and the Minister are involved in that process. At the provincial government level, it is the Premier, the Speaker and the Standing Committee involved in that process. The PSC is responsible for reporting the number of vacancies only. The Portfolio Committee has to take its recommendations on the executive management to the National Assembly for discussion.
The PSC is interested in alternative dispute mechanisms which are quicker than the outdated and lengthy methods of investigations. It is an area that requires skills. There are plans to ensure training.
The assessments the PSC conducts are linked to its NDP priorities. These assessments are conducted through the State of the Public Service report. These are the values contained in the Section 195(1) of the Constitution; the administrative/political tension; the requirement for inherent skills such as you cannot appoint someone with Biblical Studies as Director General of the Transport Department.
Adv Sizani reiterated Ms Mathenjwa’s explanation of the factors surrounding PSC oversight.
The Acting Chairperson requested that the written responses to questions be provide by 7 May 2021.
The meeting was adjourned.
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