The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) briefed the Committee on matters of concern: City Press article; CEO complaint to Parliament; Commissioner matters, and outstanding CGE reports.
The Committee asked if an internal resolution process had been conducted before the CGE Chief Executive Officer wrote a letter to the Speaker of Parliament about conflict as the Commissioners were not giving space for the CEO to perform her duties as the accounting officer. The CGE Chairperson replied that the matter had not been substantially dealt with internally, as prescribed by due process. The Committee emphasised that administrative complaints are to be dealt with internally before seeking external oversight.
The City Press 8 August article had reported the Portfolio Committee oversight of CGE as unprofessional. CGE Commissioners stated that this allegation was not supported nor the implication of Committee interference in CGE matters. The Committee requested that the former Commissioner elaborate on her claims of the Portfolio Committee being unprofessional.
The Committee offered sincere apologies to Commissioner Mazibuko about the derogatory comments made by Commissioner Botha about her albinism. The Committee took this matter very seriously.
In the discussion, Committee members said that the Commissioner's Handbook was taking too long to finalise. The Commission was asked about the processes conducted in the Deputy Finance Minister David Masondo case as Members believed that incorrect processes were followed.
The CGE noted that information leaks to the media was an ongoing problem which is under review. The CGE noted its high vacancy rate which was impacted by the resignation of the HR manager. It affirmed that the proper process was followed in the recruitment of personal assistants for commissioners with disabilities, including Commissioner Mazibuko. The CGE denied the allegation of nepotism due to the 'reasonable accommodation' policy invoked during the hiring of personal assistants for commissioners with disabilities.
Due to insufficient internal resolution, the Chairperson requested that written reports be submitted within 14 days on the source of information leaks; resolutions about Commissioner Botha; adoption of Commissioner's Handbook; summoning of Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng on City Press article; Commissioner Deyi in the Eastern Cape matter; and appointment process for personal assistants.
In this virtual meeting, the Chairperson asked for a moment of silence in honour of Member of Parliament, Ms Joyce Maluleke, who had passed away.
The Chairperson said CGE would provide a response to the topics the Committee had listed:
• Operational matters - CEO complaint about Commissioners
• Response to Commissioners on matters
• City Press article of 8 August 2021 on CGE and the Portfolio Committee
• Outstanding CGE reports.
Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) briefing
Ms Tamara Mathebula, CGE Chairperson, said that a letter was sent to the Office of the Speaker and the Office of the Institutions Supporting Democracy (IOSD) by the CGE Chief Executive Officer (CEO) about the conflict between the Commissioners and CEO. The alleged tensions were not providing sufficient space for the CEO to effectively perform her duties as the accounting officer in achieving the mandate of the Commission. To resolve the matter, the CGE was informed that the letter had been sent to the Portfolio Committee for attention.
The Chairperson asked if CGE had investigated the matter internally before the letter was sent to Parliament. She asked if the CEO had previously raised the concerns with the Commissioners as the governance structure to which the CEO is accountable. Grievances should be dealt with by the employer before bringing it to external parties, such as the Portfolio Committee, for resolution.
Ms Mathebula confirmed that the matter mentioned in the letter was not substantially dealt with internally, as prescribed by due process. The CGE asked the Portfolio Committee for time to investigate it and create a report with resolutions on the issues submitted to the Office of the Speaker and Portfolio Committee.
The Chairperson agreed to that.
Ms F Masiko (ANC) expressed concern to hear that CGE had not found a resolution to the matters expressed in the letter. CGE required space and time to perform its responsibility of internally addressing the concerns in the letter. She asked that CGE deal with this urgently.
Mr L Mphithi (DA) agreed that the matter should be thoroughly investigated internally. In light of Women’s Month during the pandemic, the Committee must ask what mechanisms are in place to support women, in particular, to receive justice. It is important that CGE provide the Committee with information to respond to enquiries and the various constituencies on these issues.
The Chairperson said that it is the Portfolio Committee’s duty to deal with matters in its oversight capacity that require immediate attention.
Ms N Ntlangwni (EFF) agreed that CGE is responsible for handling its own internal affairs where possible as the Committee plays an oversight role.
Ms N Sharif (DA) expressed concern that CGE may be unable or incapacitated to deal with internal struggles it is facing. Within CGE there are challenges about processes and systems on how to handle cases. She used the example of the Masondo case where CGE made mistakes in its processes and it has still failed to adequately investigate the matter.
Ms Sharif said that an investigation must take place without fear or favour of the leadership structures. She questioned the integrity of the investigation being conducted internally. She suggested an external body should investigate this due to the gravity of these claims.
The Chairperson listed the points Committee-recommended points for CGE effective functioning:
• Key concerns of the CEO and requirements to address these
• Key concerns of the Commissioners and requirements to address these
• Human Resources vacancy rate in CGE
• Status of contracts of CGE senior managers
• Implications of unfilled senior management positions
• CGE recruitment, retention and selection policies
• Commissioner's Handbook
• Presentation of a finalised business model
• Leaked information
• Matters during the appointment of the CEO.
The Chairperson requested clarity what CGE meant when it accused the Committee of interfering in CGE operations. CGE must account to the Committee and address all issues that arise.
Ms Mathebula replied that CGE does not stand by the City Press article and has issued a response expressing disappointment in the portrayal of the Chapter Nine institution as a mess. She also expressed unhappiness that the Committee was associated in the poor portrayal of CGE.
CGE agrees that August as Women's Month is critical for raising awareness, and bringing light to achievements and struggles. CGE held a webinar for women’s economic empowerment this month and has a series of webinars to uplift women.
CGE has requested the CGE Secretariat to develop a Crisis Communications Management Action Plan in response to how the article internally affected CGE staff and external stakeholders. It has tabled information to Commissioners and staff members on how adequately to respond to negative criticism, such as the City Press article.
Ms Mathebula said that she felt all CGE Commissioners were willing to take accountability from the Portfolio Committee as an oversight body.
On the Commissioner's Handbook and reasonable accommodation, Ms Mathebula said that they were two separate matters. The Commissioner's Handbook is currently under review to ensure that it reflects lived and future experiences within internal systems. CGE will report back to the Portfolio Committee once the Handbook is finalised and signed off by its plenary.
Ms Ntlangwini asked when CGE plans to finalise the Commissioner's Handbook and report back to the Portfolio Committee.
The Chairperson said that when CGE presents its report on the investigation into CEO and Commissioners, the report on the Commissioner's Handbook will be presented. Outstanding CGE reports include Commissioner Deyi in the Eastern Cape, the Commissioner's Handbook and the matter related to the CGE CEO.
Ms Mathebula said that a lot of internal work was done for the CGE audit and risk committee in the second quarter. By the end of the third quarter, the Handbook should have been approved internally and seen by plenary. Once it has been finalised, it will be shared with the Committee.
On the CGE reasonable accommodation policy, a review was conducted and sections of it were found to be insufficient due to the recruitment of personal assistants (PAs) for Commissioner Nomasonto Mazibuko and Commissioner Mbuyiselo Botha. Through an internal process conducted by the Deputy Chairperson, the updated policy was adopted to reasonably accommodate Commissioners and staff members in need of assistance. The policy was adopted in September 2020 and the PAs were hired on the basis of this reasonable accommodation.
Ms Mathebula noted there were smooth operations due to the help from the personal assistants.
On confidential information leaks to the media or external parties, CGE was concerned that this was occurring on an ongoing basis. In addition to developing communication strategies, CGE has adopted confidentiality policies. In the 19/20 July plenary, CGE was briefed by ICT staff on the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act and its relationship to confidential information.
Ms Mathebula said that information often leaks from unauthorised persons overhearing Zoom meetings, which has now been shifted to Microsoft Teams instead.
The Chairperson questioned if Commissioners were aware of their role within CGE.
Mr S Ngcobo (DA) requested an update on the suspension of Commissioner Botha and if it was related to derogatory remarks he had made towards Commissioner Mazibuko. The Committee condemns the use of derogatory language especially towards persons with disabilities.
Ms T Mgweba (ANC) asked for a progress update on the investigation and recommendations, following the release of the City Press article. She requested a report from former Commissioner Mofokeng to elaborate on her claims of the Portfolio Committee being unprofessional. The report should also address Ms Mofokeng’s allegations that the Committee has unresolved operational and administrative issues.
Ms Mgweba proposed that the CGE report to the Committee be within a prescribed deadline. She emphasised that matters should be dealt with internally before being taken to the Portfolio Committee for resolution. The matter must be under the oversight of an external body.
Ms Sharif said that the ex-Commissioner should be called to report on her claims about the Committee as constitutionally permitted. She asked for a written report on the CGE process in the Masondo case which process was believed to have been incorrectly followed.
Referring to the City Press article, Ms Sharif said that Commissioner Deyi should be afforded the opportunity to speak about her experience.
The Chairperson asked if making use of an external oversight body, who would issue the brief to them.
Ms Masiko asked for clarity about the attendance of Commissioners who were absent from this meeting. CGE failed to uphold its commitments. CGE has reported on the Commissioner's Handbook since October 2020, yet it is still not finalised.
In May 2021, the Portfolio Committee requested a report within two weeks from CGE on the CEO. Oversight cannot be provided where processes are not followed or were excessively prolonged.
The Chairperson requested all outstanding CGE reports to be sent to the Committee immediately.
Mr Mphithi agreed that the reports, especially on the Masondo case, are delivered to the Committee in a timely manner. The Masondo case did not follow the correct process, including minutes missing from the meeting.
On the appointment of personal assistants, Mr Mphithi reported accusations that a Commissioner appointed their child as a PA. He requested an investigation into this as it throws the integrity of the Commission into question in light of the City Press article. He proposed that an independent investigation should be an official motion in order to regain public confidence in CGE.
Ms Masiko asked what disciplinary action CGE is planning to take about Commissioner Botha, aside from the precautionary suspension.
Ms Jamela Robertson, CGE CEO, said that the letter to the Speaker addressed her ability to discharge her legal mandate. Updates to the Office of the Speaker were sent on 12 July on events that transpired on 30 May, though it had no correlation to the current media article.
Ms Robertson replied that the vacancy rate is currently at 23%. The CGE HR manager resigned and has not been present to facilitate recruitment. She assured the Committee that CGE was doing everything within its power to fill these vacancies.
CGE managed to fill its Communications vacancy and is currently receiving applications for Legal Head of Department (HOD) after headhunting qualified applicants. Contracts for the CEO, Chief Financial Officer and Public Education HOD were extended so CGE could proceed with the audit and annual report compilation process.
The Audit Committee recommended that the CGE governance structure be revaluated to assign rules and responsibilities, and minimise challenges.
On the former CGE CEO, this issue was taken up with the Labour Court although the Commission is yet to be contacted. CGE has had to restructure its approach to the case as its legal representative passed away recently.
Mr Sediko Rakolote, CGE Commissioner, explained that the original recruitment and selection policy involved the participation of Commissioners when employing a director. The selection committee consisted of three staff members and each required to have a higher grading than that of the post to be filled. On 13 January 2021, the original policy was reviewed and amended. The amendments were adopted by the plenary in May 2021. The new policy allows the CEO to bring in external parties. When appointing senior managers, the Commission subcommittee chairperson should be informed of the content. The selection committee may continue with its process to employ senior managers under the new recruitment policy. It is the responsibility of the CFO to advertise the positions available.
Ms Ntlangwni asked if the CGE had physical offices. CGE requires great oversight to ensure practical awareness of its roles and responsibilities.
Ms Mathebula confirmed that CGE has a head office in Braamfontein as well as in each of the nine provinces.
The Chairperson supported the notion that there must be Portfolio Committee oversight in CGE offices to investigate operations and unfilled vacancies. The matter of unfilled vacancies should be prioritised and asked what timeframe CGE has planned for this.
Commissioner Rakolote replied that the recruitment process and appointment can take up to three months. Once this process has been completed, CGE will report back to the Committee.
The Chairperson said that administration issues are to be dealt with internally such as the recruitment policy and the role of Commissioners.
Referring to the City Press article, the Chairperson asked for clarity who formed part of the panel during the CEO appointment.
Adv Nthabiseng Sepanya-Mogale, CGE Commissioner, replied that the selection committee was set up by the plenary to recruit a new CEO without any interference. CGE has submitted several reports to Parliament on the status and outcomes of that CEO appointment process.
Ms Nomasonto Mazibuko, CGE Commissioner, asked the Committee to look at who was making the remarks about her disability. Albinism is a disability that has historically resulted in the killing of many people with albinism and should be taken very seriously in South Africa. She was called derogatory names and was not reasonably accommodated by CGE.
Commissioner Mazibuko said the legal team has failed to investigate the case of her lawsuit in Durban without reasonable accommodation. She asked for the matter of the appointment of her personal assistant be resolved speedily as she underwent the required Handbook procedures. Her integrity was put into question greatly by this.
On vacancies, there were three available positions which have never been filled. She hoped to find immediate resolutions to these issues in the meeting. She called for the Commission to consider the message that the behaviour of Commissioner Botha and the City Press article propagate to young South Africans with albinism.
The Chairperson offered sincere apologies on behalf of the Committee for the events that had transpired towards Commissioner Mazibuko. She assured her that the Committee has taken this matter very seriously.
The Chairperson asked what CGE has done so far, aside from suspending the Commissioner.
Ms Mathebula replied that as an institution that upholds human rights, it is a great grievance that this occurred from a Commissioner. CGE received a formal grievance from Ms Mazibuko. Two commissioners formed a committee, empowered by the code of conduct in the Commissioner's Handbook, to investigate the facts of the accusation and the alleged breach of conduct.
On 6 August, a report was tabled to plenary with resolutions for CGE. On 8 August, CGE placed Commissioner Botha on precautionary suspension pending a disciplinary hearing process. CGE plans to follow the internal process and provide the Committee with reports where necessary.
Commissioner Rakolote denied nepotism claims for the PA appointment process in terms of the reasonable accommodation policy. CGE followed the recruitment policy when hiring the PAs for Commissioners, including Commissioner Mazibuko. He denied the allegations that there has been interference from the Portfolio Committee.
Ms Mathebula explained the only Commissioner absent from this meeting was Commissioner Busisiwe Deyi who was attending a disciplinary hearing on behalf of the Commissioners.
The Chairperson said that it is of pertinence that the relevant Commissioners are to be present in Committee meetings, especially when the publicized grievances involve them.
Ms Mathebula noted that numerous other reports had been submitted to the Committee and she assured the Committee that all requested reports will be provided in the next two weeks.
In response to Mr Mphithi asking when exactly the new HR policy was adopted, Commissioner Rakolote replied that the recruitment and retention policy was adopted on 27 May 2021.
On the nepotism allegations, Commissioner Sepanya-Mogale said that nepotism did not occur as the 'reasonable accommodation' policy for people with disabilities allows CGE to recruit people with whom people with a disability have an intimate trust or comfort to allow their dignity and privacy to be respected.
The recruitment and retention policy adopted on 27 May had only certain sections altered. The only new update stated that external parties who are experts in certain areas may be brought in. Previously there were situations where the policies were disregarded when involving Commissioner participation.
Ms Mathebula said that the new policy dictated that the appointment of the internal audit committee members is the responsibility of the Commission because it falls under its prerogative to form a committee.
On the appointment of personal assistants, Mr Mphithi asked if the job description for a PA to a commissioner with a disability would change to reasonably accommodate this so as to distinguish from nepotism. It is important that the correct process is consistently followed and the matter is included in the investigation.
Mr Mphithi said on behalf of the DA, it condemned the statements made by the Commissioner.
The Chairperson extended apologies on behalf of the Committee to people with albinism for the degrading statements.
On recruitment of senior management, Ms Robertson clarified that the challenge lies with applying the newly revised policy concerning roles and responsibilities. She agreed that CGE requires oversight to ensure effective operational functionality.
The Chairperson requested that reports be submitted within 14 days detailing these investigations:
• Source of the information leakages
• Resolutions on Commissioner Botha case
• Adoption of the Handbook
• Summoning of Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng on issues raised in City Press
• On Commissioner Deyi (which may be completed in four weeks)
• Appointment process for personal assistants.
The Chairperson said that where CGE needs extra time to draft a report, this must be communicated to the Committee timeously.
The meeting was adjourned.
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