The Standing Committee met with the Western Cape Children’s Commissioner on its 2020/21 annual report as well as its audit outcomes.
The Children's Commissioner is a chapter 9 institution under the Western Cape provincial constitution. The budget however got routed via the Department of and heated discussions about the Independence of the Children's Commissioner ensued.
The opposition was concerned about the independence of the Commission given that its budget was directed through the Department of the Premier.
The Children's Commissioner indicated that it remained a challenge to deliver on her mandate given that resource and capacity constraints within her office and she called for additional resources.
They advanced that each and every chapter 9 institutions needed an interface department with government.
The Commission was also broadly questioned about its innovation and technology investments in the province and whether it was meeting its targets on broadband rollouts.
On the audited outcomes, the Commission had received a clean audit with only minor comments.
The Committee also engaged the Department of the Premier on its 2020/21 annual report. The Department has seen exponential growth in queries to the call centre which had at its beginning received about 3 000 calls per year and now it received in excess of 460 000. That remained a significant jump and to mitigate this risk, the Department had been capacitated with the necessary human resource skills to meet demand.
The Department had also received a clean audit for the year under review with only minor comments.
Western Cape Children’s Commissioner 2020/21 Annual Report
The Western Cape Children’s Commissioner, Christina Nomdo, briefed the Committee on the work that the Commission had undertaken since its inception eight months ago. She reported that she had visited several districts in the municipality in the province to engage with children.
Ms Nomdo said her office was lauded internationally. She had however mentioned that for eight months, she had basically ran the office herself, and that it had not been easy to set up a new institution. The Premier's Office had seconded someone to the office to assist.
She lamented the resource constraints that she operated in. The full time officials in the Commission now stood at two officials.
She informed the Committee that to fully deliver on her mandate, she required six staff members.
She said that the Commission's inputs would aim to assist in improved governance as it pertained to the lives and rights of children.
She said that her Office had undertaken a study to determine the character of the Western Cape child, and that most of the quantitative data had been sourced from institutions like UNICEF, Statistics South Africa, the South African Police Service, as well as the Children's Institute.
[see presentation attached for further detail]
Mr R Allen (DA) congratulated the Children's Commissioner on its achievements despite the resource constraints.
He wanted to know whether the Commissioner had any intention to open offices across the various districts of the province.
He also asked what challenges the Commission had experienced during its first year of operation.
Mr Allen noted the research that the Commissioner had undertaken and referenced one of the outcomes of that study which had determined that 50% of Western Cape households had absent fathers. Absent fathers remained a big phenomenon, especially in so-called coloured communities and might be experienced by other South African communities as well.
He concluded his line of questioning with the observation that children of the modern era could be considered as more advanced than he had been at that age.
Mr G Brinkhuis (Al-Jama ah ) welcomed the presentation by the Children's Commissioner and pointed towards the Commissioner's interaction with children, and the mandate that prescribed it to consult with children on a regular basis.
He also wanted to know if, given the geographical spread of the province, the Commissioner could say that the allocated budget had been enough to cover all interactions across the province. He mentioned towns like Beaufort West and other rural and outlying areas.
He also reminded the Commissioner that he had met her on two previous occasions.
Ms P Lekker (ANC) observed that the funding allocation for the Commission had been redirected via the Office of the Premier. She recalled the independence of the Children’s Commissioner as set out in the Western Cape provincial Constitution. She questioned how independent the Commission actually could be given that the budget had been redirected via the Office of the Premier. She asked whether it would not be better to have the money directed straight to the Commission. She also wanted to know whether the Commissioner had engaged the Office of the Premier on the need for increased resources and additional staff.
Mr M Xego (EFF) also took note of the presentation and the Commissioner's interactions with children across the province, and as such, wanted to know whether the allocated budget would be enough to sustain all operations of the Commissioner.
He also wanted to know whether the Commissioner had any plans to decentralise her Office.
Replies by the Children's Commissioner
The Children's Commissioner said that of course her Office would like to have district offices however this remained a challenge, given the resource constraints experienced.
In order for these district offices to become a reality, there had to be a commitment to resource and capacitate the institution. The independence of the institution had to be safeguarded as well.
Although some speakers had mentioned the independence of the institution, she stressed that the Commissioner had very good relations with the Office of the Premier, which had remained accessible.
On the question that had been posed by Mr Allen, she replied that Molo Songololo had submitted quite extensive input, and that these inputs had been added adjunct to the annual report of the Children's Commissioner for the year under review.
She expressed her gratitude and pride at her team for having been able to engage with children, and to advance the mandate of the Children's Commissioner despite resource challenges.
To date, the Commission had established the Child Governance Monitor programme through which children kept abreast of socio-political development in the province and reported on it.
She said that she remained in constant contact with the governance monitors. The contact had been aided by social media platforms like WhatsApp.
Dr Harry Malila, Director-General of the Western Cape Government, added that the Office of the Premier had a wonderful and cordial relationship with the Children's Commissioner and that several meetings between them had already taken place.
He noted that it had always been difficult to set up a new institution ,and despite the challenges, the Office of the Premier had managed to find rental accommodation in one of the buildings in which the Children's Commissioner had been housed since its Inception.
The Office of the Premier had taken note of the resource and capacity constraints within the Children's Commissioner's Office and had assisted with the secondment of an official to the Children's Commissioner's Office to assist with the setup and administration of the institution.
He noted that he respected the independence of the Commissioner, as a Chapter 9 institution, totally independent from the Executive.
He reminded Members of the fact that even though the Commission had been legislated or deemed independent, its staff component remained the employees of the Western Cape Government.
All government finances had to be accounted for, and thus there had remained an oversight responsibility by the Office of the Premier to ensure that all financial transactions of the institution had been assessed annually and found to be in accordance with government stipulations.
He reiterated that he had no intention to interfere in the independence activities of the Children's Commissioner as long as the institution remained independent.
He also once again reiterated that the Office of the Premier and the Children's Commissioner had enjoyed an excellent relationship. The latter had been roped into departmental strategic and financial processes as well.
Premier of the Western Cape, Mr Alan Winde, said that he had appreciated the passion and enthusiasm with which the Children's Commissioner had taken up this very important task, and he extended his sincere gratitude and thank you to the Children's Commissioner and her team for the work undertaken, despite the constraints.
He also reminded Members that the Police Ombudsman had been another Chapter 9 institution, which had been created under the Western Cape provincial Constitution, yet situated within the Department of Community Safety.
He explained that independent institutions still had to be assigned to a government department.
There were discussions and proposals about a relocation of the Commission to the Department of Finance/ Provincial Treasury however it seemed inappropriate since there had existed no correlation between the work undertaken by the Children's Commissioner and that of Provincial Treasury .The Departments of Education and Social Development might be more appropriate.
The Premier concluded that there should remain an interface between Chapter 9 institutions and government. He had also touched on the resource constraints experienced by government.
Annual Report of the Department of the Premier 2020/21
Opening remarks of the Premier
The Premier noted that it had been a challenging year given the covid-19 pandemic.
This had spurred the provincial authorities to focus on innovation and technology, especially as it related to governance meetings.
He reflected on the big changes that had to be implemented that deviated from the five-year plan of government and as such, the department had identified three priorities aligned to prevailing conditions including recovering safely as well as jobs and dignity - these interventions mean government will be able to make impactful contributions. Government had to work and manage differently. All departments have been pulled in to work in tandem with what had been required from national government.
He added that his government has never had so many Cabinet meetings with a lot of minutes produced.
He further added that one aspect that his government had looked at had been research on the effects of the pandemic on the poor in the province. It seemed that there was recovery and a renewed focus on safety and well-being.
He deflected once again on the impact of innovation and technology on the provincial government’s operations and recalled how, for example, these had assisted in ensuring that the Department could trace the delivery of oxygen to the various hospitals during the height of the covid-19 pandemic.
The provincial government also had to fine-tune its communication strategy as this called for complete behaviour change as the pandemic has started to affect all aspects of society and through funding made available by United States Aid, the communication could be strengthened.
Resource constraints had placed an enormous burden and or pressure on the provincial government to deliver on its targets but his government had tried to do more with less.
The safety plan remained very important as this determined how best the provincial government was going to keep the province safe and in this regard, it would continue. He spoke to food insecurity and the impact of violence on society.
Mr Allen thanked the Premier for the presentation and centred his questions on the contact centre that blew up to about 15 000 calls a day. He wanted to know whether the government had a system in place that evaluated the efficacy of these queries to the contact centre. He also wanted to know how the government had arrived at that conclusion.
Mr Brinkhuis thanked the Premier and his team for the tremendous work that they had done, especially during the pandemic, and he continued to hope to an end to this scourge.
He recalled that the Premier had touched on innovation several times in his remarks. About that , he wanted to know whether any support had been provided to budding tech entrepreneurs in areas like the Cape Flats, Hanover Park and areas like Delft. He said that many budding entrepreneurs in these areas had tried to start their own small businesses aimed at innovation.
In one instance, he had met a young man, who had also apparently met the Premier on a previous occasion. He wanted to know whether there had been any plans to assist such young people. Support to young tech entrepreneurs would drive technological advancement in the province.
Replies by the Premier and senior officials
On innovation, the Premier replied that an enabling environment had to be created for innovation to flourish, and that his Department was but one component of several other government departments. He indicated that the Department of Economic Development also played a very critical role within the Western Cape.
The rollout of broadband had facilitated innovation and technological advancement in the province, he said.
He also pointed towards the e-centres that functioned as an information hub where residents could request information and access connectivity. He also pointed out that all centres ran on the broadband which now stood at about 100 gigs.
He further stressed that the rollout of free broadband had facilitated connectivity between citizens.
The Premier also touched on the robotics programme currently under implementation by the Department of Education. He expressed his excitement at the robotics programme which he had experienced during school visits. He reported to the Standing Committee that he had visited several schools where he experienced the drone programme and only that the specific morning he received an invitation to attend a certificate ceremony of one of these drone programmes in Mitchells Plain.
These programmes played a critical role in preparation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The province had established that its data usage for the Department of Education had outstripped usage of all provinces combined. This had shown that there is an uptake or interest in broadband. He further added that he had hoped that the data usage had actually been utilised for educational purposes and that it stimulated science and innovation in the province. Libraries also played an important role.
He noted that whenever he visited Delft, he got excited upon seeing the 27 private sector towers in operation in that area. That is phenomenal and had been considered a major investment, the Premier said. He further said that he would like to see the province leapfrog other countries in terms of its offerings.
The province, he said, was best placed to quickly move to voice over IP however his knowledge remained limited in that particular environment.
He therefore just indicated that, in terms of the broader financial impact, there remained huge opportunities for the province.
He noted that the broadband now ran on a 100 gig data speed, and that this initiative had been geared towards connecting citizen and not necessarily only urban centres.
He noted that government remained excited about robotics and innovation projects as these stimulated the gig economy.
He further added that the rollout of broadband by private entities in the main should be supported.
He said that he remained blown away by the success of Mitchells Fibre in Mitchells Plain which had enabled many residents to be able to work from home.
The Premier also recalled that residents could now even order sugar that got delivered by a taxi.
These type of innovations required funding.
Dr Malila (DG) spoke to the question that had been posed about the resolution of queries to the provincial call centre - general resolution stood at 96% of all queries, though 98% and above, remained the bar, since the volumes of calls had escalated. From May to July 2021, there had been a spike in calls to the contact centre as a result of Covid-19 queries.
He added that the Department of the Premier had also depended on other government departments to also conduct follow-ups to queries related to their specific competency.
He also informed Members that should they be interested in an oversight visit to the provincial data centre, it could be arranged.
On cybersecurity, he added that the province had a rigorous monitoring and evaluation system in place that checked the veracity of reports by private service providers.
The Department had internal staff members that checked whether the sites portal systems etc, had functioned optimally for that particular period.
This process had been informed by a ticketing process that facilitated easier monitoring and evaluation of service providers.
According to the Director-General, his department did quite well considering that in 2019, the contact centre had handled 5 018 calls for the year, whereas in 2020 that number had shot up to 462 144
Besides the contact centre, the Department also administered the “please call” line that received almost 40 000 + queries that had to be followed up on.
Mr Hilton Arendse, DDG: Centre for e-Innovation, added that the Director-General had requested other government departments to be part of the resolution process as they would be best placed to directly deal with sector-specific request such as health etc.
Ms Lekker noted the comments by the DG about growth and renewal and asked whether the Department could elaborate on any other steps it has taken other than that it facilitated the3 000 calls.
On free connectivity in poor areas, and the robotics programme, she informed the Committee that some schools in Mitchells Plain, whom had also been designated as a no-fee schools, had actually charged a fee of R500 per learner for these classes.
She said that if communities, especially poor communities, have to pay for these services, then it would actually defeat the purpose – she asked the Department for an explanation.
She also wanted the Department to provide additional information about fruitless and wasteful expenditure, as detailed on page 19 [of the annual report].
Replies by the Department
The Premier replied that he had not personally picked up anything of that sort i.e. R500 for robotic classes, and asked the Member to send him the details of the alleged practice.
The Director-General responded to the question about renewal and said that “renewal” should be seen within that context.
He reiterated a previous comment by the Premier about partnerships with other government departments, such as health and social development, noting it had been a challenging environment, with calls jumping from 3 000 to more than 463 000.
The provincial government's call centre had been administered exactly the same as a commercial call centre and had to be staffed by required human resource skills
On no fee schools, he asked that the Member provided him with the details about the R500 robotic classes in Mitchells Plain. He would surely follow up with the Department of Education.
He also touched on the fruitless and wasteful expenditure of a R1.6 billion aggregate budget. He said that his Department had no unauthorised or fruitless expenditure. This had been a serious risk consideration of the Department.
He then tasked the Chief Financial Officer of the Department to elaborate on the on the amounts listed under fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
Mr Drikus Basson (CFO) explained that page 244 [of the annual report] also dealt with fruitless and wasteful expenditure. He detailed how that had occurred - an erroneous offer had been sent to an official .The official then resigned from the current job.
The Department had lost the arbitration case and had to pay the official. The officials responsible had been disciplined and a garnishee order brought against the salary of the disciplined officials.
Mr Arendse said that the province remained committed to the rollout of broadband to all municipalities.
Ms Lekker said that one school was the Glendale High School. She asked the Department about outstanding taxes owed to the SA Revenue Service as well as a R19.3 million penalty that had been incurred by the Department. She was concerned that the Department of the Premier was supposed to set the example for all other departments so why had it not realised it had not paid these taxes for five years?
She also wanted to ascertain who might have taken such a decision and why.
The Member recalled that the African National Congress had, on previous occasions, questioned the Premier's commitment to diversity.
On service delivery improvement plan, she asked about the Department not meeting its obligations and made reference to the contact centre. She wanted to know whether the services to poorer areas had been affected as a result of office closures and the move to the contact Centre.
Mr Allen commended the Department for meeting its target on writing off bad debt. He wanted to know to what extent the Department had undertaken collaborations training and engagement with the private sector to aid government service delivery responsibilities, especially in these trying times with constrained budgets.
He had also taken note of the R12.3 million and that had been gifted to the provincial government and encouraged those type of collaborations.
Ms D Baartman (DA) followed up on the comments by Mr Arendse, on the province’s goal to connect all municipalities. She said that while this intention was absolutely wonderful, the Department had detailed information that spoke to under-expenditure in the rollout of broadband in its annual report. Yet, consequently, the Department had requested Provincial Treasury for additional funds in 2023/2024.She had however noticed that no allowance had been made for 2022.
She wanted to ascertain whether this had meant that a year would be skipped. She proposed the Department conduct the necessary research that enabled it to plan accordingly.
In the absence of funds for the broadband rollout, the Department could always consider public private partnerships (PPPs). These types of partnerships had been provisioned for in terms of Regulation 16 of National Treasury.
She also touched on artificial intelligence, robotics and the usage of analytical data, for example block chain, which had proved to be too expensive for government. She said that “if you brought in private partners, it might make it easier for government to access these resources as well as taking ownership of it.”
The Member also confirmed that she had already assessed the impact add advantages of these mobile applications, and the Standing Committee would extend invitations to gauge their rural footprint.
She further added that during the presentation, the Director-General had alluded to the cost of about 41 cents of a Rand to run broadband. She had just wondered what happened to the additional 51 cents
On authentication on the different provincial government portals or systems, she informed the Committee that she would be meeting with “her matriculants “. She would then be able to take stock of whether they had been able to back up their data.
She also wanted to know whether the Department had identified new cybersecurity measures, as the province had already experienced cyber attacks at key installations like the harbour and other government departments. She asked whether the sites that had been attacked, had in fact been declared provincial key points. If not, maybe they should be designated virtual provincial key points.
On Children's Commissioner district offices, she did not necessarily think that Laingsburg would be an ideal district office for such an endeavour, as most residents opted to go to much bigger commercial centres like Touwsrivier and Matjiesfontein There remained a substantial difference in what these different towns had to offer, such as the school in Laingsburg that did not offer maths, as a subject matter.
Ms Lekker reiterated her previous opposition to the Children's Commissioner’s budget allocation being redirected via the Office of the Premier. She called on the authorities to consider the direct disbursement of funds to the Children's Commissioner.
She also touched on the different salary bands, as detailed under personnel expenditure for the financial year under review. She said that she had noted that the white officials in the Department seemed to earn much higher salaries than that of their counterparts and that in some instances expectantly so, when matched with that of lower-ranking officials. She wondered aloud whether the Premier had the political will to bring about the necessary changes within his Office.
She then turned her attention to employment equity within the Department and referred to the senior levels 12 to 16 and noted that 64 posts had currently been filled with the majority of them being occupied by white South Africans. Only three posts had been filled by Africans. She asked why vacant posts had not been filled by Africans. She asked whether the Premier had the political will to institute the necessary changes.
The Director-General replied that the other 51 cents would be used for infrastructure maintenance as well as labour cost and that this breakdown had been picked up by a municipality that was currently considering rolling out broadband.
He emphasised that broadband services remained an expensive expenditure, especially infrastructure.
He called on Members to peruse the Ten Year Investment Plan to observe first-hand the high expenditure on infrastructure rollout.
He noted the comments by the Member on public-private partnership and informed her that in fact a business contract with a broadband provider could also serve as a partnership agreement.
On the repeated question on the Children's Commissioner, the Commissioner reported directly to Parliament and it is just a funding allocation that is routed via the office of the Premier.
The Western Cape had emerged as the new financial technology centre and remained the only province that administered a financial technology degree. He said that 127 financial technology firms had set up shop in the Western Cape. This degree offered in the Western Cape now remained as one of the top 50 degrees in its class internationally.
The DG added that "we" had to be careful as government would sometimes set up entities with R5 million but before long that might balloon to R100 million.
On the salary disparities between the different races, he replied that the salary bands depended on experience as well as service in the public sector and that these salaries had been renegotiated at the bargaining council and that the national department of public service and administration had determined public-sector salaries
He also informed Members that recently, the Department had embarked on a recruitment process of a so-called African person to fill a position that had been left vacant by another African colleague who had moved to Johannesburg however despite the Department's best efforts, it could not find an African person to take over. Maybe the departments would look at different ways to attract a more diverse candidacy list.
He reiterated that the problem remains skills and experience. He also defended the so-called exorbitant salaries paid to senior officials and noted that in some instances, these senior officials acted as the interim heads of other programmes sometimes taking care of two to three programmes of government and this of course placed an extra burden.
Mr Arendse said that regarding cybersecurity, strategic risk was analysed and the Department managed this risk. The Department remains ready to attend a closed session where these risks could be discussed with them both.
On risks posed by cyber attacks against government departments such as ports and harbours, he noted that there was constant contact with his counterpart at the State Information Technology Agency who updated him regularly on threats against the Department.
The Department also ran regular awareness campaigns. Due to awareness campaigns, the incidents of phishing attacks had decreased from 17% to 7%.
The Department could also monitor in real time for instance the 1 500 schools based in the Western Cape. This enabled the Department to take the necessary action should threats be identified.
He said that hackers continued to find new ways to be innovative and remained intelligent people and used their skills effectively.
Blockchain for now would not be implemented by government and remained a very expensive exercise. Blockade is a solution without a problem
The Committee had also been informed that the digital infrastructure had not been declared key points. Most of the data of the Department are either hosted by the SITA or by the cloud.
The DG conceded that the Department had a big problem with diversity and remained very committed to employment equity and diversity and continued to implement measures and explored measures to make the Department more representative. The Department had not been pleased with the situation
The Premier thanks his team across the Department and the Committee for the role played in delivering targets despite the constrained resource environment. The Department continued to innovate it was pushing boundaries
He found it shocking that some schools still did not offer maths, especially in the environment of today. It should be a priority and he recalled a recent study that noted that only four out of 100 South African students who studied maths past it at 50% and more.
The Chairperson thanked the Premier and his Department as well as Members for the opportunity to engage on the annual and audit reports of the Department of the Premier.
The meeting was adjourned
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.