The provincial Department of Local Government had achieved a clean audit with no findings for the eighth consecutive year. The Department stated this when presenting its annual report for the 2020/21 financial year to the Standing Committee in a virtual meeting.
Members wanted to understand how the Department was planning to manage the situation in the Western Cape because of hung municipalities and coalitions, seeing that it was assisting in the establishment of new councils, and asked if there was a strategy in place for these coalition options; asked if there was a plan in the Department to ensure 50/50 gender representation in its organisational structure, because there were exceptional women in the province, and wondered if there was a challenge around balancing gender representation; wanted to know the reasons for the non-delivery of information (IT) equipment by March 2020; questioned whether the Department would be able to sustain the R60m allocation for food security in the next financial year, and if not, asked how it was going to replace it within municipalities to manage community expectations, seeing that people were used to receiving this service; asked the Department to explain what it meant by instability within municipalities; and wanted to establish at what point the Department started to make assessments for senior management appointments, and if it had the capacity to do that.
Mr Anton Bredell, Provincial Minister for Local Government, said, in his introductory remarks, that 2020 had been a historic year because of Covid-19, which had brought the world to a standstill. The Department had been working around the clock with other departments of education, health, transport, and business and communication sector. It had to reprioritise its budget because of the pandemic. As a result, R16.2m was transferred to municipalities for humanitarian relief to implement food security programmes which changed the lives of the poorest of the poor. Economic hardship resulted in the loss of revenue in small municipalities, and affected cashflows in the immediate and longer-term.
The Department, in consultation with the Hanns- Steidel-Stiftung (HSS) Foundation, had asked the University of Stellenbosch to design a financial and operational sustainability model for municipalities. The model would identify new alternative revenue streams, basket of services, and minimum levels of services municipalities should render to communities. The adoption of the joint district/metro approach in the province had fundamentally changed the way the province functions. With the manifestation of the positive outcome on projects implemented through the approach in several districts, the methodology was applied to respond to Covid-19 while reporting on the Western Cape Recovery Plan.
During the year under review, the Department had a total of 82 indicators, of which 77 were fully achieved, four were partially achieved, and one was not achieved. In preparing for the local government elections, the Department had collaborated with the Municipal Demarcation Board to consider inputs and objections in relation to the municipal ward boundaries and leading to publication of the final ward limitations for municipalities in the Western Cape. This enabled the Department to initiate the Amendment of the Establishment of Notices for Municipalities, which was a precursor to the local government elections.
The Department had been providing ongoing administrative and legal assistance to municipalities on the appointment of senior managers. Senior Department officials had been deployed to each council to assist in the critical first council meetings where new leadership for each council would be elected. The process was ongoing.
Minister Bredell noted municipalities in the province continued to perform well compared to others in the rest of the country, as demonstrated by the Africa Ratings and the News24 Index released before the elections. According to the Municipal Financial Stability Index Report, the best performing municipalities in the country were in the Western Cape. Only five municipalities in the country had scored above 70%, four of which were in the Western Cape. 18 of the 30 municipalities in the Western Cape managed to get clean audits for the year under review, and a further nine had received unqualified audits. Without good financial management and sound cooperative governance, municipalities could not deliver the services the communities need. This showed the Department was headed in the right direction, but this did not mean there were no challenges in these municipalities. The Department worked diligently with all the municipalities to ensure there were improvements in governance. In conclusion, he said the Department had received an unqualified audit opinion with no findings for the eighth consecutive year.
Mr Graham Paulse, Head of Department (HOD), said that during the year under review, the Department dealt with a couple of disasters like fires, floods, drought and Covid-19. The Disaster Management Centre was activated during the entire course of Covid-19 to respond with great ease to the disasters in the province. It had been a significant year for the Department: preparing for the local government elections, ensuring smooth transition from the old to the new, working with HSS Foundation and academic institutions by providing training to councillors on ethical leadership, and working around the sustainability of the municipalities.
The Department had played a coordinating role in response to Covid-19 by facilitating a geographic response in all municipalities. The same strategy had been applied to the Covid-19 Recovery Plan. The national Department had visited the province for an information-sharing session with the Department on the Joint District and Metro Approach (JDMA) work done and success stories. It had also cooperated with the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on the ongoing investigation of cases to be brought to courts.
Ms M Maseko (DA) congratulated the Department on the sterling work done during Covid-19 because it had been hit hard from the outset. It had to ensure it provided humanitarian relief and food security to communities. She wanted to find out if the sustainability model had been completed and the number of municipalities identified for it, and asked the Department to show some examples of alternative revenue streams for financially constrained municipalities and to explain the minimal services to be rendered to the municipalities.
Mr Paulse made it clear it was a model of sustainability related to Covid-19 and its impact on the finances of the municipalities. Big municipalities with cash had been resilient with Covid-19, but smaller ones had suffered a lot. The research on this model had focused on the rates, tariffs, baskets of services, identification of what the basket of services should be and its affordability for the citizens, and the financial stability of municipalities. This research was done with HSS Foundation and Stellenbosch University. That work was being consolidated, and the provincial minister had raised awareness of municipalities’ financial sustainability. The model would be reviewed, especially when looking at the population growth within the municipalities. Engagements with the national Department and National Treasury on this model were ongoing.
Mr D Smith (ANC) wanted to understand how the Department was planning to manage the situation in the Western Cape because of hung municipalities and coalitions, seeing that the Department was assisting in the establishment of new councils, and asked if there was a strategy in place for these coalition options.
Minister Bredell explained there was always work before and after elections. The Department always opened a desk where people could phone and be given support and advice. The advice of the Department was on legal matters and legally constituted councils. Political parties must not push staff members to give them what they want. Democracy and rule of law should be promoted. The Department sends personnel to municipalities to advise municipal managers, because there was a lot of pressure in municipalities. The negotiation of coalitions was not the domain of the Department. It was a political matter. The Department offered this service to all municipalities, irrespective of the political dispensation or politics of the day, and adheres to the will of the voters. The Department usually holds in-depth discussions on how the municipalities should work. He said his main concern was discipline within municipalities, because there was no reason for them not to pay Eskom.
Mr A Van der Westhuizen (DA) remarked it was difficult for him to understand that no challenges were encountered on supply chain management (SCM), because he was under the impression that during the year under review, the Department had to procure equipment and allow staff to work from home. At some stage, the software had had to be changed because it was outdated, so he wondered if there was no challenge in this regard, and what would arise as a challenge to the HOD in terms of SCM procedures.
Mr Paulse agreed employees were allowed to work remotely and had been provided with laptops and data, especially during the hard lockdown, because meetings were virtual so that the staff could do their work. Key controls within the SCM were the responsibility of the chief financial officer (CFO) and no non-compliance was identified when it came to supply chain management. There had been a purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) for Covid-19. and a report was submitted to the provincial treasury to indicate what the procurement was for the Department, the commitments and costs. All key controls, from an accounting authority point of view, were in place.
Ms Maseko asked if there was a plan in the Department to ensure 50/50 gender representation in its organisational structure, because there were exceptional women in the province, and she wondered if there was a challenge around balancing gender representation.
Mr Paulse explained that at the senior level, all the posts were currently filled and as the posts opened, there was consideration of 50% representation of gender in the management, taking into account employment equity. This was what the Department looked at when posts became vacant. because it had to account to the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) on gender representation.
Ms N Makamba-Botya (EFF) wanted to know the reasons for the non-delivery of information technology (IT) equipment by March 2020. Would the Department be able to sustain the R60m allocation for food security in the next financial year? If not, how it was going to replace it within municipalities to manage community expectations, seeing that people were used to this service?
Mr Paulse said they had not received a similar amount for the current year at the moment. The Department of Social Development (DSD) had received R25m for similar humanitarian relief efforts. The Department had received R50m in the current year to assist municipalities and citizens with employment opportunities, whether on the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), or small-scale economic activities like it does in Thusong Centres. There had been extensive due diligence processes in this instance.
Ms Maseko asked if the DSD would do this separately, or would collaborate with the Department.
Mr Paulse said the DSD had its own approach because it worked with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and non-profit organisations (NPOs) in different communities.
Ms Bhavana Singh, Department CFO, said the IT equipment had been delivered in March because of the hard lockdown, and was locked in the harbour at customs. It had eventually been delivered in April and distributed to staff accordingly. She indicated that the reason for the rollovers was that the IT equipment was paid in the new financial year instead of the old financial year in which the order was placed. The same was applicable to the other rollovers.
Mr Smith wanted to know if the conditional grants and funds received were earmarked only for Kannaland, and if there were other municipalities identified for this intervention. He asked for clarity on the duration of the contracts for staff appointed for forensic investigations.
Ms Eda Barnard, Chief Director: Municipal Performance Monitoring & Support, explained that he intervention grants had been presented during this year from the provincial treasury for the first year. When National Treasury presented them first, it indicated one could support a municipality only when there was a formal intervention in terms of the constitution. It was for this reason the grants were utilised for Kannaland at the time.
She said the forensic unit had been established by the Department and had received three-year funding from the provincial treasury to look at allegations received from the community. The funding was ring-fenced, and would be used only for this purpose. The contract employees were made up of two deputy directors and two assistant directors. They were all on one-year contracts and employed according to DPSA regulations, even though there was a three-year funding. This meant the Department had to advertise after year one for these positions for the second and third year.
Mr Van der Westhuizen asked who decided on which municipalities the forensic investigations would take place. Why had the figures or targets for Thusong Centres dropped? What was the impact of the Community Development Workers (CDWs) on communities? He also asked about the kind of training received by these CDWs, and why they had to be conversant in only one of the three languages of the province.
Ms Nozuko Zamxaka, Chief Director: Integrated Service Delivery, said that what they had achieved over the years in terms of service accessed through the Thusong Centres was generally over a R1m, and in prior years it had been above R3m. During the Covid-19 year, more than R1.2m was generated, given the insufficient resources they had. These figures were informed by the services accessed through the Thusong Centres. During the Covid-19 period, the Thusong Service Centres were closed until June because some municipalities were using the centres as shelters for the homeless. These centres had started to open towards the end of June, and people had started to have access to them. Most national departments’ services came back during level 3. Services on the Thusong Centres were achieved through the outreach programme. As the levels went down, the outreaches were modified to avoid infections.
Communities were still serviced through the Community Development Work programme. The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), for example, shared information on its services with the Department and the CDWs. The CDWs were then able to contact and assist people to access food relief and the R350 grant. The CDWs were the employees of the Department, appointed in line with the Public Service Act and governed by the code of conduct of government employees. They were employed at level 6, and supervisors at level 8. The minimum requirement was a matric. They attend training provided by the Department. Four years ago, funding was sourced from the Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (LGSETA) to target the training of all Thusong Service Centres’ employees. Training covered project management, communication, evaluation of programmes, etc.
About the language issue, she said the language requirement was for the Thusong Outreach, because the Department was sensitive to the needs of people. There were outreaches where they send a person to an isiXhosa / Afrikaans speaking area, so there was a need to ensure the right official was sent to those areas and could speak the predominant language. The officials were able to converse in English. That was why at least one additional language was required for this purpose.
Ms Barnard referred to forensic investigations, and said that each allegation received was investigated and assessed by the team of investigators and Department. The investigation team was comprised of professionally trained investigators. The team collected information from whistleblowers and municipalities as well, and if there was a reasonable case of maladministration, the process was formalised and investigated.
Ms Makamba-Botya asked the Department to explain what it meant by instability within municipalities. What new water security plans were the Department planning to implement in the greater Karoo? What was it planning to do to ensure the province had responsive citizens, and what role would it play to ensure this was taking place. She wanted to know the location of the two functioning Thusong Centres and how they were used, and also wanted to understand if the Department had tried to find out why some municipalities did not use the funds transferred to them.
Ms Zamxaka responded that each municipality had a Thusong Service Centre and a Thusong Satellite Centre. The information that was on the Service Delivery Improvement Plan (SDIP) refers to these Thusong Service Centres, where there is a fully-fledged centre with various government departments, led by anchor departments like Labour, SASSA and Home Affairs. These centres were referred to as fully functioning Thusong Centres. Then there were Thusong Satellite Centres, which had scheduled services. The only two municipalities that did not have these Thusong Service Centres and Satellite Centres were Knysna and Stellenbosch.
Mr Marius du Randt, Head of Ministry, said that the greater Karoo had been experiencing drought for more than eight years now. Many places were dependent solely on ground water. That was why the Department would continue with hydraulic services through appointed service providers to ensure the ground water project was sustainable. The Department was also looking at a transversal approach for water security and resilience plans.
Mr Paulse, referring to instability within municipalities, said that that in the cycle term of local government, negotiations were seen going on between political parties, and this included the movement of staff contracts coming to an end. There was always instability before local government elections. In the Department’s observation, negotiations for coalitions were seen, and this was characterised by fraud and corruption, where some councillors would try to find ways of looking after themselves after elections, especially when they knew they were not coming back. There was also instability in administration and service delivery, where the attention of councils and councillors was not on service delivery. The end of terms for councils and municipalities was characterised by instability, even after the local government elections, where one sees the rotation of staff members and terms of senior members were coming to an end. That was why the Department had coined this “instability within municipalities.”
Ms Maseko wanted to know what the relationship was between the Department’s Vision Inspired Priorities (VIPs) as outlined for 2020 to 2024, and its alignment with the Provincial 2019/24Strategic Plan. She argued that she did not see any concrete targets for the strategic interventions intended in the VIPs. She asked if the pandemic could have contributed to the changes for not specifying the targets in some of the programmes within this financial year on the output of performance indicators, or if the targets had been restructured. Concerning the Zero Asset Care Programme, she wanted to know if they were going to see something new or different in the next financial year, where the Department was going to set targets to maximise these municipal assets for economic development and job creation.
Mr Albert Dlwengu, Director: Policy & Strategic Support, said that when they did annual performance plans, they did alignments at the national level by looking at the MTSF, and then did alignments in terms of provincial strategic plans, and then look at the municipal priorities. In the provincial strategic plans, in each year they indicate the programmes they would be doing, looking back at the APPs and targets, and then indicate which one would contribute to each of the five VIPs. The 2020/21 APPs indicate what the five priorities of the province are in terms of the strategic plan and the Western Cape Recovery Plan. In each of the five priorities, the Department indicates what its contribution would be.
Mr Du Randt said because of the reprioritisation in the budget, they had had to stop the rollout of the asset management plans. They were now looking at partnerships with other stakeholders to assist in the rollout of asset management programmes. Plans were being developed to assist municipalities to understand the importance of asset management, and to adopt a holistic approach to infrastructure management.
Ms Makamba-Botya asked how often the Thusong Centres were operating, and how services were monitored and if they were of benefit to communities. She added that she was not satisfied with the response on rollovers, and asked for more clarity.
Mr Morne Pretorius, Director: Service Delivery Integration, said the Thusong centres were open every day. In terms of local government support, the Department provides an operational and maintenance grant, does monitoring visits, and provides a functionality scorecard to measure each centre on ten variables quarterly. Challenges at each centre were conveyed to the municipal manager and various sector departments. These reports would be made available to the Committee.
He said they had introduced innovations to counteract the devastation caused by Covid-19 on communities. Targets were missed and they had had to come up with alternative means. First, they had increased the number of satellite centres where Departments could do scheduled services when they could not do outreaches. Second, they had increased the footprint from two centres to 30 in the same municipalities. Third, they had redirected savings when they could not do outreaches, to assist citizens to be transported to other government services like Labour, SASSA, Home Affairs, etc. Fourth, they had partnered with district municipalities to see how they could increase the number of outreaches to be done in the next financial year in order to close the gap for those who missed on the opportunity during the lockdown.
Ms Sewlall-Singh made it clear they had had to apply for the rollovers because the order number had been issued during course of the financial year, and the equipment was not delivered by March because of the lockdown. The equipment was kept by the supplier and was not delivered to the Department. The Department could pay for the equipment only once the delivery happened. The delivery had happened only in the new financial year.
Mr Van der Westhuizen enquired if the CDW training programmes were registered with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and if they appeared on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). Did the investigation unit have the power to seize documents or force the handing over of documents, and force people to respond to all questions, or if it was just at the mercy of the municipality concerned?
Ms Zamxaka said the CDWs had a range of qualifications -- some of them had got Masters, Honours or Bachelors degrees, but for entry level six, the requirement was a matric (Grade 12). These programmes were accredited. There was also additional training the Department was providing. Funding was obtained from the LGSETA, and the training was provided by the University of the Western Cape (UWC). That was the kind of training that was not accredited. The learnership programme on CDW was not accredited. The Department did provide training for all its employees through the provincial institute, and that training depended on the service provider as to whether it was accredited or not.
Ms Barnard responded on the powers of the investigation unit, and said once an investigation was under way, the unit had the backing of the Western Cape's municipal legislation to open a court case with the SAPS if the documents were not surrendered to it.
Mr Smith asked if the unit would exist only for one year, seeing that its employees were contracted for one year only.
Ms Barnard responded that the Department had prioritised the investigation unit and had undertaken a full organisational review with the Department of the Premier. The new structure had job descriptions and had been formalised within the Department. It only needs to be submitted to the DPSA, and funding had been secured. There were positions within the structure that would not be advertised for years two and three -- the intention was to formalise and prioritise the structure first.
Mr Van der Westhuizen asked at what point the Department started to make assessments for senior management appointments, and whether it had the capacity to do that. He also wanted to know if the Department still offered legal support services to councillors, because many needed some kind of legal advice. He asked if it was the responsibility of local government to make transfers for drought relief, and what the role of the national Department of Water and sanitation (DWS) was in this regard, because he was of the opinion the local government was there for the reticulation of water. Seeing that drought was imminent, he wondered if it was not a requirement for an entity to make money guarantees would be spent for drought relief because his main concern was when assistance was offered in monetary terms, the money was kept in the bank unused. He asked about the reasons for the Kannaland transfer.
Ms Barnard said municipalities were expected to produce progress reports on the appointments of all senior managers who report to the municipal manager. There were regulations around the appointment of senior managers. The MEC assesses the recruitment process, shortlisting, and council resolutions on the appointment of senior managers. On legal advice matters, the municipalities were able to contact the directorate of the department that deals with legal matters related to municipal governance. Also, the Department provides packages of assistance to individual municipalities as the need arises and when they have made a request for assistance on legal matters.
Mr Du Randt said the province had its own drought rollout programme and mandate. It collaborates with entities to ensure the rollout is sustainable. When municipalities do not spend the drought transfer and reasonable arguments are forwarded for that, then an application is submitted to the provincial treasury for the rollover of funds. The Department had a team of hydrogeologists and drought engineers that assist municipalities in the implementation of the projects. There were control mechanisms in place to ensure work was done according to the specifications of the projects.
Mr Paulse told Members there was an excess of R4m for interventions in municipalities. It was a grant amounting to R10m allocated to provinces by national treasury to assist municipalities under administration on recovery plans. The additional money could not be transferred to Kannaland because it was an unstable municipality at that time. The funding was therefore withdrawn until Kannaland had stabilised.
Ms Maseko asked why the targets on the Capacity Development Programme had been set low, unlike in the previous years, and wanted to know what the impact of the new indicator linked to infrastructure would be on the Department if it was discontinued, when looking at the type of programmes to be developed, because the budget had been reprioritised to respond to Covid-19.
Ms Barnard said there were three training programmes. The one for councils focused on the civil school and research done. Then the one for officials focused on junior and middle management development, and although there were no targets allocated to internships because the grants had to be surrendered for humanitarian relief, the Department had approached the Department of Tourism and Economic
Development and secured 154 interns for municipalities across the province. The budget was not with the Department, but with the Department of Economic Development and Tourism.
Mr Colin Deiner, Chief Director: Disaster Management and Fire Services, said that less training was done on rescue and fire training because it involved human contact. The planned training could not be done because wild fire training had to be done face-to-face. A virtual training session was done with the Overberg district, but they could not carry on with it because of the Covid-19 situation, which did not allow bringing people together, and hence it was cancelled.
The Chairperson asked why there were no assessments done on the code of conduct for cases assessed, even though the target was six. What provisions had been made to assist councils with the training of the new ward committees to be established?
Ms Barnard said the MEC played a role only when a council had to be dismissed or sanctioned, and a report had to be submitted to the MEC, even when appealing the sanction. However, if the council plans to challenge the sanction, the report was not submitted to the MEC.
Ms Zamxaka explained that the first council meetings usually adopt the Ward Committee Establishment Process Plan. In terms of the law, the amendments that have been made in respect of the established ward committees should kick off within 22 days from the date of the first council meeting. The councils must establish their ward committees. Once they are established, the Department would deal with the training of ward committees. Training was procured. Information had been sent to the five districts and metros. Previously trained officials of municipalities, and those currently doing refresher training, would train the incoming ward committees.
Mr Paulse emphasised that every year there were changes to the laws governing local government. There was an oversimplification of local government legislation, but the complexity was in its implementation. The Department would like to provide assistance to all municipalities around the application of the legislation. The drafting of the legislation had proved to be complex as well.
Mr Van der Westhuizen wanted to know if councils would be allowed to fill unfunded posts at the moment, and how the Department could ensure that financial prudence was applied in municipalities after the elections. His concern was that people might fear that before the elections, unfilled vacancies would be filled, especially those in the organogram of the municipality. There was the issue of funded and unfunded posts, and he feared that in the organogram of Kannaland there have been lots of unfunded positions which had not been filled up to now.
Mr Paulse made it clear that on the advice of the MEC, they had decided to look at the standardisation of organisational structures across municipalities in the province. Deviations were allowed under certain conditions. The municipality could go 10% higher or lower. The standardisation of organisational structures involved certain criteria, depending whether the municipality was small, medium or large. The aim was to look at the ideal structure of the organisation. The national Department had commenced similar work, and there had been delays with it. The Department had now started to speed up the work because it was urgent for it to standardise staff structures, because one would find that municipalities with the same gradings, budget and categorisation had varying organisational structures. That was the reason for the standardisation programme. There were municipalities like Kannaland that had appointed staff over and above the approved posts, and rearranged and reprioritised posts. The Department was monitoring the situation, because the compensation of employees in certain municipalities was higher than the operational budget, and sometimes went higher than 50%. Even struggling municipalities were making appointments to unfunded posts, even though no funding had been secured. The structure was monitored, and the MEC would request reasons for going above the staff establishment budget, hence the standardisation of municipal organisational structures.
Mr Smith asked what interventions were in place to prevent young people from leaving the Department, because six out of nine staff members had resigned. These were mostly young people, citing a lack of promotion and remuneration as reasons for the resignations, and these matters were preventable. When it came to senior management, he asked if there were any interventions to bring in more people of colour and women, seeing that six out of 16 people (38%) were white males.
Mr Paulse said a total of 31 staff members had left the organisation. There were nine resignations, and the reasons for that were stated in the annual report. The vacancy rate was very low and this was making it difficult for staff members to get promotion. Internal staff members had been promoted internally. Salaries were standardised. If an employee left the Department for a higher salary, the policy did not allow the Department to retain that employee. Also, for the period under review, all the posts at the senior management level had been filled. As the posts became vacant, the Department had an employment equity manager who would look at the recruitment and shortlisting of candidates up to the final appointment, taking into consideration employment equity. If there was deviation from the target group, he, as an accounting authority, had to be given reasons for that. A balance in terms of equity was looked at when making senior management appointments.
Mr Van der Westhuizen asked what the experience of the Department was of applications from designated groups, especially for senior management positions. Was there a shortage of qualified people? He commended the Department for its low vacancy rate and for achieving 100% of senior managers signing performance agreements.
Mr Paulse reported there was no shortage of applications for senior management applications. The Department tried to get a broader pool, and if it struggled to get the right person, then it would resort to head-hunting the person or people it wants. He further indicated there was full compliance around performance agreements. Critical posts were filled and there was a dedicated focus to get the best engineers. Unfortunately, engineers did not want to work in the Department’s salary and contract positions. That was a big challenge, because they earned more than the accounting authorities in the Department, so it was difficult to attract or recruit them.
Ms Makamba-Botya wanted to know why there was no expenditure on lower levels 1 and 2, and if this meant the Department did not have personnel in these levels. Why were there no upgraded posts for the 2020/21 financial period? What was the nature of the dismissal of two individuals for misconduct? Why was there no recruitment for top and senior managers? She also wanted an explanation about misconduct addressed as a disciplinary hearing because one employee had falsified documents, and asked if the Department had opened a case against the employee.
Mr Kirk Adams, Assistant Director: Local Government, said that during the year under review, there were no officials appointed at levels 1 and 2, and these posts had remained unfunded. Regarding the two dismissals, one was for absconding for 30 days without informing the office. The second was for falsified records, and the Department had felt it was not necessary to open a case against the individual.
Ms Maseko wanted to know what the Department’s strategy was on retaining critical posts, seeing that there was an improvement in the turnover rate at 8.5% during the year under review. He asked why there had been a large expenditure on consultants.
Ms Sewllal-Singh replied that all consultant services went through an open procurement process or the use of another state organ for state contracts or transversal, except for the Department of the Premier. The BEE level was automatically included in the evaluation procurement system and adjudication. The biggest amounts for consultants went to hydrogeologists, water response planned projects and Covid-19 logistics and infrastructure growth plans.
The Chairperson wanted to know why the resignation of one employee over 65 was not classified as retirement. He asked why the utilisation of sick leave by staff members had been much higher during the year under review than the previous year, and if this could be attributed to the high stress levels caused by the pandemic. Had there been any interventions in place to look after the wellness of the Department’s employees, to ensure it had motivated staff?
Mr Adam said the official who resigned was over 65 years old, and had felt it was better to resign instead of retiring in order to get a full retirement package.
Mr Paulse said that prior to Covid-19, the utilisation of sick leave had been high. The use of sick leave during the Covid-19 period was now very low. People were working from home, and that could be the reason for the low utilisation of sick leave for the year under review.
Ms Makamba-Botya commented every time the reports were tabled, Members got the same one line explanations on BEE, employment equity and scarce skills leading to headhunting by the Department because it could not fulfill the BEE requirements. This meant the Department had no plans to comply with BEE and employment equity requirements aimed at redressing the imbalances of the past. She wanted to know what the Department was doing to address senior management posts and BEE requirements besides headhunting.
Mr Paulse explained that all senior management posts were filled, and the Department had gone through the process of looking at equity targets. 50/50 at the senior management level could be achieved as the posts became vacant and people left the organisation. Senior managers were not leaving the Department.
The Chairperson remarked the Departments of Public Works and Transport had a graduate programme to recruit engineering graduates to work for these Departments for a certain period. If the graduates could not be absorbed, they were then released to find their own employment. He suggested it was better for the Department to collaborate with these departments to get excess graduates.
Mr Paulse said the Department had got interns for disaster management and other areas, but it was looking at ensuring the pool of engineers was available for municipalities, and discussions were on providing bursaries to local students of towns to study engineering so that when they completed their studies, they worked in the infrastructure divisions of the municipalities. The Department was concerned that the pool of engineers in the province and the rest of the country was diminishing, and this would lead to problems for municipal infrastructure and delivery.
Ms Barnard said challenges were experienced when it came to employing engineers. The Department was looking for senior managers with a minimum of ten years' experience in a municipality. This was a minimum requirement. When the Department advertises, the engineers that apply were older and around 60/65 years old, and when they got appointed, they were kept for a year or two. Another challenge was that the DPSA regulations did not allow the HOD to negotiate the level at which the engineers could enter the Department and be paid. That allowance for the HOD had fallen away.
The engineers the Department attracted did not want to start at the bottom level, as the regulations demanded. The Department required engineers that had worked on municipal infrastructure and delivery, because this was a unique environment. So it did not help to get an engineer from the private sector who did not have this required experience. The Department advertised three times, and struggled to fill the posts. Fortunately, the drought engineers and hydrogeologists used by the Department were willing to join the Department for a contracted period, just to alleviate the situation. With assistance from the Department of the Premier, the Department had taken some posts and dropped them one level down so that even an unregistered professional engineer or technical person with less experience could be given work. As a result, the Department had made four appointments from people coming from all over the country who were qualified technicians, technologists and engineers with experience in municipal infrastructure and service delivery. For instance, the Department had got a qualified engineer who was not registered professionally, but had worked for a municipality in the North West. This was one of the units the HOD had prioritised to be redesigned to ensure the Department had a combination of the right people it required to assist in municipalities. The Department needed a combination of young qualified engineers, project managers and hydrogeologists. Hence the reprioritisation for restructuring.
Mr Paulse, in his closing remarks, said the challenges the Department faced in employing engineers were the same for attracting or recruiting people for the forensic unit. The Department had its work cut out for it in terms of municipal councils. The Committee was aware of hung councils in the province that had to convene soon. The Department needs to increase awareness about local government under the guidance of the MEC and provide booklets to all councillors and collaborate with stakeholders in the training of the new incoming councillors on their votes and responsibilities.
He thanked the Committee for its oversight role and the guidance from the provincial minister and the entire team of the Department for its commitment and dedication for making a difference to the lives of the citizens of the province.
The Committee resolved it would send a congratulatory message to the Department of Local Government on the content of the annual report and its achievements for getting a clean audit outcome for eight consecutive years. It further resolved the Department should provide the Committee with its BEE reports from 2019 to 2021, and a list of appraisals for the Thusong Centres.
The meeting was adjourned.
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