Census 2022; HOD Performance Agreements; DPSA portfolio BRRRs

Public Service and Administration, Performance Monitoring and Evaluation

24 November 2021
Chairperson: Mr T James (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

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2021 Budget Review & Recommendations Reports – BRRR

The Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) gave a briefing on its Monitoring Report on Compliance for signing of Head of Department (HOD) Performance Agreements as well as performance assessments for 2020/21.

Statistics South Africa gave a briefing on the progress for the pilot phases and preparations for Census 2022 and the pandemic impact as well as on the African Charter on Statistics.

The Committee discussed consequences for non-compliance and non-performance of HODs and Directors General and requested the names of individuals who did not perform. It was suggested that those who did not perform or comply should forfeit benefits. The budget for Census 2022 was raised by many Committee members. Connectivity, digital manipulation and cyber-attack challenges for Census 2022 were discussed. It was noted that vaccinations will not be mandatory for the 165 000 field workers, however Stats SA will encourage vaccinations for its staff. Measures have been put in place to avoid fatigue due to long distance travel to record the census. Systems are in place for checks and balances on the quality of data. Stats SA assured the Committee that the census budget is sufficient.

The Committee considered and adopted the Budgetary Review and Recommendations Reports for the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), National School of Government (NSG), DPME, Public Service Commission (PSC) and Stats SA.

Meeting report

HOD Performance Agreements 2020/21 & 2021/22
Mr Henk Serfontein, DPME Chief Director: Public Service Monitoring, said the HOD Performance Management and Development System (PMDS) is monitored through the Directive issued by DPSA and the Guideline developed by DPME. Since April 2021, monitoring of HoD PMDS is 100% online.

In 2020/21, eight performance agreements were submitted late. Due to COVID-19 there were two extensions. If submitted after due date, condonation is needed from the Minister.

In 2021/22, 28 performance agreements were submitted after the 30 April 2021 deadline. Four performance agreements were not submitted and no reasons were provided for the non-compliance. 27% of Performance Agreements were submitted late. Overall, performance agreements submitted for 2020/21 stood at 96%.

Forty three national and provincial departments had acting DGs/HODs which is 27% of all posts. This was an increase from 37 in 2020/21. Eleven of these are DGs in national departments.

The annual assessment between the Executive Authority and the DG must be completed and submitted to DPME with supporting documentation by 31 December 2021.

Statistics South Africa: Census 2022
Mr Calvin Molongoana, Census Project Director and DDG: Statistical Support and Informatics, Stats SA, explained the census plays an essential role in public administration as it gives insight into the implementation of government policies and programmes. A population census is the most complex and massive exercise a national statistical office undertakes and is conducted once every ten years. The last one was conducted in 2011 and plans are in place to conduct the fourth population count. In-between the censuses, a large-scale sample survey is conducted. Census 2022 will be different because it will use technology and geospatial information to provide a much faster, more efficient and better quality product. Statistics SA undertook the pilot Computer Assisted Personal Interview (CAPI) phase in seven of nine provinces (35 of 52 districts) and completed the Census Pilot on 31 August 2021, concluded the field worker salary payments via a payment trigger system with a PERSAL upload, and received and staged all 165 000 devices that will be used in fieldwork. There are systems to cater for rural/remote areas. They also have online/offline data collection capabilities in place.

Discussion
Ms M Kibi (ANC) welcomed the two presentations. She said to Stats SA that it was encouraging to note the large number of people who have responded to the advertisement and asked how the field worker posts were advertised and were unemployed young persons in very rural areas aware of the advertisement.

She asked DPME if the non-performance of the 2020/21 performance agreements was due to the pandemic or were there other reasons. It was reported that 43 national and provincial departments had acting HODs and DGs, which represents 37%. She asked what were the underlying causes for that, was it recruitment and appointment not done on time or suspensions or other reasons? Between the HOD and executive authorities, who of the two on average does not provide supporting documentation for assessments – is it compliant with no supporting documents or not compliant at all?

Mr J Mcgluwa (DA) said that Covid-19 excuses had been given in both presentations for non-performance. DPME noted three unsigned documents. How will DPME be able to hold HODs accountable for delivery of key performance areas? DPME has a core mandate to ensure performance is realized for National Development Plan goals and if the performance agreements are not signed, that is of great concern. Another concern is 20% of HOD and DG positions are acting positions, this shows there is a Human Resource process problem. What strategy is in place to address the challenges that speak to Auditor-General report.

Stats SA gave the excuses of the interference of the local government elections and COVID-19 in its non-performance. There is a major challenge pertaining to the census and electronic devices. He would like to see no face to face and paper based questionnaires conducted, taking into consideration the future challenges of COVID-19. He appreciated that devices can operate offline, but he cautioned that Stats SA must ensure that cyber-attacks are circumvented and back up plans are in place, so there is certainty that there will be no interference. There is a great challenge in the rural areas in terms of access. He asked for clarity about the tablets. There are 100 000 tablets but 165 000 field workers – there seems to be a contrast when it comes to the budget. Lastly, one of the challenges is to finalise plans based on budget availability. Is there a budget, and what is the budget? They cannot do a census with budget constraints.

Ms M Ntuli (ANC) noted that there was a decline in performance agreement submissions in 2021/22 compared to 2020/21. She asked for clarity on the cause for the decline. Secondly, she noted that DGs and HODs will forfeit their benefits if they have not submitted their performance agreements and asked what type of benefits and are they substantial. If the loss of benefits does not affect the individual to a great extent, the Department should consider a new strategy of putting in penalties.

Ms Ntuli said to Stats SA that she understood that due to COVID-19 disruptions, it would not go as planned. For connectivity in remote areas, has Stats SA establish other services to deal with such situations. Apart from the municipalities, does Stats SA have a relationship with other relevant structures on the ground such as NGOs, CBOs and traditional leaders? Is there a role these structures can play? The Committee understands that there has been an outcry about the under-budgeting and they noted the R45 million increase. The digital system will have a lot of demands – how is Stats SA going to able to do the work under such conditions?. The Chairperson went the extra mile in assisting Stats SA with the discussions with Treasury on the type of budget it needs.

Ms T Mgweba (ANC) said that she did not see the evaluation of the HODs. She asked what the PMDS reflects in terms of performance, was there improvements or regression? Also how can DPME improve? Can DPME indicate clear timeframes for when the unsigned performance agreements will be concluded. On the compliance by provinces, she picked up that Mpumalanga compliance was 50% and North West 40%. What will DPME to prevent low compliance in provinces?

Ms T Mgweba asked Stats SA how will online data collection improve data quality in ensuring Census 2022 is effective.

Ms C Motsepe (EFF) asked what consequences will be implemented for DGs who did not do their work according to the performance agreement. Can follow ups be done to monitor that the DPME Guideline is adhered to? If it cannot oversee this, DPME must be removed as it is not functioning according to its mandate. It cannot continually blame COVID-19 for work not being done. Work should be completed regardless of COVID-19. Which provinces did not comply and what will be the consequence for those provinces?

Ms Motsepe emphasised strategy development to Stats SA to counter low participation in the census compared to what was experienced in local government elections. To avoid field workers fainting due to long distances and fatigue, what means will Stats SA use to protect against this? Has Stats SA planned well for the rural areas and given all the necessary assistance so that they do not fall down due to lack of digital connectivity. Is the budget adequate for the success of Census 2022?

Mr S Malatsi (DA) said that Stats SA is "encouraging" field officers to vaccinate. Can the Committee get clarity if vaccination will be compulsory? As this will be the first digital census, can the Committee get a guarantee that there are strong measures in place to minimise or eliminate the risk of any form of digital manipulation that may occur or the risk of digital breakdown?

Mr Malatsi told DPME that it must set out interventions where under-performance is anticipated to take place, so that when they occur there are already measures instituted. If individuals are not compliant and did not submit on time, why are they not explicitly mentioned together with their departments? Giving generic references to three Heads of Department is not helpful to resolve non-compliance. He requested explicit information on the three HODs and their provincial department and where there were late submissions. He asked for clarity on late submissions and the position on bonus payments and other benefits when there is a failure to comply with the various elements linked to their performance.

DPME response
Mr Serfontein replied that DPME agreed it cannot blame everything on COVID-19, but planning for 2021 and the performance agreements was very difficult and not straightforward as most departments experienced budget cuts so their whole service delivery model had changed to implement services so HODs had to also come up with strategies to deliver services.

There were Acting DGs and HODs due to these positions becoming vacant, either due to contract expiration or termination, resignation or death. DPME acknowledged the period taken to fill vacancies is too long. The intervention to deal with this will be taken by the head of Public Administration and career pathing will be managed more by the Presidency. They hope that will resolve turnaround times in filling vacancies moving forward. The intention is that they start looking at the Deputy Director General (DDG) level and proactively manage DDG careers to have a pool of potential candidates to assist in filling DG positions. The evidence to substantiate the scoring of the performances will be provided once they finish assessments for 2020/21.

On how DPSA will hold DGs and HODs accountable, for the PMDS, 40% of assessment comes from the individual DG’s signed contract but they also look at achievement against that department's Annual Performance Plan achievements in the Auditor-General's audit. Irrespective of whether the DG has signed his agreement or submitted it, the DG’s performance will still be assessed, and they will use the evaluation plan and various information but will also consider the department's performance in doing the assessment of the DG.

The specific benefits that individuals will lose are their bonus and also their annual increase, which is given based on satisfactory performance. On the suggestion of looking at new strategies for penalties, DPSA has policy that addresses non-performance and correcting DG non-performance in the public service. They will continue penalising the correct parties in non-performance and non-compliance. They will present the DG performance and how they are rated in the next financial year once they finish the assessment phase of this cycle. On non-performing premiers, the Minister and the Presidency have committed to take this up at a political level. They will also do follows up on provinces that do not comply.

They can provide the detailed list of names of those individuals that did not comply due to late submission or did not sign at all.

In response to Mr Malatsi later asking when the names of those who did not perform would be given, it was decided that DPME would submit those that did not comply within 14 days.

Stats SA response
Mr Molongoana replied that SDtat SA had put advertisements on the web, in newspapers and on social media to alert the public. In addition, they published the advertisements through communication forums such as GCIS and through other partners. They focused on keeping the process electronic as part of the lessons learnt from the previous census. The role of district census coordinators has to be performed by permanent staff so that accountability goes beyond the project line cycle and builds the prerequisite capacity within the organisation to execute large scale projects. They were deployed to districts and engaged with local leadership to ensure the public was alerted and given access through their tablets to apply.

On the excuses of Covid-19 and the elections, the reference to local government elections was to emphasise that Stats SA had to provide space and allow very important democratic processes such as local government elections to take place. In terms of COVID-19, agility was not only needed from a system point of view but also from a management point of view, in adopting management processes, as the different levels of restrictions were implemented.

There will be no use of paper as they collect the information. The 100 000 tablets will be given to the Department of Basic Education after the census. They have ensured that the tablets match the minimum requirements required by Basic Education and the remainder will be utilised by Stats SA. Power banks in the form of batteries are a back up for the use of electronic gadgets in rural areas, to ensure that the gadgets are fully charged even when they need to be operated offline. Each of the district offices together with their partners will have a surplus of the gadgets and power banks to replace faulty or malfunctioning gadgets.

In the rural areas beyond the municipalities, its district census coordinators are reaching out to areas that have not seen the Stats SA publications. Stats SA calls that process ‘targeted improvement’ to call on traditional leaders to provide platforms to aid in alerting the public about the task. Members of the public can call the Stats SA call centre where they are assisted to register. For the traditional areas, they are not excluding them from the work base function. They are making use of telephonic interviews in all these areas.

The R45 million increase is not for the census but is part of compensation of employees (CoE) after engagements with National Treasury. The census budget over the five years is R3.1 billion that goes back to 2018/19 when the project started. They are confident that they will be able to deliver the project with the available funds and they are cognisant of the financial constraints that the country is faced with in dealing with COVID-19.

Online collection will improve data quality compared to when the census was paper based. Their collection tools and platforms have built-in edit rules which assist in improving and ensuring that the information provided is complete and consistent.

Strategies for improving participation is solely their communication and publicity campaigns. The communication initiatives they have started will be heightened through government communication. They are increasing their reach in social media because they have seen how social media plays a role in disseminating information and it improves the real time interaction that Stats SA has with members of the public. One strategy taken on board to avoid long distances for field staff is the initiative of members of the public applying electronically to be data collectors. They select the place where they reside with the aim is to assign people to work within their area of residence to avoid travel. They have put proper mechanisms in rural areas to have appropriate support to execute the tasks.

Vaccination is not mandatory. It would be unfair to make it mandatory. But they continue to work with government's education initiative to encourage the field staff to vaccinate because it is for their benefit and their respondents. They have a workplace vaccination initiative in place.

On the risk of digital breakdowns, Stats SA has done processes to ensure breakdowns do not occur such as stress testing of the system during peak periods so that the system is in a position to deal with the volume of work. As information gets captured on the tablets it is encrypted and can be accessed only by certain individuals. They have built in cyber security so that not everyone is in the position to access the collected information. In addition they have what they call 'mobile device management system’ which assists them to control the devices remotely. They can track a device at any given time. They can also remotely delete information on a gadget if it poses a risk to the census collection process.

Statistician-General, Mr Risenga Maluleke, replied about having 100 000 gadgets instead of 165 000. For its more regular sample surveys, Stats SA uses 65 000 devices. During a census, they count the whole country and need 165 000. Stats SA has agreed with the Department of Basic Education for it to mobilise the 100 000 devices once the census is over because by the next census in 2032, those devices will be obsolete.

On the IEC application to the Constitutional Court to move local government elections (LGE) to February 2022 when the census would take place, Stats SA had been dealing with a difficult situation. The IEC application that the elections should happen in February 2022 would have created problems for Stats SA as it would have had to change its February 2022 census date. They had already been engaging National Treasury to change the date to October 2022 if the LGE took place in February. Stats SA has an administration function and it could not supersede the constitutional mandate of local elections. It was only when the Constitutional Court moved the elections to the first week of November 2021 that the census could occupy the space in February. Stats SA and IEC had regular engagements because they did not want to run the programmes at the same time as it would cause problems.

The Statistician-General said the point was raised that South Africa should not have a face to face census. It would not be possible to avoid this, especially because the remote areas in the country cannot easily be reached by telephone. Problems were anticipated with the literacy needed to fill out a questionnaire on a cell phone together with connectivity challenges and some households do not having cell phones. There will be telephone, website, and face to face census processes. They will do their best to minimise the spread of infection to their staff and respondents. COVID-19 is a reality and it has affected how Stats SA works.

On the long distances and fatigue, unlike the pilot sample survey where people had to move around, the field workers will work within their residential area. Their supervisors will have vehicles to move to different settlements to check on the field workers. Supervisors will attend to device breakdowns and misunderstandings and provide support. There will not be long distance because workers will be working in neighbourhood settlements.

People have the right to refuse to be vaccinated. They will encourage staff to be vaccinated but will allow people to exercise their constitutional right.

On digital manipulation, connectivity breakdowns and improving data quality, in the past when Stats SA used to work with pen and paper, they needed a supervisor who would check every census form to ensure the quality is of a certain level. Electronically they have built in checks and balances in the system, it will be able to self-correct. Once data is accessed remotely they do not need a supervisor for every five field workers to check the quality. The quality system will be in a centralised place for checks and balances to avoid sabotage. Stats SA tested the system in the 2016 sample survey and continues to test the system. Technology changes and glitches will always be there but they will try to mitigate all of these. Other countries such as European countries and America do not face the same challenges. They have highly functional systems compared to South Africa which is unique and cannot be compared to other countries. Stats SA is ready for Census 2022.

Budgetary Review Recommendation Reports
The Committee considered and adopted the Budgetary Review and Recommendations Reports for the Department of Public Service and Administration, National School of Government, DPME, Public Service Commission and Stats SA. The DA and EFF indicated that they would reserve their vote until the plenary session for the DPME, NSG, PSC BRRRs. The DA also indicated reservation for the Stats SA BRRR.

The Committee adopted the minutes of 7 July; 18 and 25 August; 1 September; 10 and 11 November 2021.

The Chairperson thanked the Committee for their robust engagements.

The meeting was adjourned.

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