Letter from the Minister of Higher Education and Training to the Committee (not available to public)
The Standing Committee on Public Accounts met on a virtual platform to receive an update from the Minister of Higher Education and Training on the National Skills Fund investigations. The Ministry sent an email on the morning of the meeting to request that the meeting be moved to an alternative date due to the Minister being overseas at a conference.
The Committee expressed displeasure at the last-minute request as the Accounting Officer and Deputy Minister were not present nor was a report sent to the committee to review.
It was disrespectful towards Parliament, the Committee, and the many students who depend on the National Skills Fund.
This was the second time the Minister has asked for another date on this matter. It was becoming a trend. Correspondence would be sent to the Minister that the Committee reserves its right to subpoena him should he continue on this trajectory.
The meeting was adjourned to 7 September 2022 at 18:30.
The Chairperson welcomed the Committee and explained that this would be a very short meeting. He thanked the Committee for the oversight visit last week to Masilonyana following the petition received by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).
This is the first time the Committee is meeting this term. The Committee wanted to prioritise the meeting with the Minister of Higher Education and Training to deal with the investigation of the National Skills Fund, given the long history of problems at the institution. The meeting was scheduled for June, however, shortly before that meeting, the National Assembly Programming Committee directed that all meetings had to be suspended due to the scheduled sittings of the House in the time slots in which the Committee would have had that meeting. The Minister subsequently asked for another date for the meeting. On 18 August 2022, the Chairperson dispatched a letter to the Minister of Higher Education and Training scheduling the meeting for 30 August 2022. The Minister acknowledged the letter. After the oversight visit to Masilonyaya, the Committee Secretariat was unable to get in touch with the Ministry to request the presentation for this meeting. There was no response from the Minister or the department. This morning, a letter signed off by the Minister, was received by the Chairperson stating that he is unavailable and is in Indonesia for a conference. The letter has been shared with the Committee. He finds this to be undermining Parliament, and this Committee specifically.
Considering, that the letter setting this meeting was sent on 18 August 2022 already and that the Minister surely had knowledge of his trip to Indonesia, he could have communicated his unavailability earlier. The Committee meeting could have thus been used for other work, given that the schedule is packed and the term is very short. This behaviour is rogue and not consistent with the kind of professionalism which should characterise the work of the executive and particularly in managing the relationship between the executive and the legislature. It is a dereliction of duty; it is reckless and irresponsible. The problems at the National Skills Fund are there for everybody to see and the decision of the Committee that an investigation must take place was not made in a vacuum. It was in the context of the gravity of the problem. As the correspondence of 18 August 2022 was acknowledged, the meeting could have been rescheduled at that time rather than on the morning of the meeting. The Content Advisor has sent through a briefing notice detailing where we are with the National Skills Fund matter.
Ms B Van Minnen (DA) agreed with the Chairperson’s remarks. It is frankly disrespectful towards Parliament, the Committee, and the many students who depend on the National Skills Fund. It should be noted that this is problematic and that it delays the Committee’s entire schedule and wastes the Members’ time when there are plenty of things the Committee needs to investigate. It needs to be made clear that when the Committee is investigating something, it must take precedence whenever possible.
Mr S Somyo (ANC) said that the unsettling part is that the meeting convening was not sudden yet notice was given not even a day beforehand that the Minister was not available. This should not be taken kindly. Has the Ministry sent any reports for this meeting? If not, that indicates there was no preparedness to attend the meeting. The requirement is that when the Committee meets, those who are invited to the meeting are required to provide a report which should be received in good time for the Committee to review and reflect upon. He proposed that a correspondence, signed off by the Chairperson, should be written to the Minister setting a new date. The letter needs to be prefaced highlighting the discomfort of the Committee regarding the chain of events and that it will not be tolerated. If there is failure this time around, the Committee will be forced to use other mechanisms to hold the Minister accountable.
Mr B Hadebe (ANC) asked whether the Deputy Minister or the Accounting Officer was available for the meeting. Why is it that when the Minister is unavailable, everyone else is also not here? This suggests that the Minister has a monopoly on the knowledge and wisdom concerning these issues; this cannot be true. He agreed with Mr Somyo and asked whether there was a presentation the Committee could interact with. If not, that clearly indicates they were not prepared to appear before the Committee. If a report has been sent to the Committee and the Accounting Officer is present, then the Committee can accept the letter from the Minister. If these individuals are not present and the documentation is not available, then it is clear that there is no willingness to appear before the Committee and the matter should be dealt with in a manner that is befitting of the conduct that has been displayed by those that ought to account before the committees of Parliament.
The Chairperson referred back to the letter. The Minister says in the second last paragraph, ‘I request that the Committee kindly propose an alternative date for me to appear before it’. The assumption, therefore, is that there is no one appearing before the Committee today and there is no documentation that has been received since Friday, 26 August 2022 until late yesterday, 29 August 2022. The Committee Secretary was the one chasing after the Department, trying to find them to submit. The only correspondence received was this morning at 07:42, which is the letter that has been motioned. The Chairperson agreed that the Ministry was quite clearly not prepared and unwilling to attend this meeting, which is the second time they have asked for another date on this matter; it is becoming a trend. He agreed with Mr Somyo. Correspondence needed to be sent indicating to the Minister that the Committee reserves its right to subpoena him should he continue on this trajectory.
Mr Somyo asked if there is anytime soon, perhaps next week, to convene this meeting with the Minister, even in the evening?
The Chairperson said that the Committee would have to consider an evening session, possibly next week Wednesday, 7 September 2022 at 18:30.
Ms Van Minnen agreed with the Chairperson on the time and date.
The Chairperson said that the Committee would meet on 7 September 2022 at 18:30. In the meantime, correspondence will be sent to the Minister and the department expressing the Committee’s displeasure and disquiet at this dereliction of duty and reminding them that the Committee reserves the right to subpoena and will do so if necessary. It cannot be a normality that if a date is set that it gets moved or cancelled, this has never been seen before. Other departments either send their deputies or suggest another date.
The Post Office oversight report and the Eskom oversight report will be tabled in the House on 8 September 2022.
No other matters were raised.
The meeting was adjourned.
No related documents
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