The Policy and Research Services branch in the Presidency presented the Socio-Economic Impact Assessment System (SEIAS) to the Portfolio Committee on Small Business Development.
The presentation discussed the basic understanding of the SEIAS, how it was introduced, its application, and the institutional arrangements for its implementation. The implementation highlights, the key principles when applying the SEIAS, and the support initiatives were described. The Committee was informed that the SEIAS allowed the branch to analyse the potential socio-economic impact of policy and regulations so that they could be approved for implementation. Various departments used this system throughout the policy-making process before a bill or legislation was brought before Parliament.
Members considered the SEIAS system to be an exciting and effective measure. However, they expressed concern over the timeframe, pointing out that it took a long time for policies to be implemented, which could negatively impact various aspects of society. Research by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) had revealed that it took, on average, five years to finalise legislation. When it took so long, it meant that the problems that needed to be addressed had also persisted for about five years.
The Policy and Research Services branch said it tried its best to ensure that it did not create any delays during the policy-making process and when subjecting legislation the SEIAS. Officials from the Bills Office had been interviewed to look into reducing some of the challenges. The framework that was being proposed was to ensure that the turnaround time was reduced to about two years. A red tape unit had been established in the Presidency with a mandate to cut out measures slowing down legislation processing. The Committee said it would invite the unit to address it, as reducing red tape was important.
Presentation on Socio-Economic Impact Assessment System (SEIAS)
Ms Pulane Kole, Head: SEAIS, Presidency, introduced her colleague, Ms Gaynore MacMaster, Deputy Director, who would deliver the presentation with her.
She said the SEIAS allowed the branch to analyse the potential socio-economic impact of policy and regulations so they could be approved for implementation. The assessment system was interactive, and did not allow one to sit in a corner and develop policy or legislation, but rather it required engagement with various relevant parties within and outside of departments. The assessment system asked critical questions on how a policy or bill would improve the socio-economic conditions of various vulnerable groups in society and contribute to addressing poverty. The system was not used once a policy or Bill had been drafted, but rather at the early stages where a need that required government attention had been identified.
Through SEIAS, departments analyse broader socio-economic challenges, associated costs and risks, and develop mitigation actions. SEIAS also ensured alignment with the National Development Plan (NDP) by considering how policy proposals impact on and relate to the transformation and inclusive growth of the economy. Referring to the 1997 White Paper on the “Batho Pele principles”, she said that the work done by government officials went beyond producing circulars and developing regulations and legislation. The work was about efficient delivery of services and the continuous improvement of quality services. It was about thinking about the development of the country and the quality of services that South African citizens deserved.
The current administration, under the leadership of President Ramaphosa, has emphasised fast-tracking the implementation of regulations. The current administration's emphasis was on:
- The removal of policy impediments and improving the ease of doing business.
- Public policies being evidence-based and effectively coordinated.
- Addressing complicated and lengthy regulatory processes.
- Leading the implementation of structural economic reforms around water, energy, transport, visa regime and digital communications. She used an example of the backlog challenges for applications for water user licences, to show the improvement in this area. The President had indicated that the turnaround time for water user licences must be reduced to 90 days, and 944 applications had been processed out of the backlog of 998 applications. The Department had been able to process 150 applicants within the 90-day turnaround time. This had been possible through strong leadership, the improvement of internal services and business processes, and re-engineering.
- The revitalisation of the rural and township economy.
- Facilitating investment in the country
- Reducing red tape and improving the business environment for companies of all sizes.
- Reviewing the Business Act alongside a broader review of legislation that affected small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) to reduce the regulatory burden.
- Establishing a Policy and Research Services Unit in 2019 and 2020, and transferring the SEIAS unit from the DPME to the Presidency in 2020.
Ms MacMaster took the Committee through how SEAIS was applied in the initial impact assessment phase and the final impact phase. During these stages, there was a lot of engagement with the owning department, the drafting department, policy and research services, and representatives to ensure that the best quality report was produced at the end of the day. The owning department was prompted to use evidence to inform the problem and contextualise the status quo during the first phase. This phase also provided ample information to identify the various pathways to change. At the end of the stage, the department was then required to identify or motivate a preferred option.
The products produced during this phase included the initial assessment impact report, a detailed Green Paper around the problem, and concept or discussion documents. The products were mostly used for internal consultation in the Department and for obtaining approval on the government’s policy position.
The phases were interrelated. The Policy and Research Services branch worked on the problem identification and providing evidence based on the context, and finding the various options that were then used in the final impact assessment phase.
In the final impact phase, the Policy and Research Services branch focused on the implementation aspects of the preferred option. It also contained sections dealing with consultation feedback or input from the key stakeholders. The branch advocates for inclusivity here to ensure that all the consultations were not only in the draft policy and the Bill, but in the report as well.
There was also a section dealing with identifying existing policy, legislation and regulation from the drafting department and other departments that had implemented policy legislation focusing on addressing the same problem. Here, the branch attempted to minimise policy contradictions that might arise during implementation by identifying existing legislation and ironing out any possible contradictions.
The branch also encouraged resource planning, as it was important. Departments were encouraged to do a costing of their preferred option, as not doing so could lead to a negative implementation of the preferred option.
Risk identification was another important aspect. This required departments to consider all risks that might serve as implementation barriers and develop mitigation action plans during the early stages.
A monitoring and evaluation aspect was included in the final impact assessment phase in 2018. This was critical, because departments needed to gather data on whether policies and legislation were on track to meet their objectives, and periodically evaluate whether the preferred option was the right solution to addressing the problem.
The final impact assessment had various sign-off stages, which included:
- The cluster sign-off form for presentation of the policy or bill to the Director-General (DG) clusters.
- The preliminary sign-off form for regulations and the bill for approval to be gazetted for public comments.
- The final sign-off form -- policies and regulations for approval for implementation and for bills to be approved by Cabinet to be introduced to Parliament.
Automatic exclusions of the application of SEIAS would be statutory law and corporate policy, such as human resources (HR) policy and budgetary policy. A significant test had been developed, which assessed whether the preferred option selected by a department had a huge and significant impact on society and other departments. If the test yielded results that did not indicate much of an impact on society and other departments, they would then be provided with an exemption certificate that exempted one from going through the entire SEIAS.
On the institutional arrangements for implementing the SEIAS, she highlighted that the responsibility to draft a SEIAS report fell on the owning department. It was not written up by the policy and research unit. SEAIS champions had been identified -- these were people within departments who were responsible for advocating for SEAIS within their departments to ensure that it became an integral aspect of each department’s policy development process.
The owning departments must publish the draft SEIAS on websites when gazetting bills, policies and regulations. This ensured transparency in the process, and every interested party had free access to it.
Ms Kole took over the presentation, and described the following implementation highlights:
- 703 policy proposals had gone through the SEIAS system, of which 80% were comprised of bills and regulations. The remainder were rules, notices, strategies and plans.
- Through SEIAS, departments had an opportunity to facilitate resources and address potential policy impediments.
- The SEIAS unit provided inductions to over 2 500 officials across the three spheres of government.
- The national policy development framework was introduced and approved by Cabinet in December 2020 to guide departments on evidence-based policymaking. This was based on interviews conducted with policy practitioners that showed a gap in the country that guided policy practitioners on how to develop policies. This framework also included standards of policy making and a guide on the duration of policy-making to ensure proper planning regarding policy development and allocating time and resources to stakeholder engagement.
- The SEIAS unit established a community of practice to support departments on cross-cutting matters in policy-making and applying SEIAS. One of these cross-cutting matters was how to assist departments in implementing policies and monitoring their impact.
She closed by discussing the support initiatives of the branch, stating that it was finalising a framework for improving the turnaround time for finalising bills. They had seen research by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) that it took, on average, five years to finalise legislation. When it took so long, it meant that the problems that needed to be addressed had also persisted for about five years. Proposals had been made about the turnaround time to allow legislation to be finalised more quickly.
The Chairperson said that the presentation had been powerful and provided a lot of information. The Committee had heard the delegation, and was excited. As the organ doing oversight, they would engage with the delegation. She opened the discussion.
Mr H April (ANC) asked how long the SEIAS process should generally take. What was the Presidency’s view on the separation of powers doctrine, and what were the plans to have a similar unit in Parliament? What was the level of collaboration between SEIAS and Parliament’s constitutional and legal services offices?
Mr F Jacobs (ANC) said SEAIS would help greatly with Parliament’s policy coordination process. The country’s big problem was the implementation of policy frameworks. There were a few gaps. Policy coordination between the three spheres of government was always welcomed. He asked how SEIAS would help with the coordination of the implementation. Parliament was involved in executive oversight -- was there a part of this system that would help Parliament with its executive oversight implementation?
Committees approved budgets, annual performance plans (APPs), and the department’s strategic plans. Would this help with implementing policy, as this was key for him? When he worked in local government and the Development Bank, they used ward information management systems to track different poverty pockets in the country. Poverty was mapped in geographical areas -- was a geographical spread of how policy was being implemented being used by the Presidency?
He said that government had good policies on paper, but there was no delivery and consequence management for the policies that the government was supposed to implement. Parliament performed work such as oversight and community outreach, but there seemed to be a blockage. Was the current system a broken telephone system that gave people a sense of being okay, while the policy impact was not being felt on the ground? There were still big policy gaps in the implementation, despite systems such as a dedicated monitoring and evaluation system. He emphasised the importance of government knowing the local government, provincial government and national geographical footprints in a geographical space. They could crowd in development resources and keep people accountable when they knew the profile of the people.
It was good that the Presidency was engaging the matter at hand because it was important to learn how to use resources better. The Committee wanted to encourage more education in this regard.
Inkosi B Luthuli (IFP) asked when institutions such as the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) were going to start looking at policies that could remove red tape.
Ms B Mathulelwa (EFF) asked whether there had been any progress in research and collaboration between the SEIAS branch and the Department of Small Business Development (DSBD). Had the branch dealt with the Committee Bill? How did the SEIAS branch plan to cover businesses located in rural township areas?
The Chairperson was of the view that this was a good plan and presentation, but the process took a long time. Her understanding of the work that this unit did in the Presidency was to assist the process of developing bills and policies. The branch had defined the SEAIS and why it was established in each item they indicated. The Committee’s duty was to check how to apply it, and who should do it. The branch had stated that department officials should apply it. Where did Committee Members come in as parliamentarians, seeing that parliamentarians were allowed to develop bills?
She agreed with Mr April on the timeframe issue, stating that this process took too long. Parliament was not assisting society when it was trying to recategorise bills. Could the SEIAS period not be regulated in a way to shorten the period? It was important to deal with those stumbling blocks. How was Parliament going to assist people if policies took a long time to process, especially people in small businesses? She agreed that the country had good policies, but the issue was implementation. How best did the unit plan to monitor under the role of monitoring and evaluation? The Committee's role, as Parliament, was to monitor.
There was an under-spending problem when government had to tackle unemployment, inequality and poverty. The SEIAS unit needed to look at implementation, and the Portfolio Committee needed to look at how best to involve themselves in developing bills, because they were the ones dealing with people on the ground.
Mr S Gumede (ANC) asked whether the SEIAS unit could provide a progress report of some sort regarding the Business Act, the National Small Enterprise Act, and the Small Business Ombud Service Bill. Had these been presented to the SEIAS unit, and at what stage were they in assisting the Department to finalise these processes? It took the DSBD a number of years to shift the Business Act from the Department of Trade and Industry to the DSBD. Did Parliament need to go through the same process to move the Act from the Department to Parliament? Was there a legislative guide, or should it be a gentlemen’s agreement between the Committee and the Department?
Ms Kole replied on the length of the process, and said that SEIAS had to be applied throughout policy development. That process was interlinked with the period to develop policy and legislation. It took two to five days to develop a SEIAS report. When the SEIAS report was submitted to the Presidency, the average time to analyse and provide feedback was 14 days. All in all, it could take 30 days to do a SEIAS report and provide feedback. It did not take long unless the bill or policy was long or complex. Sometimes it could take as long as two months. The branch tried its best to ensure that it did not create delays during policy making.
The unit did respect the separation of powers doctrine. There were instances where Parliament would invite the unit to assist with SEIAS on Private Members' Bills. Such support had been provided to Parliament on various bills.
On there being a unit in Parliament to assist with SEIAS, she replied that it would depend on the number of Private Members' Bills being developed, as this would justify the need for a dedicated unit. From the branch’s perspective, they discourage departments from having SEIAS units, because if a department was not developing any policy or bill that year, what would the work of that unit be during that time? Those who were developing policies and bills were the ones who should subject those policies and bills to the SEAIS unit, as they did the analysis and quality assurance.
Engagements with legal services in Parliament were based on what activity the unit had, but there was no agreed memorandum of understanding (MOU) in terms of the working relationship between the unit and Parliament’s legal services. The unit did work together with the legal services office on different activities as required.
She said the implementation of SEIAS policies and the level of implementation was the responsibility of the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation. The DPME had to ensure that policies were translated into programmes, and programmes were translated into the annual performance plans of the department for implantation. There had been discussions between the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development (DALRRD) and the DPME to ensure that there was the transfer of the function around spatial planning, so that the plans were being developed found expression in the municipalities and wards. She added that an important model was being led by the Department of Cooperative Governance (DCoG) called the District Delivery Model (DDM). That ensured that there was coherent planning between the three spheres of government when plans were being developed. This was to ensure that there was delivery at the ground level. There was also the national spatial development framework to ensure that resources were linked to the needs on the ground. This work would also be part of the DPME to ensure that resources and plans were coherent and addressed the needs on the ground.
The red tape faced by small businesses was a reality, and there were a lot of challenges that impacted small enterprises. Broadly, this involved not only red tape from regulations, but also challenges about land, especially in the townships. There were also issues involving technology, safety and zoning. There were much broader issues that needed to be coherently tackled by government. It was not only about capacitating and financing small businesses, it was also about ensuring that businesses had access to basic services where they operate, and that they were not subjected to unnecessary enforcement. A coherent approach was needed to promote the development and sustainability of SMMEs. Financial management was also an issue in the capacitating of small businesses. She indicated that a red tape unit had been established in the Presidency, and she hoped that the leaders of the unit would be given an opportunity to present to the Committee what they were doing to combat red tape.
On shortening the turnaround time to finalise bills, she replied that this process started from initiating a policy by a Minister up to when a bill was being discussed in Parliament. All in all, it took five years to finalise a bill. Research had been done into this process, and officials from the Bills Office had been interviewed to look into some of the challenges that needed to be reduced. The branch had also benchmarked South Africa with other countries. The framework that was being proposed was to ensure that the turnaround time was reduced to about two years. The other issue that had been identified was the preparation of the legislative programme. Bills that were still being conceptualised were being put into the legislative programme. It was proposed that a bill be placed in the legislative programme only when it was in an advanced stage to be approved by Cabinet, sent out for public comments, and introduced to Parliament. There was a need to prioritise the bills properly.
The bills mentioned by Mr Gumede had gone through the SEIAS, including the Business Bill. The branch had followed up with the Department, and had established that they were still dealing with the office of the Chief State Law Advisors.
The Chairperson thanked the delegation, and stated that Mr Sipho Nkosi [heading a team in the Presidency tasked with seeking out and eliminating red tape in government regulations that hamper business growth] would be invited at a later stage to present to the Committee, as it was a burning issue.
Adoption of minutes
Mr Jacobs took the Committee through the draft minutes of the Portfolio Committee dated 21 September. He believed this was an accurate reflection of the meeting, and moved for their adoption. The minutes were adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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