The Portfolio Committee was briefed in a virtual meeting by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) on their performance and expenditure during the first and second quarters of the 2022/23 financial year.
The DSI reported that it had incurred a lot of under-expenditure due to process delays, ineffectiveness of implementers and target formulation deficiencies. The total expenditure on the procurement of goods and services from March to June was R10 257 513, and from July to September, it was R21 770 418. The Department had rolled out a culture-led Smart Village indigenous architecture project promoting indigenous and modern agriculture. Mitigation against slow spending had been achieved by shifting funds across programmes to help where there was a need for more funds in certain areas.
The DHET had a spending trend on operational expenditure that was 2% higher compared to the first quarter of 2021/22. During the first quarter, university education remained the most significant spending programme, where the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) had more funds allocated to it. Transfer payments and the compensation of employees remained the biggest spending items in the budget. Funds had been received from the skills levy, of which 80% was transferred to the sector education and training authorities (SETAs), and 20% to the National Skills Fund (NSF).
The Committee was not impressed with the slow spending of the DSI, and called for the inclusion of vulnerable groups of people in their projects. There was concern over the non-compliance of universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, and the late submission of audited financial reports. They requested a briefing at the beginning of the 2023 academic year to prepare for the year across all the educational institutions. They emphasised the importance of the attendance of the Ministry.
DSI's performance for Q1 and Q2
Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General (DG), Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), reported on the Department's performance for the first six months of the 2022/23 financial year.
He outlined the DSI’s six outcomes goals, and highlighted the main achievements:
A transformed, inclusive, responsive, coordinated and efficient National System of Innovation (NSI)
A Cabinet memo had been drafted and submitted for the Minister’s approval so that the draft National Open Science Policy could be tabled at Cabinet for approval.
Human capabilities and skills for the economy and development
In the first quarter, a local impact study of the HERA radio telescope at the square kilometre array (SKA) site showed the direct benefits of radio astronomy infrastructure in South Africa’s Northern Cape province. In the second quarter, there were a total of 691 students funded, and 862 internships awarded through the National Research Foundation (NRF) and other agencies
Increased knowledge generation and innovation outputs
In the first quarter, the DSI facilitated the training of the Northern Cape indigenous knowledge systems documentation centre (IKSDC) on the new national indigenous knowledge management system (NIKMAS) app at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) from 29 June to 1 July. In the second quarter, the ongoing investment in five focus areas in the Northern Cape included the Community Knowledge Centre, development of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), nurturing talent and youth, and providing alternative radio astronomy-friendly telecommunication infrastructure.
Knowledge utilisation for economic development
In the first quarter, the DSI participated in the Mining Indaba in Cape Town in May as part of the SA mining extraction research, development and innovation (SAMERDI) programme. In June, a substantive DSI exhibition provided the opportunity for five manufacturing-related technology stations
International cooperation and resources
In the first quarter, the World Health Organisation (WHO) regional office for Africa’s regional expert committee visited South Africa to monitor the country’s capacity to conduct African natural medicines research and development. In the second quarter, the DSI participated in the European Union (EU) Global Action on Space Africa event, with the theme "Current and future opportunities for EU-Africa cooperation in the space domain." They had signed a memorandum with the Japan International Cooperation Agency to implement the “The Project of New Ammonia Synthesis System Using Renewable Energy and Hydrogen” under the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development programme.
Innovation in support of a capable and developmental state
In the first quarter, a newly revamped innovation bridge portal and start-up community was launched on 17 May. It aimed to be the catalyst in providing an enabling environment for entrepreneurs and innovators to thrive, thus promoting economic growth and jobs growth in Africa.
Dr Mjwara said the DSI’s performance per programme had varied between 50% and 100%.
Turning to the areas where the Department had underperformed, he said that in the first quarter, no trainees were upskilled, 93 disclosures were received by publicly-financed research and development institutions, six international resource-leveraging engagements took place, 31 South African students participated in international training programmes, and there had been two bilateral engagements with the NRF and the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf).
For the second quarter, no youths were engaged, 88 trainees were upskilled, four small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) were contracted and/or assisted with business development, 14 South African students participated in international training programmes, and four L-band receivers were delivered.
Mr Robert Shaku, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DSI, said that the total budgeted figure for the 2022/23 period was R9.133 billion. The Department had planned to spend R2.149 billion by the end of quarter 1, but the actual spending had amounted to R1.097 billion, which translated to a variance of R1.052 million, or 48.9% of planned expenditure. It had planned to spend R5.637 billion by the end of quarter 2, but the actual spending amounted to R4.562 billion -- 49.9% of the total adjusted budget. This translated to a variance of R1.075 million, or 19.1% of planned expenditure.
Average payment days for the 2022/23 period was seven days, and 100% of invoices were paid within 30 days.
Dr Rebecca Maserumule, Acting Deputy Director-General: Technology Innovation, DSI, said that as the DSI performance had been low, they vowed to catch up before the end of the financial year. They were doing an excellent job on transformation and youth development, and were working on their reporting, as some of the targets were new targets, so they were struggling with meeting the reporting requirements.
DHET's performance for Q1 and Q2
Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, DG, Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), presented the Department's five-year strategic plan outcomes for the 2020 to 2025 period. These were:
- Expanded access to post-school education and training (PSET) opportunities.
- Improved efficiency and success of the PSET system.
- Improved quality of the PSET system.
- A responsive PSET system,
- Excellent business operations within the DHET.
Significant achievements during the period under review included more than 80% of disciplinary cases being resolved within 90 days, the development of a student funding policy, six technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges signing protocols with industry for the placement of students and lectures, and the identification of college programmes that would integrate digital skills training.
Mr Reineth Mgiba, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Strategic Planning, DHET, said that in the first quarter, there were 15 targets and 47% of them were achieved. In the second quarter, there were 28 targets and 61% of them were achieved.
Q1 performance achievements per programme:
Programme 1: Administration
100% of valid invoices received from creditors were paid within 30 days, the vacancy rate was 11%, 70% of disciplinary cases were resolved within 90 days, and 2.27% of network connectivity uptime per annum was achieved.
Programme 2: Planning, Policy and Strategy
The draft revised Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) coordination policy was consulted with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and three quality councils, and the annual report on the implementation matrix of White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2021) was approved by the DG on 9 September 2022.
Programme 4: TVET colleges
Examination results were released to qualifying students within 33 days from the last date of the exam timetable. No colleges had signed protocols with industry and placed learners for workspace experience accordingly.
Programme 5: Skills Development
No mandatory grants were paid to employers, and the average lead time from when qualifying trade test applications were received until trade tests were conducted, was 20 days.
Q2 performance achievements per programme
Programme 1: Administration
99% of invoices received from creditors were paid within 30 days, the vacancy rate was 11%, 69% of disciplinary cases were resolved within 90 days, 8.8% of public procurement was spent on women-owned businesses, and an unqualified audit outcome was received from the auditors.
Programme 2: Planning, Policy and Strategy
The draft revised RPL coordination policy was consulted with the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and professional bodies, and was approved by the DDG on 30 September.
Programme 3: University Education
A Ministerial task team report on student funding was approved by the DG by 30 September.
Programme 4: TVET colleges
Criteria for the selection of the TVET colleges was circulated and consulted with stakeholders as planned, examination results were released to qualifying students within 19 days from the last date of the exam timetable, and six TVET colleges had signed protocols with industry.
Programme 5: Skills Development
21 Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) were assessed to have developed credible sector skills plans. The average lead time from qualifying trade test applications received until trade tests were conducted was 27 days.
Programme 6: Community Education and Training (CET)
100% of CET colleges met standards of good governance, and 87% complied with the policy on the conduct and management of assessments and examinations.
Ms Pretty Makukule, CFO, DHET, said that the annual appropriation for the 2022/23 period had amounted to R130.1 billion. In the first quarter, 41.2% of the allocated funds were spent across the six programmes, and in the second quarter, 66% was spent.
The Chairperson said that she would appreciate background information on the incidents that had led to the formation of the Open Science Policy by the DSI, and a follow-up table breaking up all the demographics on the sixth slide of their presentation. She welcomed the increased participation of South Africans in the HERA telescope programme, and would like to see the demographics of the participants. She asked for clarification on the progress with the Department of Basic Education's (DBE's) accounting for their lack of management and maintenance of investments made by the DSI at a primary school in Sutherland. She welcomed the SA Waste Pickers' registration system. She asked how far the programme was -- the smart village was an exciting programme, and she wondered if it could be used as a catalyst to conceptualise human settlements in the country. She asked for a report expanding on the Innovation Bridge Portal, and commended the consistency of their performance throughout the two quarters. What would cause a delay in the availability of a dish, as stated in slide 34 of the presentation? What type of evidence was needed to assist the Department with engaging the youth, as stated in slide 37?
Mr T Letsie (ANC) asked questions on his behalf and that of Ms D Mahlatsi (ANC), as she was busy with other engagements at the time of the discussion. To the DSI, he said that on 30 November, the Committee had received an anonymous email from a whistle-blower about the bad treatment of staff by the National Advisory Council on Innovation's (NACI's) chief executive officer (CEO), Dr Mlungisi Cele. The person had said that working at the NACI was “a living hell for staff in general,” and that they had reported the matter to the Public Service Commission (PSC), which had carried out three investigations. However, the human relations (HR) Department had been reluctant to act on the findings and recommendations for years.
He appreciated the DHET’s improvement in the payment of creditors within 90 days. He asked how many universities did not comply, and how the Department was dealing with non-compliance, as stated in slide 65. What were the reasons for non-compliance with the late submission of invoices, and how many universities and TVET colleges had not complied with the procurement strategies?
Which universities did not submit their audited reports, and what could the Department do to mitigate the challenges with the processing of invoices? What were the reasons for the under-expenditure seen in the first quarter? Why did the Department not create a qualifying criterion prioritising women in procurement adjudication? What factors contributed to the slow processing of the SETAs, and what interventions were being undertaken? What sustainable capacity structure should be developed in the Department to manage the vast infrastructure required in the sector? How would the Department mitigate the shift of funds from allocations for infrastructure for the Sol Plaatje University and the University of Mpumalanga?
Dr W Boshoff (FF+) asked the DSI how many jobs had been created in the Karoo, and how many were full time. The low spending was concerning, mainly because it was caused by unfilled vacancies over a long period, and many unemployed people could fill the vacancies. He told the DHET that he felt there should be a link between TVET colleges and communities, by supporting them and utilising their services.
Ms D Sibiya (ANC) asked the DSI if there had been any progress with the recruitment of the DDG for Programme 2. Was the budget adequate to support all the key projects funded by the Department? What technical challenges were delaying the transfer of payments to projects, and had they been resolved? Did the Department have adequate capacity to manage its skills development programmes? Could they clarify the R8.2 million in slide 50?
Ms J Mananiso (ANC) commented that both departments should consider disabled people and vulnerable groups of individuals in their project planning. The vacancies should have a time frame by which they would be filled so that the Committee could perform oversight on filling vacant positions. The DHET should implement consequence management strategies, as irregularities and non-compliance have become a norm. She asked for a risk register for 2022/23. What were the reasons for the slow processing of the SETA mandatory grants to employers by most SETAs, which SETAs had not paid, and how much had not been paid? How effective was the project management capacity of the Department, and was it adequate to support all the key projects funded by the Department?
Dr Mjwara said that the Department had received a report about the NACI CEO’s treatment towards the staff, and they had attended to it. If the employees were not happy with how they had dealt with the matter, they should write back to the Department so that they could provide adequate assistance to resolve it.
Since the finalisation of the decadal plan, they had been cautious about filling all the posts because they were of the opinion that the plan required a different set of competencies that they did not have now. They had been investigating if they possessed the required competencies, now that the Decadal Plan had been finalised and approved, and the study would be completed in March 2023, after which they would fill the vacant positions. The salary gaps between what people could get within the NSI and what the public and private sectors could offer were the only reasons they had not been able to attract people to the Department.
The under-spending was due to the cleaning up of cash reserves, where money got transferred to entities for a long period and was just sitting in their bank accounts, creating a problem. However, the Department had communicated with the entities through the CFO to come up with a maximum amount that could be kept in their bank accounts. There was a conclusion that if 90% of the money was not spent, there would not be any transfers made in the following financial year. The recurring problem of the quality of reports triggers the spending for the next milestone and the transfer of funds to the entity was dependent on the quality of its reports. The recruitment process for the DDG position for Programme 2 was far advanced, they would provide a detailed elaboration in writing and they were happy to host the Committee at the Smart Village.
Mr Imraan Patel, DDG: Research & Development Support, DSI, said that he would not be able to give a breakdown on Table 4 but he was more than happy to respond to the Committee in writing. The astronomy portfolio had had a very strong transformation element over many years as it was a community that needed to include previously disadvantaged individuals. A detailed report on the HERA project would be provided to the Committee in writing.
The issues with the primary school in Sutherland were generic, and the DSI was working with the DBE on a series of projects and the relationship had improved. He said that he was not too sure of the status of the maintenance and operations costs of the laboratory at the school, but would provide further details to the Committee once he got this information.
Dr Mmboneni Muof, DDG: Technology Innovation, DSI, said that they had registered over 7 000 waste pickers, and they could be found in the Johannesburg, Pietermaritzburg, Cape Town and Buffalo City municipalities. They partnered with PETCO, the plastic recycling company, and the Department of Forestry Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) in this initiative. They were also working with the CSIR to develop systems that would enable the integration of payments so that there was a system that would allow payments to be made properly and centrally.
Dr Maserumule said that the challenges with the youth were that when the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) did their outreach, they had included students who were below the age of 15, and the registers they were given did not include the details of the students that had attended, so it was difficult to determine which of the attendees belonged in the 18-35 age group. The Innovation Bridge Portal had been put in place to ensure the provision of relevant information, accelerate connections, ensure a better connection with the National System of Innovation, and connect entrepreneurs with funders and technology providers. They had agreed to put in place partners to improve the offerings of the Portal and there were graduates from other partnerships who were also supported financially for entrepreneurship in the technology space.
Mr Daan du Toit, DDG: International Cooperation and Resources, DSI, said that the Open Science framework enabled the Department to do science more effectively, and made science more efficient in serving society. There had been countries around the world developing their Open Science frameworks as it had become the basis, and they engaged in international cooperation scientifically. There was a critical need for Africa to respond to the dynamics and opportunities of the Open Science, and therefore the DSI, through the National Research Foundation (NRF), was hosting the Africa Open Science Platform dedicated to work within recognised Pan-African structures to support capacity building for Open Science on the continent.
Dr Sishi said that the entire strategy on universities lay in the transformation agenda, and most of the "Ivy League" institutions were challenged with transformation and their governance structures. He suggested that the institutions in the country should not be ranked so that they could rather be busy with the transformation of historically disadvantaged individuals (HDIs), holding the high standards of institutions that had shown promise accountable. They were focused on turning the CET sector into the sector of choice for young people after school, and the progress in implementing the resolutions of the CET summit was very important.
Mr Zukile Mvalo, DDG: Skills Development, DHET, said they were planning to take the Master Skills Plan presented to the Committee in September to the economic cluster. They had presented it to a technical task team, and would be required to draft a socio-economic impact analysis and report that they would have to submit to the Presidency, as they were still dealing with the concept paper. They were working with their researchers within the labour market intelligence (LMI) project hosted by the planning branch, and expected to have the Plan in place by 31 March 2023.
The slow payment of grants by SETAs to employers was caused by the target being set for the first time in the Department. They were testing the efficiency and lead time for when SETAs were receiving the annual training report and workplace skills plans. He said 1% of the salary bill was paid by all employers who had a salary bill of more than R500 000, of which 20% went to the National Skills Fund, and the 80% went to the SETAs.
There were payments of grants made to employers, but the reports showed the transactions were submitted late by the SETAs to the Department, so it was indicated in the presentation there were almost no payments made. Six SETAs had not submitted their information up to date, as at quarter 4 of the 2021/22 period. 34 169 employers had submitted their workplace skills plan, 16 459 had paid on time and an amount of R535 million had been paid. In the second quarter, ten SETAs had not submitted their information, 19 518 employers had submitted their workplace skills plan, and 9 836 had received their mandatory grants amounting to R577.532 million. Non-compliance letters would be sent to the ten SETAs ordering them to explain why they had not complied with the circular discussed with them.
Mr Sam Zungu, DDG: TVET branch, DHET, said that the Department had good relations with stakeholders at an institutional and departmental level. The campuses were structured in a way that a central office and campuses were built like schools, as they were in communities. Open days were held on campuses, allowing the community members to interact with the Department through a career guidance programme called KHETHA.
The certification backlog formed Report 190/191 dating from November 1992 to August 2019, and the Department was able to cover almost all the certificates that were outstanding. In the last quarter, there were 18 (0.6%) outstanding, and they would be covered by the end of the last quarter, and all the other reports had been completed.
They were working on a short message service (SMS) system that would inform students about their certification process. The Department was pleased to inform the Committee that they were averaging 8 000 against a national target of 10 000 placements. They were confident that they would meet this target by the end of the financial period. The 50 colleges had submitted 16 000 initiatives that they had placed, and the Department was verifying that there were no duplications in the data.
Dr Marcia Socikwa, Acting DDG: University branch, DHET, said that the Department was worried about the expenditure patterns in universities. They had written to the universities showing such trends and held engagements with them, asking t for more regular reports. They also did their own analysis and found that some universities were struggling with infrastructure spending. The universities had said they had challenges with the "construction mafia."
University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP) grants were a concern to the Department, and universities had indicated their frustrations with the HR ability to do recruitment and advertising. The Department was expecting a detailed report on that.
During oversight, it had been established that some universities had performed better than others by offering better support towards medical issues.
They were awaiting audited annual reports from universities, some of which had asked for extensions that had been granted. The University of South Africa (UNISA) was the only institution that had not submitted its report.
They offered training sessions for councils, but this year the only university engaged with had been the Central University of Technology (CUT), and they had appreciated the support received.
Ms Thembisa Futshane, DDG: CET, DHET, said that one of the biggest changes that would be implemented from the opening of the CET colleges in January 2023 emanated from the ministerial summit on skills, which was the mass provision of skills programmes. The colleges that had submitted proposals had had a commitment of R200 million from the NSF, and they were finalising the contracting of this allocation. This funding was dedicated to skills, occupational and non-formal programmes, and there was a shift in the programme's diversity of offerings in the colleges. The civic education would be offered in partnership with the Education, Training and Development Practices (ETDP) SETA and Higher Health. As a resolution coming from the summit, digital skills would be provided in partnership with the National Electronic Media Institute of SA (NEMISA). Training had already started for the lecturers so that they were ready to start with these lectures in 2023.
Ms Makukule said the procurement regulations issued in 2017 proposed a pre-qualification criterion when tenders were advertised. One of the criteria stated that sub-contracting should be a minimum of 30%. The Department had faced a challenge of procuring less than 1% of the budget relating to goods and services that could be procured through competitive bidding. As a result, it was challenged through the regulation to directly set aside procurement for women. This regulation had been legally challenged, and new procurement regulations were submitted on 4 November.
The Department had spending challenges in two areas -- the compensation of employees, and transfers and subsidies. They were experiencing delays, especially from overseas hotels, hence the presentation stated that invoices were received later than anticipated, and during the adjustment budget process, the spending on the compensation of employees had to be assessed on the posts that were not filled at the time.
Mr Mgiba said he agreed that government departments had to ensure that vulnerable groups of people were included in planning. They had made efforts to include them, but believed that still more work needed to be done to ensure that their projects were inclusive.
Adoption of minutes
The minutes of Committee meetings held on 2, 4, 9, 11, 16, 18 and 23 November were submitted for consideration.
Ms Mananiso moved to adopt the minutes, with some grammar amendments.
Mr Letsie seconded the adoption of the minutes with the grammar amendments, and thanked the secretary team for a job well done.
Consideration of reports
The Committee considered the following reports:
- Mid-term Review Workshop – National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) working session.
- Meeting with the NSF and SETAs.
Mr Letsie moved for the adoption of the reports, with no amendments.
Ms Mananiso seconded the adoption of the reports, with no amendments.
Members of the Committee wished each other a wonderful festive season, filled with rest and celebrations with their loved ones.
The meeting was adjourned.
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