Western Cape Appropriation Bill: Office of Premier
Premier & Constitutional Matters (WCPP)
15 March 2023
Chairperson: Mr C Fry (DA)
The Office of the Premier briefed the Committee on the budget vote for the Department of the Premier in the Western Cape Appropriation Bill, 2023.
Members were told that a major focus of the budget was on projects to counter electricity shortages and assist poorer households with energy packs during loadshedding. The Committee also heard about plans to improve wifi access for people, establish an Environmental Commissioner and deal with climate change. The Department said it would continue its commitment to innovation and concentrate on maintaining good governance.
In response to questions about representivity, the Department expressed its commitment to transformation and to ensuring diversity in the senior staff component.
Other questions by Members concerned e-innovation, the launch of mobile -e centres, and wifi connectivity in smaller municipalities.
The Committee adopted a report expressing support for the budget vote, with the ANC expressing a minority view that it did not support it.
Intro remarks by the Premier
The Western Cape Premier, Mr Alan Winde, told the Committee that the budget for his Department was just over R2 billion. The province was in the recovery stage after the COVID-19 pandemic and the Department had a critical role in the government’s focus on safety and jobs and on the dignity and wellbeing of citizens. A big change in the Western Cape budget was a major focus on energy provision and his Department would play a big role in landing new energy projects.
Dr Harry Malila, Director-General (DG), Western Cape Government (WCG), told the Committee that the WCG aimed to strengthen innovation and build further on good governance. The plan to respond to energy needs would be spread over three years.
Mr C Dugmore (ANC) asked how climate change affected government’s approach. He said there was no mention of an Environmental Commissioner and he would like to know when the Premier would finalise the legislation. What plans did they have to mitigate climate change?
He was concerned that there was no target to ensure the Premier’s Department was representative.
The Chairperson reminded Mr Dugmore that the legislation on the Environmental Commissioner was currently before the Standing Committee for consideration.
The Premier informed the Committee that the DG would respond on the employment equity (EE) plan of the Department, but he wanted to emphasise that “bean counting” was never successful and the Department should be both competent and representative.
He said climate change was a big issue and the Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Mr Anton Bredell, reported at every Cabinet meeting on progress and interventions. Although the current focus was on energy, it was also an opportunity to address climate change challenges. The Western Cape focused on attracting more markets, which required several interventions. Minister Bredell had developed a 15-year water resilience plan which would be discussed at a two-day bosberaad where the regional influences of the COP conferences would also be taken into consideration.
Dr Malila said the aim was to create a more diverse institution and they had advertised some positions numerous times to achieve this. Details of the Department’s talent attraction were contained in their annual performance plan. He emphasised that it was also necessary to ensure a sense of belonging.
He said the Department played a transversal role in dealing with climate change and was responsible for setting the tone to keep people accountable. He referred to the departmental plan on climate change as contained in the distributed material and pointed out that nearly R700 million was allocated to climate change.
Ms D Baartman (DA) asked how far the broadband services business case was from finalisation for submission for the new contracting period. On what rand/dollar exchange rate was the licensing calculated?
Mr Dugmore pointed out that only one transfer was made to a public entity and that was Wesgro. He asked what the motivation for that was and if there would be any other transfers. He asked if the Children’s Commissioner would receive funding similar to Chapter 9 institutions. He also asked when the Children’s Commissioner would be fully set up and be able to receive funding.
He was concerned that no mention was made of what was done to ensure that the WCG was a safe place to work. A chief director was still in office whilst being charged in court with a sexual offence.
The Premier indicated that the province could not establish institutions similar to Chapter 9 ones. He agreed that gender-based violence (GBV) was a concern. With the new Minister for GBV, there would be protection for whistleblowers and victims would be able to lay charges without fear. He emphasised that it was important to follow processes.
Dr Malila said that the rand dollar exchange rate used was R17 to the dollar, but that there was an understanding with the Treasury that, if needed, this could be adjusted. The transfer to Wesgro was in the 2020/21 financial year and R2 million of unused money was recouped. No more transfers would be made.
He referred Members to the distributed material for the details on dealing with GBV. It would take two to three years for the Children’s Commissioner to be fully functional. They were still busy setting up the office, which was the reason for the under-spend in the budget. If the Children’s Commissioner was moved outside the Office of the Premier, it would become a very expensive process as they would then have to appoint additional staff to deal with matters like finances and HR.
The business case for the broadband services had not been finalised and they were currently consulting with the State Information Technology Agency (SITA).
Ms Baartman asked for details on the Youth Advisory Group. She also asked how they would measure the incentives for the public to use energy-saving products. She requested that a copy of the business case on broadband be made available to the Committee.
She asked for details about the load management system and the role of different departments. Which programmes would the Department of the Premier be responsible for? How many mobile e–centres were planned and which areas would they be targeting? What were the details of the communication strategy for the energy crisis?
Mr Dugmore raised his concern about the absence of black Africans in the top management of the Premier’s Department. He believed that it started with [former Premier] Helen Zille. The WCG was perceived as non-representative. He asked why none of the programme indicators showed a strategy to rectify this.
He was concerned about the lack of wifi connectivity in smaller towns. He wanted to know if there was any involvement by the Department, through their e-innovation, to work with municipalities to provide this service.
Dr Malila indicated that a map and breakdown of the ICT services were available. There would be both corporate sites and public wifi. Detailed information and data on access could be drawn from each of the hotspots
The Department had an employment equity plan. Some of the senior positions could not be filled due to cost constraints. Senior staff had to take on additional responsibilities and new appointments were not made. He reiterated his commitment to diversity but emphasised that that could not be the only criterion. Competency and skills were necessary.
The business case document could not be made available to the Committee as it contained sensitive, tender information.
In regard to the energy programme, the Department would play a role in the energy emergency load shedding packs, municipal pool buying and integrated resource buying as well as core energy team resourcing. Details of the other departments involved could be provided to the Committee if requested.
The Department had a great focus on youth and involving them in its programmes. The communications strategy alluded to by Ms Baartman would be both informative and educational to ensure citizens could make informed decisions and assist government.
Mr Hilton Arendse, Deputy Director-General (DDG): e-Innovation, said only one mobile e-centre would be launched due to the high cost of such a unit. The running costs of such centres were also very high.
Wifi hotspots were only available at WCG facilities as they needed the infrastructure to provide the hotspots. Oudtshoorn had three hotspots - the civic centre, library and museum. In all municipalities, they tried to provide these services at places like the libraries and Thusanong centres. They were in consultation with municipalities, like the City of Cape Town, to ensure there was no duplication in providing hotspots. All municipalities had provincial broadband links and should use them effectively. The goal was to expand e-centres by ten percent during the current financial year and they were trying to focus on rural areas. They were also looking at mobile facilities and possibly tying them in with mobile clinics.
The Premier emphasised the need for good communication around the energy projects to ensure citizens were well informed and could benefit by selling energy back into the grid.
The Chairperson asked where the mobile e-centres would be placed and if the Department had considered converting existing centres into hybrid centres with mobile equipment brought in.
Mr Arendse responded that solutions sounded very simple but the issue was quite complicated. The mobile e-centre was trying to address the suggestion by the Chairperson and they would further explore the suggestion.
Mr Dugmore asked for a breakdown of libraries in the rural areas that were still not connected.
Dr Malila said that the timing of the emergency energy packs was critical and the Department was already working on it. The aim was to have them ready before winter as the greatest needs were heating, charging and lighting.
On energy saving incentives, Dr Malila said there was an existing programme to incentivise SMMEs run by the Department of Economic Development and Tourism.
The idea was to have the one mobile e-centre operating this year. Progress would be reported to the Committee.
Mr Arendse informed the Committee that 260 libraries were connected, but he would have to revert to the Committee on the number of non-connected libraries.
Ms Baartman requested that there be specific oversight to ensure that prices of products included in the energy packs did not escalate the moment companies became aware of the project, as was the case with masks during the COVID pandemic.
She was told that the Department fully agreed with the concern and some measures had already been put in place.
Mr G Pretorius (DA) referred to the comments by the DG around the strengthening of e-innovation and the budget increase of over 100 percent. Assuming that the bulk of the money would go to energy, he requested more detail.
Ms Baartman asked if the additional projects allocated to the Office of the Premier would be funded through provincial monies or funded through the provincial equitable share. If they were funded with provincial money, would the Premier lobby the President for more funding around energy?
Mr Dougmore requested a breakdown of the R5 million allocated to strategic communication. He also asked for more information about the R1 billion allocated for energy as announced by the Premier in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF). The amounts indicated added up to R110 million. Which other departments would receive these allocations? He also asked what the R85 million allocated for this year would be spent on.
The Premier responded that a total of R1.1 billion would be allocated over a period of three years to different departments for different responsibilities. The details of the different projects were outlined in the documents distributed.
Projects within the Department of the Premier included loadshedding packs. SMME support would not go through the Department.
Cost effective energy would be an important project and the Western Cape’s integrated resource plan would be critical. It would be necessary to have a full energy resource plan for the province, including all forms of energy available.
Dr Malila said the Children’s Commissioner would receive a higher amount in the first year. It would then be reduced.
No money was received from the national government to assist with energy or energy-related issues.
The budget allocation of R5.1 million included a staff component, the Newsclip programme used by the Cabinet and in-person meetings. A minor part was for corporate communications. Strategic communications were funded from a different programme.
Mr Dugmore asked why there was no correlation between the substantial budget reflected under People Management Practices and the slow recruitment processes and filling of positions.
Dr Malila said there were service level standards for the appointment of staff and most of the time, delays were within the departments where the positions must be filled.
Ms Louise Esterhuyse, Chief Director: People Management Practices, indicated that they measured and recorded every part of a recruitment process and had that available for every appointment. Most of the delay was during the shortlisting process in which a number of people in a department had to get together to fulfil the task.
The Chairperson noted a decrease in the budget for goods and services and asked for the reasoning.
The Chief Financial Officer said the reason was a reduced allocation for communication.
Ms Baartman asked which categories the 81 bursaries would be allocated to and what the criteria would be.
The Chairperson referred to the appointment of 105 interns and asked how many of them were part of the paid programme.
Dr Malila requested that he provide the details of the interns in writing to the Chairperson. The Department was very committed to the internship and bursaries programme. Bursaries were provided in the fields for which the Department was responsible, such as finance, IT, and legal. Most interns were paid.
The Chairperson asked what the training under e-innovation covered, as it was quite a substantial amount.
He was informed that the amount was predominantly for training Western Cape Education Department employees.
The Committee adopted a report stating that it supported the budget vote for the Office of the Premier in the Western Cape Appropriation Bill. The ANC expressed a minority view that it did not support the vote.
The meeting adjourned.
Baartman, Ms DM
Dugmore, Mr C
Lekker, Ms P
Pretorius, Mr G
Winde, Mr AR
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