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Labour and Public Enterprises Select Committee
18 May 2005
Government Communication and Information System and Department of Communication: Budget Briefings
Documents handed out:
GCIS PowerPoint presentation
GCIS Strategic Plan: 2005-2008
Department of Communication Power Point presentation
Department of Communication Strategic Plan 2005-2008 available at www.doc.gov.za
The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) presented its budget and Strategic Plan for 2005-2006. Members’ concerns surrounded the selection criteria for youth training programmes, monitoring the flow of information, providing information for people with disabilities, the geographic breakdown of Multi Purpose Community Centres (MPCCs), and the use of the 11 official languages in publications.
The Director-General of the Department of Communication (DoC), Ms L Shope-Mafole then briefed the Committee about her Department’s Strategic Plan for 2005 – 2008. The Members’ concerns included Telkom’s reluctance to invest in rural areas, mechanisms to encourage students to tap into ICT, and the implementation of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) Amendment Bill.
Mr Joel Netshitenzhe, CEO of GCIS, briefed the Committee about Government’s plans for promoting access to information and its programme of action and implementation. Major communication campaigns included the ongoing Ten Years of Democracy Celebrations, Women’s Month and the 16 Days of Activism campaign against women and child abuse. The public had responded very well to these campaign strategies. The Imbizo Campaign continued to gain popularity and the President and Deputy President would visit provinces this year.
The GCIS, together with the International Marketing Council (IMC), would focus on consolidating a national communication partnership in preparation for hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup. In line with broadening access to information about opportunities, a bi-monthly popular magazine would help fill the information gap. The major challenge was the State’s capacity to assist people to take advantage of government programmes.
Government had adopted a strategy to establish a Multi-purpose Community Centre (MPCC) in every local municipal area within a decade. By the end of 2004, 65 MPCCs were in operation. Work was continuing on assisting provinces and local government in building their communication capacity. Five workshops to strengthen provincial and municipal communication had been held.
Advertising trends in 2004 showed increase of advertising spend in radio, television, outdoor and direct media and community radio, although a sharp decline was noticed in print media. The GCIS was working with the IMC to ensure requisite financial support from government.
The GCIS budget had substantially increased to R203.25 million for 2005/6 to cater for the implementation of a learnership programme; the national directory of Information Officers; personnel and operational costs of communication officers; communication around the 16 Days of Activism Campaign; and the popular magazine which was being established.
Ms M Themba (ANC Mpumalanga) expressed concern about the lack of professionalism by staff at some departments, especially in their telephone manners. She also asked whether the Department utilised Party constituency offices. She enquired whether provincial offices were aware that the 16 Days of Activism programme had been shifted to the Department.
Ms N Legoabe responded that the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) was preparing training programmes for all staff. The Department had a Parliamentary Office that distributed all publications by government departments and these were available to all MPs on request. Staff in regional offices used constituency offices.
Mr Netshitenzhe said about R2 million to R3 million had been allocated for the 16 Days of Activism Campaign and that the project would fall under the Deputy-Director of Correctional Services.
Mr D Gamede (ANC KwaZulu-Natal) asked how the Department catered for people with disabilities and how many were in senior management positions. He also asked whether the Department monitored the flow of information. Mr Trew responded that most important communication was available in Braille and on audio CDs. The Department worked with other relevant departments to ensure good coverage.
Mr Netshitenzhe acknowledged that more needed to be done with regard to employment of people with disabilities. He added that 2.6% of the disabled staff did not include senior management. Advertisements for vacancies had been sent to Department of Public Service and Administration. The Department had introduced a ‘beyond the call of duty’ programme where staff were encouraged to assist their disabled colleagues and in turn received assistance from the Department. The Department had made wheelchairs available for its needy employees.
Although monitoring the flow of information posed challenges, this would be done through research and development of clear distribution strategies. This would include door-to-door personal visits if necessary. Local offices and MPCC staff were able to check whether information reached constituencies.
Ms J Terblanche (DA North West) asked for the breakdown of MPCCs and where others would be built. What were the plans for the next phase? A list would be made available with details of services provided. It would also give a breakdown of MPCCs.
Ms M Themba (ANC Mpumalanga) asked about the booklet that outlined the economic priorities and what structures would work with rural areas. Was the GCIS involved with community radio? Mr Trew responded that the Department had discussed with the Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) to include training in their manual. Further discussions were needed to ensure that the campaign was sustainable. The Department worked with community radios through a network that involved the Community Radio Forum. Most radios accessed information from this network.
Mr D Mkono (ANC Eastern Cape) asked how questions on unemployment could be effectively put across to the public. What was the most effective strategy? Mr Netshitenzhe responded that the question needed to be addressed at two levels: the provision of information; and ensuring that economic reality was known. There was debate on statistics and whether the right messages were being sent out. The public was convinced that between 1994 and 2004, about 2 million net new jobs had been created minus retrenchment. While it was important to ensure that people understood that problems would be experienced in the mining and textiles industries, skills training should address these sectors of the economy.
Ms S Mabe (ANC Free State) asked about the Department’s selection criteria of 43 youths who had undergone training at Wits Post Graduate School. Ms Legoabe said the training programme started two years ago and advertisements had been placed in the major newspapers. The programme was open for government communicators although there were some students from the Public Enterprises Department. Mr Netshitenzhe added that the supervisory team looked at all balances such as gender equity.
Ms S Chen (DA Gauteng) asked about the use of 11 official languages in the communication process. Mr Trew said publications were available in all the official languages but their distribution was largely related to demand and supply. In most cases, home language was not the preferred medium for reading.
Department of Communication briefing
The Director-General (D-G) of the Department of Communication, Ms L Shope-Mafole, told the Members that the Department had undergone a restructuring process to ensure that it had the capacity, capability and personnel that would meet the country’s economic challenges. The Department was working with other departments and spheres of government and State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) in using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to improve the lives of citizens and the continent. The Department would develop an Optimal Network to meet the demands of the country and finalise and implement an ICT Sector Strategy. The Department would ensure effective implementation of the ICT Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) Charter and strengthen the capacity of the Post Office and Post Bank to provide financial and other services.
Mr K Sinclair (NNP Northern Cape) commented that the cost of communication in South Africa was too high and that the Department was too quiet on the Second National Operator (SNO) issue. He expressed concern that Telkom was reluctant to invest in rural areas and asked whether the Department had any strategic influence.
Ms Shope-Mafole said issues related to the cost of communication were normally handled by the regulator of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), but the Department would have a costs policy. A workshop would be held before July 2005 with several Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and other developing countries whose communication costs were lower. Presentations would be made with respect to those countries’ policy interventions to costs. The Department would look at the environment in different countries and adopt relevant policies. The expectation was that there would be new policy directives from the Minister to address costs. Such directives might include a different formula that ICASA would use to determine costs. She admitted that without a policy intervention, there was there was not much that the regulator could do. These policy directives would be in place before the end of the year.
The issue of the Second National Operator (SNO) had received the Department’s attention and the Minister was expected to announce the licensing issue soon. The SNO was expected to start operating before the end of the year. The President, in his State of the Nation Address, had indicated that the delays in the SNO had nothing to do with government but with the market. The major investor was from a developing country and lessons had been learnt from Telkom’s foreign investor whose business ethics clashed with local practices.
Telkom’s reluctance to invest in rural areas was unfortunately typical of companies listed on the stock exchange. This was why there was a multiplicity of policies that dealt with public service obligations, under-serviced area licenses, and licensing other operators. The Optimal Network would ensure that the whole country was connected and technology targeted to meet the needs of people in rural and outlying areas.
Ms S Mabe (ANC Free State) asked about the Department’s capacity to carry out its mandate and sought elaboration on the building of additional ICT infrastructure. How did the Department identify areas that needed to be capacitated? She asked the Department to clarify the mandate of the Presidential National Commission (PNC) and how it would ensure that provinces benefited from its services.
Ms Shope-Mafole replied that the Department had been involved in extensive and intensive restructuring and had looked at the skills requirements of building the new economy. There were still vacant posts and the Department needed R35 billion to fill these. The Department had concentrated on critical positions and these had been advertised.
The President had tasked the Forum of South African Directors (FOSAD) to look at the staff capacity of the Public Service. FOSAD had thus far looked at the calibre of the public service in terms of efficient provision of service and responsibility. In this regard, training of management and leadership would be embarked on to produce this kind of staffmember.
The Director-General said there were different levels of inadequacy related to the geographic spread of provinces and types of infrastructure. The Department would lend support to make government realise the potential of ICTs to deliver better service. It was therefore guided by the national priorities.
Since the PNC was not a line function, it was able to bring government departments onto an equal footing and would give them timeframes within which to complete certain programmes. Although most programmes were decided at national level, both the Department and the PNC ensured that provinces were involved in all workshops and programmes.
Mr D Mkono (ANC Eastern Cape) wanted to know the cause of the Department’s under-spending. Ms Shope-Mafole indicated that the Department had undergone a restructuring process and this had affected productivity levels as staff were not secure about their tenure of service. Underspending could not be bench marked to the entire budget.
Ms M Themba (ANC Mpumalanga) asked what mechanisms the Department had put in place to encourage students to tap into ICT, and whether there were provincial structures to inform Small, Medium- and Micro- Enterprises (SMMEs) about ICTs. She also asked when the ICASA Amendment Bill would be implemented.
Ms Shope-Mafole admitted that not enough had been done in that area. Although there were activities such as World Telecommunications Day, efforts were not co-ordinated and focused. To date, 83 students had gone to India for advanced ICT training. The Department and the Ministry of Education were working hard to training more people.
The PNC acknowledged that the SMMEs was an area that required attention because that was where the economy would grow. If government ‘went online’, this would make much difference. There were no structures in provinces to inform SMMEs about ICTs and this was attributed to the restructuring process that the Department of Trade and Industry was undergoing. The ICASA Amendment Bill was meant to have been tabled already, but it had been delayed with the State Legal Advisers Office due to various complexities. There was need for clear identification of responsibilities between the Minister and the Regulator.
The meeting was adjourned.
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