Human Resource Strategy and Consultants: Department briefing

Water and Sanitation

23 August 2005
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Meeting report

SPORTS AND RECREATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
24 AUGUST 2005
HUMAN RESOURCE STRATEGY AND CONSULTANTS: DEPARTMENT BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Ms C September (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department briefing

SUMMARY
The Department briefed the Committee on its human resources strategy and use of consultants. Officials were faced with technical capacity issues and needed to identify critical skills. They were managing the challenge of retention through career fulfilment and scarce skills allowances. Skills audits, secondary skills development, Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET), internships and leanerships were also key feeders into the Department.

Equity targets had been met and good gender representation was evident. However, they had needed to employ more disabled persons. A high vacancy rate existed for top and senior management positions due to the ongoing transfer of staff. Most unfilled posts would eventually be abolished. It was not cost-effective to retain all the skills needed so they made use of consultants on projects that required highly skilled professionals.

Member asked for clarity on a number of issues. They expressed concern about the Department’s inability to retain staff, unfilled posts and women’s representation in top management, and the impact on service delivery among others. Members also made some suggestions that included a single or joint public service to ensure mobility of staff and improve service delivery, and to rethink their strategy on recruitment.

MINUTES
The Chairperson said the briefing was a follow-up to an earlier presentation by the Department on the use of consultants, which the Committee had felt was unsatisfactory.

She also raised the issue of the Forestry Amendment Bill, which had not yet been tagged. The National Council of Provinces had requested a briefing and the Bill would be sent to the traditional leaders. The Speaker of Parliament had called for a special meeting to deal with the legalities of the Bill.

Department briefing
The Department’s delegation included Mr T Balzer (Acting Director-General), Ms B Schriener (Senior Executive Manager: Policy and Regulation), Mr I Jacobs (Department) and Mr J Modiba (Director for Supply Chain).

Mr T Balzer provided introductory background, with figures and issues extracted from their Annual Report. Cabinet had given its approval for its business plan; however the challenge had been ensuring technical capacity. The challenges were due to the ongoing process of restructuring. The introduction of new legislation had brought new innovations in maintaining learning institutions to deal with the gaps in technical skills. Despite challenges, the Department was committed to contributing to government’s human resources strategy and its implementation. Research had shown technical and professional skills had the biggest shortage across all sectors. The Department had brought in Cuban personnel to alleviate its skills shortage. A Business Online Report had also indicated a shortage of young engineers. Professional Service Providers (PSPs) expenditure was 13% higher in comparison to Personnel Expenditure.

Mr I Jacobs (Department) added that the Department was competing with other departments and sector industries for the same skills. One of the pillars of the human resource strategy was planning in identifying critical skills, which was dependent on availability in the labour market. The strategy was constrained by its budget.

The Department had made 634 appointments in 2004/05, but had faced a challenge in retaining employees. Experience had shown that remuneration was not the key to retention. The Department was using career fulfilment and progression. Public service initiatives such as a scarce skills allowance were another way they had retained personnel. A skills audit had identified a composite of skills to be retained. Their turnover rate was 7.3% and this was due to dismissals and natural attrition. In some instances, people had left because of better remuneration and better prospects in the private sector. A key strategy was internal and external focus to feed skills into the Department. Secondary skills development had helped to identify the gaps and possible intervention. The objective of its bursary system was addressing the skills backlog in order to achieve representation. Adult Basic Education and Training, internships and learnerships were also an important feeder of talent.

They were addressing equity targets through an Employment Equity Plan (EEP) and Employment Equity Consultative Forum. Gender representation was improving. It had taken steps to bring in more women. However there was a disability gap of 1.8% to be filled.

Ms B Schreiner gave a presentation on the use of consultants. In a situation where they could not find suitable candidates they had made use of consultants from the private sector, especially on projects that required highly skilled personnel. She pointed out that it was not cost effective for the Department to retain all skills needed to execute its mandate. They had budgeted 57.3% for participation of historically disadvantaged individuals (HDI) in comparison to 42.8 % for non-HDI.

A high vacancy rate in senior management positions was due the process of transferring staff to other institutions. Some of the post currently not filled would eventually be abolished. The lag time in dealing with certain critical skills such as engineers was substantial.

Discussion
Mr J Arendse (ANC) wanted clarity on the retention figures and reference to legislators by the Department.

Mr D Maluleka (DA) asked about the "status quo" on personnel turnover:
- Had they set up their own consultancies or had they moved within the sector?
- Did local government have similar challenges in terms of vacancies?
- What was the Department’s attitude to the President’s call for a "cooling off" period for personnel?

Mr M Sibuyana (IFP) wanted clarity on the process of ‘head-hunting’ and the category of personnel most affected by this, and whether vacancies existed mostly in the National Department or local municipalities. He expressed his concern about the Department’s inability to retain trained personnel.

Mr P Ditshetelo (UCDP) asked for clarity on the Department’s retention policy and incentives. He wanted to know why they had not been able to retain professionals they had trained and developed through their bursary system. What had been their efforts at retention or did they leave it to competitive forces in the labour market? He also wanted clarity on why they had recruited only one African female for top management and why they had more females in technical skills occupations.

Mr S Simmons (NNP) asked about the reasons for staff turnover and whether deaths had occurred on the job. Why was the turnover for senior management so high (15%)? He also wanted clarity on risk areas.

The Chairperson asked if they had taken into account the Auditor-General’s report and whether it had been included in the presentation. She mentioned that the Committee on its oversight visits had observed the lack of employment of disabled people in water and sanitation services and wanted clarity. She also wanted clarity on the impact of challenges on service delivery and suggested a joint programme with local government to establish a pool of skills. She also noted five vacant economist posts and felt it impacted on the Department’s contribution to overall Gross Domestic Product. In her opinion it had economic implications.

Mr J Arendse commended the Department on its presentation and further suggested that the Department award bursaries internally according to their needs. Perhaps they needed to rethink their strategy on recruitment because he was of the opinion that a person without the relevant degree could have the skills required to do the job. He also suggested they work with institutions and use bursaries to tailor degrees and subjects offered to suit their skills requirements.

The Chairperson agreed and cited ESKOM’s strategy and how it had changed its curriculum and had tailored its education programme to suit its needs.

Mr M Masala (ANC) noted the dismissal of 27 members of staff and asked for clarity on the level at which dismissal was common, and the type of misconduct leading to dismissal.

Ms B Schreiner responded that the questions were rather challenging and welcomed suggestions. Mr I Jacobs answered that they had employed only one African female in top management for the reporting period; however, overall they had recruited 45 blacks and females and 17 whites. Technical skills were a scarce occupation class and employment equity had preference. However, they were determined to bring in skills if they were unable to achieve their equity targets. They had brought in skills from other groups where they had been unable to fill their equity targets. Ms B Schreiner added that it took two years to find a suitable candidate to fill the senior management technical position.

Mr T Balzer added that legislators meant top management in the Public Service Administration. It was the Minister’s classification in terms of individuals in the Department.

Some personnel had left and set up their own consultancies, while many had stayed within the sector. The Department did not impose a "cooling off "period because of the constitutional implication. Ms B Schreiner added that a "cooling off" period was similar to a restraint of trade in the private sector and it had financial implications, something that required a thorough unpacking and understanding. They were waiting on the Department of Public Service and Administration on how to handle it.

Local government also had capacity issues. Capacity issues impacted significantly on service delivery especially where Project Consolidate came into play. It impacted on water supply and sanitation. It had a team that was looking at how it could assist local government taking into consideration the Department’s own capacity problems.

Mr I Jacobs added that after identifying the needed skills, they had utilised the services of an external executive search agency within other institutions. Bursaries contained a contract of between two to four years but most personnel left after their contracts had expired.

Ms Schreiner added that there were a number of elements that had contributed to more women representation in the technical skills occupation band and the situation was the same in most organisations where one found more women in middle management. However they were working on a mechanism to facilitate representation of more women at the top.

Mr T Balzer added that some deaths had been work related, while other had been through natural attrition outside the workplace. He agreed that the turnover rate for top and senior management was high and a cause for concern. However, most were due to transfers. Mr I Jacobs added that the human resource forecasts for short and long-term skills development had risk areas such as HIV/AIDS.

Ms B Schreiner added that they had included the Auditor-General’s report and had adopted a process to improve financial reports, ensure proper control and performance evaluation. The lack of employment of disabled people would require the Department to rethink its policy and guidelines and to re-examine how it addressed issues around water and sanitation.

Mr T Balzer added that a single public service would help the mobility of staff between the three spheres of government. Currently they were able to move between national and provincial government but found it difficult to move to local government. A single public service would enhance their ability to deal with the challenges of service delivery.

Some vacancies that had not been filled would eventually be abolished after restructuring and transfer of some functions and staff. There was an element of double counting since some old functions were still reflected in the report. The forestry transfer would impact on 17 000 staff and vacancies.

The Department preferred to use resource economists who were scarce in South Africa. He called for government policy on restructuring degrees and subjects offered. He further said that previous advertisements had listed engineering degree requirements. However, the Department had changed its policy and adverts now required engineering and natural resource related degrees to bring in a pool of people. They were working with institutions of higher education on resource protection and designing a curriculum specific to their needs. There had been various campaigns in schools to promote awareness about water and forestry.

Mr I Jacobs added that most cases of misconduct had lead to dismissals and they involved dishonesty and theft. It was invoked across the spectrum of personnel.

The Chairperson expressed the Committee’s appreciation to the team for the presentation. She said previous issues raised on the use of consultants had been addressed and the Committee would continue to engage in building internal capacity programmes. It was beneficial to have consultants in the Department. All services rendered by the Department and local government had economic implications in alleviating poverty and sustainability. Even the Forestry Amendment Bill did not only focus on the forestry industry but straddled economics. She felt the five economists’ posts had to be filled to give the Department a coherent strategy. They had to work with local government on Project Consolidate. The Committee would monitor the Department’s human resource strategy and consultants. The Department had to explore Members’ new suggestions and report back to the Committee.

The meeting was adjourned.

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