Public Service Commission Medium-Term Strategic Plan: briefing

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Meeting report

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ADMINISTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ADMINISTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE
26 August 2005
PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION MEDIUM-TERM STRATEGIC PLAN: BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Mr S Shiceka (ANC, Gauteng)

Documents handed out:
Public Service Commission PowerPoint Presentation
Public Service Commission Medium-term Strategic Framework briefing

SUMMARY
The Public Service Commission’s mandate is to promote sound principles in the public service, undertake investigations into maladministration and other research into the public service; and to improve labour relations. It does this with its three programmes: Investigations and Human Resource Reviews; Monitoring and Evaluation; and Institution Building. The PSC’s briefing noted its achievement for the past year included delivering on its mandate, creating a sound institutional base, building strategic partnerships, and establishing an anti-corruption hotline. Its challenges included limited financial resources and an inability to enforce the recommendations it made to departments. The delegation then outlined its strategic programmes for 2006/07 and 2008/09.

In the ensuing discussion, it was agreed that a strategic partnership between the PSC, the Portfolio Committee and the Select Committee needed to be formed so that all three bodies could work together to perform effective oversight over the public service, both nationally and provincially. It was admitted that such an initiative started earlier that year by the three of them had ground to a halt.

Other discussion points were: the under-performance of Public Works; the slow rate of transformation in the Western Cape; PSC employment equity targets for disabled people; the follow-up of hotline complaints; senior public service officials failing to make financial disclosures; the difficulty that PSC had in enforcing its recommendations; the high vacancy levels in the public service; whether the PSC had a strategic partnership with the Public Protector; and had the PSC evaluated the Poverty Relief Programme.

MIUNITES

Public Service Commission briefing
Professor S Sangweni (PSC Chairperson) began by noting that the PSC was mandated by the Constitution to promote sound principles and values in the public administration, and to measure the performance of the public service. The PSC was obliged to generate information on the public service that would enable Parliament to exercise its oversight role. The PSC also had a role to play in advising the Executive on good administration.

Mr M Sikhosana (PSC Director-General) outlined the key programme areas of the PSC, which included:
- Investigations and Human Resource Reviews: improving labour relations in the public service, investigating maladministration in the public service; and promoting anti-corruption in the public service;
- Monitoring and Evaluation: governance monitoring in order to promote good governance practices; undertaking research into the public service; promoting leadership and performance improvements in the public sector; and ensuring that public sector’s service delivery was improved through public participation;
- Institution Building: providing general and financial management, personnel and provisioning administration, and the provision of legal and other support services used to formulate policy.

Mr Sikhosana highlighted some of the achievements of the PSC. These included consolidating its institutional base; delivering on its mandate; developing strategic partnerships with institutions such as the Auditor-General and Public Protector; achieving unqualified audits for the previous five years; strengthening its monitoring and evaluation capacity; strengthening its investigation capacity, establishing a national anti-corruption hot-line; and providing support for institutional building in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. The PSC was also involved in projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Burundi.

Mr Sikhosana then discussed the challenges that the PSC faced, which included the fact that the PSC could not force government departments to implement its recommendations; the reality that it had limited financial resources; a need to improve compliance with the Head of Department (HOD) evaluation process; and a shortage of reliable organised data on the public service. More work needed to be done on meeting employment equity (EE) targets, especially disability targets.

Ms Sikhosana noted that the PSC budget had been steadily increasing since 2001. The PSC’s 2005/06 budget was R 83 113 000, which would increase to R 97 645 000 by 2008/9. He noted that the PSC was a labour intensive structure, which meant that a large percentage of its budget was spent on compensating employees.

Mr M Diphofa (PSC Deputy Director General: Monitoring and Evaluation) outlined the Monitoring and Evaluation Branch’s strategic framework for 2006/07 to 2008/09. Over these three the Monitoring and Evaluation Branch would be undertaking certain programmes annually, which included producing State of the Public Service Reports; producing reports that evaluated the adherence of government departments to the constitutional values; producing reports on the implementation of the PSC’s recommendations, managing the HOD evaluation process; evaluating aspects of the Batho Pele initiative; undertaking the Citizen Satisfaction Surveys; and providing support for the Citizens Forums’ toolkit. In 2006/07, the PSC would also be producing an assessment of department’s fraud prevention strategies, and it would be completing an evaluation of the Poverty Relief Programme. Added to this, in 2007/08 the PSC would be undertaking an evaluation of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act. In 2008/09, it would be undertaking an assessment of annual reports as accountability mechanisms.

Ms O Ramsingh (PSC Deputy Director General: Investigations and Human Resource Reviews) discussed the Investigations and Human Resources Reviews Branch’s strategic framework for 2006/07 to 2008/09. The PSC would be undertaking certain investigative initiatives on an annual basis from 2006/07 to 2008/09, which included undertaking proactive investigations, investigating complaints that had been lodged by public servants, investigating cases that were reported through the anti-corruption hotline; and investigating grievances of public service employees. Added to this, the PSC would be responsible for managing the anti-corruption hotline, and it would be producing annual reports on financial misconduct in the public service. From 2006/07 to 2008/09, the human resources review aspect of the Branch would be promoting anti-corruption strategies; undertaking focused investigations into specified human resource practices in government departments; managing the asset register; and providing secretarial services to the National Anti-Corruption Forum (NACF). In 2007/08, the Branch would be hosting the 3rd National Anti-Corruption Summit.

Discussion
The Chairperson stated that it was necessary to build a strategic relationship between the Committee and the PSC. Both the PSC and the Committee were monitoring bodies. Indeed, the Select Committee was meant to monitor human resource issues in all government departments.

Professor Sangweni replied that it was important to have a strategic relationship between the Select Committee and the PSC. The PSC and the Select Committee were both involved in different aspects of oversight. Parliament was responsible for political oversight, while the PSC was responsible for technical oversight. Indeed, the PSC operated as a support mechanism for Parliament’s political oversight role.

Mr Sikhosana added that most parliaments around the world had large well resourced research sections. The South African Parliament, however, had a small research section. The PSC saw itself as one of the mechanisms that filled the gap and offered research support to Parliament. It was, therefore, important that the plans of the PSC reflected the issues that were important to Parliament. The PSC did not want to present information to Parliament that was not useful. It was important that the Select Committee identified key outcomes and issues that it wanted to monitor, because the PSC could then focus on these.

He continued that the Select Committee needed to ensure that departments and Ministers were accountable. Ministers and government departments needed to know that Parliament was monitoring their performance, and that it was holding them accountable when they underperformed. Indeed, all Parliamentary Committees should stringently implement their oversight function. For example, the PSC had made presentations to Parliament about senior service officials that had failed to undertake financial disclosures. Indeed, only 60 to 70 percent of senior officials were complying. He felt that those senior officials that did not comply should be summoned to appear in front of the Select and Portfolio Committees.

The Chairperson agreed that Parliament needed to subject departments to stringent oversight. The Chairperson felt that in order to aid the Committee’s oversight role, the PSC should regularly present reports on problematic departments to the Committee. Once the Committee had received these reports, it could then call problematic departments to account. Added to this, the PSC also needed to explain the criteria that it used in its monitoring and evaluation initiatives to the Committee. This would allow the Committee to gain a thorough understanding of the issues, which would assist it in its oversight role. This would allow the Committee to gain an insight into, and an understanding of, the operations of government departments.

Professor Sangweni replied that the PSC had been presenting all of its reports, on the public service, to the Portfolio Committee. There needed to be co-ordination between the Select Committee and the Portfolio Committee, because it was not cost effective for the PSC to provide two presentations on the same report to different sections of Parliament. The PSC could perhaps provide joint briefings to both the Committees on its reports. Nonetheless, the PSC would ensure that there was a systematic presentation of reports to the Select Committee. These presentations would need to include a focus on the provinces. Professor Sangweni felt that the Select Committee could be involved in calling problematic provincial departments to account. He added that the PSC would be undertaking proactive inspections of provincial departments. The results of these inspections would be provided to the Select Committee.

Mr Sikhosana added that the PSC had held a workshop with the Portfolio Committee, and certain Members of the Select Committee, in order to establish which of the PSC Reports the Committees wished to be briefed on. This had been undertaken in preparation for the establishment of a committee programme, which would have included slots for problematic departments to appear before the Portfolio Committee. However, once the workshop had finished there was no follow up and the initiative collapsed. Going forward, there needed to be a strategic approach between the Committees and the PSC around such a programme.

The Chairperson replied that a strategic partnership between the PSC, the Portfolio Committee and the Select Committee needed to be formed. Indeed, a programme, similar to the one agreed to in principle at the workshop, needed to be revived. The Chairperson also wanted the PSC to work on a programme that outlined how many reports it could present to the Committees within a year. This would allow the Committees to prepare themselves for the task ahead. Indeed, the task ahead would not be easy because certain departments might attempt to resist such oversight. He added that the Select Committee would engage with the Portfolio Committee around the possible implementation of this initiative.

The Chairperson commented that certain government departments, such as the Department of Public Works, were under-performing: client departments were dissatisfied with the service that Public Works offered. He asked how the PSC assisted government departments to perform more efficiently.

The Chairperson asked if the PSC had investigated the slow EE transformation rate in the Western Cape. Mr Sikhosana replied that the PSC had raised the issue of a lack of transformation in the Western Cape. It felt that there needed to be a systematic plan to address transformation in the Western Cape.

The Chairperson asked whether the PSC was experiencing problems with meeting EE targets for disabled employees. Mr Sikhosana replied that very few government departments had reached their EE targets around people with disabilities. The PCS was undertaking a project that analysed the barriers that disabled people faced.

The Chairperson observed that there appeared to be problems around the abuse of sick leave in the South African Police Services (SAPS). He asked if the PSC had examined this situation. Mr Sikhosana responded that the PCS had conducted a study on issues surrounding sick leave in the SAPS.

The Chairperson felt that the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act needed to be marketed. This would allow the public to realise that corruption was not being tolerated. Ms Rawlings answered that the public had found it difficult to understand the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act. This was due to the fact that the Act was written in legalistic language. In order to address this, the PSC would be developing a user friendly guide to the Act.

A Member observed that many civil servants had extensive educational qualifications but lacked practical skills. This meant that they were under-performing, which was affecting service delivery. He asked if this problem was being addressed.

Mr Sikhosana replied that very few universities or technikons had schools of public administration. If a university or technikon did have a school of public administration, the courses that were offered were often outdated or irrelevant. Indeed, there was a huge gap between theory and practice. The PSC was hoping that the Sectoral Education Training Authorities (SETAs) would provide relevant training for the public service. He added that there should be school level subjects on the public service.

Mr J Le Roux (DA, Eastern Cape) observed that the PSC had received approximately 3 000 complaints about the public service through its anti-corruption hotline. He asked if all of these complaints had been investigated.

Ms Ramsingh replied that 1 100 of the complaints had been referred to the departments to undertake the initial investigations. If the cases were serious, the PSC would take the investigations further. Another 600 of the complaints received related service delivery cases. These would be handed over to the relevant institutions to investigate. The remaining 1 400 calls to the hotline were general complaints that did not relate directly to the public service. The primary objective of the hotline was to receive information about corruption; therefore, the general complaints had to be filtered out.

Mr Le Roux asked what had happened to the forty percent of the senior public service officials that had failed to make financial disclosures. An ANC member enquired why there was such a high percentage of non-compliance. Were some senior public service officials resisting disclosure? Mr Sikhosana replied that the senior public servants that had not complied with the assets register should be summoned to Parliament. The PSC was also considering fining such officials. However, it was still examining the legalities around fining officials. For example, the PSC was investigating whether a disciplinary hearing had to be conducted before a fine could be issued.

Mr Le Roux stated that swift action needed to be taken against any form of corruption. Presently, the processes around corruption investigations were lengthy. He asked if such processes could be undertaken more swiftly.

Mr Z Ntuli (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) asked if the targets that the President had set during the State of Nation address were being met. For example, the President had stated that the staff complement of the SAPS would be increased by 2007. Mr Ntuli had visited a police station in KwaZulu-Natal and had found that there were many vacancies. He had spoken to a senior official about this issue, and had been told that the vacancies would only be filled in 2007. Surely, one should not wait until 2007 to meet the targets. One needed to have already embarked on a programme to meet the 2007 targets.

Mr Sikhosana responded that the Executive was responsible for ensuring that the President’s targets were met. Indeed, the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) was working with SAPS to ensure staffing targets were met by 2007. As such, DPSA would be in a better position to report on the progress that had been made towards achieving the targets. He added that in the rest of the public service, a programme had been implemented in order to meet the targets that the President had set. The information on this programmes progress had been posted on the government website.

The Chairperson asked how many staff vacancies there were in the PSC. Once an institution had too many vacancies, it performance was hindered. He noted that there were vacant posts in many departments. These departments would spend the budgets for these posts on other programmes, which meant that these posts were not being filled. He asked if such a problem was widespread in the public service.

Mr Sikhosana replied that some departments reported high levels of vacancies; however, most of these vacancies were not real because there were no funds available to fill them. Indeed, departments often presented idealised organisational structures even though they knew that they did not have funds to fill the posts. For example, a department may state that there should be ten employees in a certain programme, but in reality there were only funds for five employees. The PSC was insisting that departments should create posts according to the funds that they had available. It was misleading to inform the public that there were high vacancy levels, when in reality no funds were available to fill these posts.

Mr Ntuli asked whether the 2006 target for implementing a single public service would be achieved. Mr Sikhosana replied that the DPSA would be able to provide answers about the progress that had been made in achieving a single public service.

An ANC Member enquired how the PSC planned to improve the reliability of data on the public service. Mr Sikhosana replied that the DPSA had undertaken a project to improve this. Mr Diphofa added that the PSC went to departments to collect primary data because there were no other reliable sources of data. It was through monitoring and evaluation that reliable information could be gathered about the public service.

A Member asked if the PSC had the research capacity to collect the raw data from all the departments. Mr Sikhosana responded that the PSC did have the capacity to collect credible information. Nonetheless, the PSC had experienced certain operational problems around collecting primary data. For example, sometimes the information that the PSC wanted was missing from the departments. It was also time consuming to collect primary data.

Mr M Mzizi (IFP, Gauteng) observed that departments were not obligated to implement the PSC’s recommendations. As a result, he asked what purpose these recommendations served if they could not be enforced. Mr Sikhosana acknowledged that the PSC could not force departments to implement its recommendations. However, the Committee had the power to summon departments and question them on why they had failed to implement the PSC’s recommendations.

Mr Mzizi asked how extensive the PSC’s mandate was. For example, did they investigate complaints that ordinary citizens had about the public service? He also enquired whether there was a duplication of work between the PSC and the Public Protector. Mr Sikhosana responded that the PSC had a working relationship with the Public Protector. If the PSC received complaints from the public, it would forward these to the Public Protector. Similarly, if the Public Protector received complaints from public servants, it would forward these onto the PSC.

Mr Mzizi asked whether the PSC had a high public profile. It seemed as though the public was only aware of the Public Protector.

Mr Mzizi asked if the PSC had been able to undertake a thorough evaluation of the Poverty Relief Programme. Mr Diphofa replied that the PSC was not undertaking an evaluation of the Poverty Relief Programme itself. It was rather mapping out which institutions were responsible for the various aspects of the Poverty Relief Programme. Once the mapping exercise was complete, the PSC would focus on evaluating one of the areas of the Poverty Relief Programme. It was impossible to evaluate all the areas of the Poverty Relief Programme.

Mr Mzizi questioned whether it was possible for the PSC to completely eradicate public service corruption. Ms Ramsingh responded that it was not possible but one could implement the best possible systems to make it difficult for people to engage in corrupt practices.

A Member asked how the PSC’s involvement in the DRC and Burundi was funded. Mr Sikhosana responded that the PSC had to divert some money from other programmes to fund its interventions in the DRC and Burundi. The PSC needed to receive institutional assistance for these initiatives to ensure that proper budgeting was available.

The Chairperson stated that when large projects were undertaken, for example the Gautrain project, certain qualified people had to be recruited from foreign countries to fill some of the key posts. This was because there were no qualified South Africans to fill such posts. He asked if the exact extent of the skills shortages in the public service was known.

Mr Sikhosana replied that there was a shortage of certain skills in South Africa. For example, in the Public Works and Housing Departments there was a shortage of surveyors, civil engineers, and project managers. This problem was being addressed by the DPSA. The Minister had stated that foreigners would be recruited to fill posts for which South Africans did not have the necessary skills. Nonetheless, it had to be done in a sustainable manner, and South Africans needed to be trained in the required skills so that they could fill these posts in the future. He added, however, that it was very difficult to quantify the extent of the skills shortage in the public service.

The Chairperson commented that it would also be interesting to know if the use of consultants by government departments was increasing or decreasing.

Before adjourning the meeting, he noted that the PSC needed to return to brief the Committee on the Poverty Relief Programme evaluation, the Citizen Satisfaction Survey and on the Batho Pele principles.

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