Department of Communication: Strategic Plan 2006-09: briefing

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SELECT COMMITTEE ON LABOUR AND PUBLIC ENTERPRISE [NCOP]

SELECT COMMITTEE ON LABOUR AND PUBLIC ENTERPRISE
17 May 2006
DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATION: STRATEGIC PLAN 2006-09: BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Ms M P Themba (ANC)

Documents handed out:

Department of Communications Strategic Plan 2006-09 (available at
www.doc.gov.za/)

SUMMARY
The Department of Communication presented its strategic plan 2006-09. The presentation highlighted the Departments mandate to create a favorable information and communication technologies (ICT) environment that would ensure South Africa had the capacity to advance its socio-economic development goals, support the renewal of Africa and build a better world. The presentation highlighted the Department’s Medium Term Strategy, which would create a sustainable and enabling information technology environment. The presentation also highlighted the Department’s priorities for the 2006-7 financial year and its strategic plans for the Presidential National Commission on Information Society and Development, which would advise the President on using ICT’s to optimise the pace and development of addressing the challenges faced by South Africa, and enhancing the country’s global competitiveness. The presenters highlighted their budget to the Committee.

Members sought clarity on issues of employment equity. Members queried savings figures. The Committee requested clarity on the relationship between the Department and SOE’s, and the Department’s involvement with the Interception of Communications Act.

Minutes
The Department of Communication (DoC) presented their strategic plan 2006-09 to the Committee; they highlighted their Mandate "to create a favorable ICT Environment that ensured South Africa had the capacity to advance its socio-economic development goals, support the renewal of Africa and to build a better world".

The Departments’ delegation included, Ms Gertha Grabe: Chief Operations Officer, Dr Keith Shongwe: Deputy Director General (DDG): Government, Stakeholder and International Affairs, Dr Harold Wesso (DDG): Policy Development, Ms Gertrude Mawela: Deputy Director Budgets, Ms Elspeth Coetzer: ASD Budgets

Ms Grabe explained that the Department’s Strategic plan had been informed by the Accellerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (ASGISA) imperatives and the broader government programme of action. She identified five Key Focus Areas (KFA) on which the strategic plan was based:

- Achieving higher rates of investment in the economy
- Increasing competitiveness of the SA economy
- Broadening participation in the economy
- Improving the capacity of the state to deliver
- Contributing to a better world.

Ms Grabe talked the Committee through the Strategic plans for the Presidential National Commission on Information Society and Development (PNC on ISAD) which would advise the President on using ICTs to optimise the pace and development of addressing the challenges faced by South Africa, and enhancing the Countries global competitiveness. The DoC presented their budget to the Committee.

Ms Grabe presented the budget, which dealt with the 2005/06 financial review, the MTEF baseline allocation operations, and allocation transfers.

Discussion
Ms Grabe, apologised for the absence of Ms Lyndall Shope-Mafole, the Director-General, She explained that the Department had met with the Portfolio Committee the previous Friday, hoping to finalise amendments to the Independent Communication Authority South Africa (ICASA) Amendments Bill this did not happen so it was currently in the process of being finalised, and therefore Ms Lyndall Shope-Mafole was held up with the matter.

The chair thanked the presenters. She felt relieved to know that the current programme would be spread to the provinces. She noted that she had heard in the media that it was World Telecommunication Day.

Ms Grabe, apologised for not mentioning Telecommunication Day, and explained that the theme for 2006 was been Global Science and Security, so that was definitely a focus.

Ms Mugubane (ANC) highlighted slide 19 of the presentation on the Justice Crime prevention and Security Cluster; she had heard on the news that the Department of Justice intended to ‘bug’ certain cell phones. She understood this would be carried out whilst working with service providers such as, MTN and Vodacom. She asked if the Communication Department was engaged with the Justice Department on this matter and, if so, was there an intention to hold public hearings.

Ms Grabe, explained that the Department had commented on the Interception of Communications Act, but the Department of Justice (DoJ) were primarily the drivers behind the proposed legislation; the question of a public hearing was therefore a DoJ matter.

Ms Mugabane commented that on slide 20, the presentation had indicated that the Department would develop and implement a comprehensive and co-ordinated strategy to introduce modern ICT’s in development nodes. She noted that this had also been the intention of the Department in the previous year, and questioned to what degree this intention had now been realised in all provinces. However, she knew for a fact that this had not happening in her own province, the Western Cape and wanted clarification of when this would happen.

Dr Wesso explained that the Department had a focus on ICT’s and socio-economic development. The DoC had investigated developing models for engaging communities at a local level to adopt ICT‘s and development programs. This was something that would be implanted nationally in the current financial year. It had been particularly difficult to get people at a local level to see the benefits of ICT’s. In the Western Cape, six pilots had been developed in deep rural and semi- urban areas. These included, Verainsdorp, Bitterfontein, Thembalethu in George, Bongolethu in Oudtshoorn and Struisbaai. In these places the DoC had implemented community ICT forums, and were developing the capacity of these forums, as well as building the capacities of those communities to start utilising ICT’s. The Department had developed an ICT For All Plan in the Western Cape, which had focused specifically on Khayalitsha and Mitchell’s Plein. He had however not been updated on the implementation of this plan. The idea had been that this project would be replicated in Beaufort West and then across the Western Cape. The groundwork had been done; it was now just a matter of implementation. There had been serious discussions at a national level as to how, in the current financial year, this model could be implemented across the country

Ms Mugabane, queried whether the Department had a report on skills throughout the country. What had been the DoC contribution to Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA)?

Mr Gamede substantiated Ms Magubane’s question on what the contribution to JIPSA was. The Department would have their own share of identifiable, scarce skills, how did the DoC intend to address this issue?

As far as skills were concerned, there had already been a lot of work done around identifying skill shortages. If South Africa wanted to be globally competitive it needed sufficient ICT skills. It had been very problematic that many people in the country who possessed ICT skills were still unemployed. There had been a mismatch between what, for example, tertiary institutes were delivering and the needs of the economy. The DoC had just established a Skills Development Task Team to deal with these problems. The Task Team would look at ICT skills in the country, with the purpose of identifying skills in South Africa, identifying the economic requirements, and investigating how any deficit between the two could be overcome. He believed that addressing skills shortages would require a serious consorted effort.

Dr Wesso explained that the Skills Development Task Team was about producing the right skills within the context of JIPSA. In the previous week there had been a high-level meeting, as an interim measure, to identify the ccarce ITC skills and to begin thinking about a means of fast-tracking the production of such skills. They had discussed mechanisms of getting young people to undertake training in these scares skills; which could, for example, be a matter of sending people to other Countries.

Ms Mugabane highlighted that, as a priority for 2006-07, the Department had included implementing programmes for designated groups for information society with an initial focus on youth and women. She raised concern that this had not included people with disabilities.

Mr Gamede substantiated, Ms Magubane’s comments on why had there been no mention of people with disabilities. He reiterated Ms Mugabanes concern that there had been youth and women programmes, but there had been no such programmes mentioned for people with disabilities. Why had this been the case? He noted that the presentation had touched on the Employment Equity Act; however the presentation did not specify the numbers of people with disabilities working in the Department. Could this be clarified? Had the Department met the requirement to employ at least 2% of staff with disabilities and, if so, were these positions lower-level, middle or senior management? He was particularly interested in Management.

Dr Wesso, stressed that he believed that ICT’s could really improve the quality of life of disabled people. They could, for example, avoid unnecessary travel to access information, such as that contained in Government portholes. ICT’s could also enable people with disabilities to work from home. Technologies certainly could be employed to assist the disabled. Disabilities had perhaps not been mentioned in the presentation or hard copy document, but he emphasised that it was implicitly meant to be part of what the Department hoped to achieve.

The same related to women who, for example, had childcare responsibilities; with the appropriate technologies they too could enter the labour market - these were the priorities of the programs dealing with ICT’s. He believed people in deep rural areas should be engaged to start using ICT to earn a living. ICT’s, he stressed, were certainly not just for the corporate world, but the vision of the Department was about harnessing ICT’s for socio-economic development.

Ms Grabe pointed out that the DoC had established a Chief Directorate that actually dealt with the mainstream issues of disabilities and ICT’s, not just within government but within broader society as well. This was headed by a Deputy Director who was deaf.

She explained that the make-up of disabled staff was, a deaf man, three other men who were short structured and a physically disabled woman who would be joining the Department shortly.

With regard to employment equity, she explained that as at the end of January the equity statistics would be reviewed on a quarterly basis. The Department had, however, determined their baseline figure in terms of achieving the 2% targets as set by Cabinet by March 2010. The DoC currently employed 1.11% disabled staff out of the total staff compliment. This meant that there were four employees with disabilities, currently 3 of those were at administrative support level and one was in middle management. The Chief Directorate that had been established would look at designated groups such as women, youth and people with disabilities. A disabled female would be joining the Department in June and would be the only senior disabled staff member. The DoC was currently looking at how to achieve those targets. It was however the Director-General’s aim to have achieved the targets before 2010. With the utilisation of ICT’s these targets could be exceeded.

Mr Gamede (ANC) commented that the Committee had not been furnished with an explanation of the vacancy rate of the DoC. There had only been mention of some figure which was the saving as the result of such vacancies. What was the current vacancy rate in the Department?

Ms Grabe explained that there had been an organogram in the strategic plan; however she conceded it had not been in great detail. She explained that of the total structure of the Department there were 523 positions, of which 342 were currently filled, which had been a vast improvement on the previous year, since when nearly 200 vacant passions had been filled. She believed that the DoC had the capacity to deliver on the programme, compared with where the Department had been the previous year and relative to what they intended to achieve. They were in a much stronger position to deliver. The Department had taken onboard the challenges and resource constraints, human resources as well as financial. This had been very much taken into consideration in the planning process. The filling of these positions would be fast tracked, particularly the senior management positions because she believed that the managers would be crucial to identify the people required to do the work on the ground.

Mr Gamede, noted that the presenters had mentioned the DoC’s strategic objective of enabling the reduction of the cost to communicate. However, it had not mentioned how this would come about, and asked the Department to expand on this.

Ms Mugabane also raised a concern that the annual budget had showed savings in the 2005/06 review and enquired how the Department had intended to save that money when they had faced major challenges in providing skills.

Ms Grabe, explained that the question of how the DoC intended to reduce costs was tricky because, as she had mentioned in the presentation, a policy directive on exactly how the Department intended to reduce costs would be issued by the Minister in a Ministerial statement in the near future. She felt it would therefore be difficult for her to give detailed information on the issue. She requested that the Committee bear with her on this; it would explained become clearer in the Ministerial statement.

Mr Gamede questioned how the Department intended to conduct oversight on state owned enterprises (SOE‘s). Did the DoC adopt a ‘big brother’ approach, what degree of influence over SOE’s did they have, or were they completely independent in this regard? He requested clarity on this issue.

Ms Grabe explained that all SOE’s had to comply with the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), meaning they would have to submit business plans, strategic plans, etc to the relevant Government department by a specific date. They were also required to submit their quarterly performance reports in terms of expenditure as well as submitting their plans for the year to the Department on a quarterly basis.

In light of the recent events that had taken place surrounding one of their SOE‘s, she felt it safe to say that the Department did not want to play a big brother role where, if an SOE stepped out of line, the Department ‘cracked them on the knuckles’. She believed SOE’s were the delivery arms of Government and were therefore in a partnership with the Department to achieve the same goals.

Part of the DoC’s oversight function happened in the form of Ministerial Meetings. Twice a year there were bilateral meetings with all the SOEs. The DoC and the Minister would put items on the agenda, there was also input from the SOE’s as well. This was a forum for open and frank discussion. The formal meetings between the Minister and the SOE’s were at a high political and strategic level. The oversight role was a necessary process to insure alignment. The DG had also put in place a formal process of meeting with the CEO’s and other top management of the SOE’s. This whole process had stated to become formalised and had certainly improved.

Mr Hendricks (DA) asked for clarity on the DoC’s strategic objective of using ICT’s to address challenges related to health care issues

Mr Shongwe explained that the Electronic Health Record was a specific project looking at health matters. There had been dissatisfaction that medical records could not be accessed from one province to another, as patents were often moved towards appropriate medical aid. As a solution to this problem the Department had developed an Electronic Health Record which in effect was a centralisation of records. He stressed he was using the word ‘centralised’ metaphorically; it did not need to centrally reside in one location. It would centralise common patient data. Health care workers across the board would be able to access records. This had been a joint project with the Department of Health. The project had advanced to quite an extent; a request for information had gone out. The next stage was to review the proposals. To his knowledge the plan was to award the tender during the current financial year.

Another project had been the Tele-Medicine Project, which was being conducted in partnership with the Medical Research Council. There was a dedicated project underway in Mpumalanga, which involved a few clinics on the border with Mozambique. The particular challenge faced by that project had been the physical capabilities of the equipment being used; computers tended to be very sensitive in the dusty moist conditions. It did not take long before the networks wires short-circuited. To this end the group joined with the Presidential and National Commission, which together commissioned a group headed by Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape who had come up with a tele-communication work station. The station was required to be rugged and reliable and suitable for harsh and remote terrains. To his knowledge the project was complete or nearing completion. It had started 2 years before and had a duration of up to three years. The concept of Tele-Medicine was clear, there should be no need to move an ill or injured person, and it should instead be a matter of taking Medical care closer to them.

Mr Shongwe felt it was important to highlight to the Committee what had been happening on an international level with regard to the work of the DoC. He explained there had been a number of key projects There were currently two projects underway, which he felt were important for the Committee to know about The first was the East African Submarine Cable Project. This would involve 22, mostly coastal countries, of which South Africa was one. There was currently a cable that had linked the west coast of Africa to the north coast of Africa and the rest of the world. The project intended to link the East of Africa to the rest of the World. The 22 countries involved in this were at an advanced stage, to the effect that they were in the process of finalising the structure that would design, operate and maintain that particular cable. The project had been timetabled so that within 18 months of finalising the structure, which was expected to occur in the next four months, the project would be completed. The driving rational behind the project had been to lower the costs of communication. The structure was that Government would participate but private sector operators would also be given the opportunity to participate as equal shareholders within the structure.

The second project was the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) E-Schools Project, which involved 20 countries throughout Africa. There were 6 pilot schools throughout South Africa.

The chair asked that the Committee be invited to the launch of those projects, so members could effectivity monitor the progress on such projects.

The chair explained that due to time limitations the meeting had to be adjourned

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