Request for Contract Extension: Department of Foreign Affairs briefing

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PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ADMINISTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE
10 October 2006
REQUEST FOR CONTRACT EXTENSION: DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Mr S Shiceka (ANC, Gauteng)

Documents handed out:
Background briefing on Mr A Minty (Deputy Director-General, Department of Foreign Affairs)

SUMMARY
The Committee was presented with a motivation for the extension of the employment contract of Mr A Minty, Deputy Director General: Foreign Affairs for another five years on a fulltime basis. The justification for this extension centred on Mr Minty’s experience and expertise in issues of nuclear proliferation and disarmament, and South Africa’s increasing engagement on these key global issues.

The Committee endorsed the request in principle, but requested that the relevant documents be made available as soon as possible for official endorsement. Furthermore, given the nature of the request, the Committee would consult other key stakeholders to gain consensus on this decision.

The Committee also stressed the importance of developing a sustainable plan for strengthening personnel capacity in this area; and discussed broad issues regarding South Africa’s position at the United Nations Security Council and its nuclear energy for peace programme.

MINUTES

Request to extend the contract of the Deputy Director General

The Chairperson welcomed all Members and indicated that a new Researcher had been assigned to the Committee. He said this was the first time the Committee had been invited to consider such a request, but asked the Director General to proceed with the briefing. 

Dr A Ntsaluba (Director General, Department of Foreign Affairs) provided brief background to the request. The Public Service Act required the Department to seek endorsement from Parliament for the exceptional circumstances involved in the extension of the term of Mr Abdul Minty, Deputy Director General in the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Speaker and the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces referred this matter to the Select Committee on Local Government and Administration. The Director General proceeded with the motivation as follows:

Mr Minty is a well-known figure in the South African society whose history dates back to involvement and engagement in discussions on global nuclear disarmament in the 1960s, as well as being an activist in the anti-apartheid movement. He has been the head of a global campaign on nuclear disarmament, responsible for following issues of nuclear empowerment and disarmament and involvement. He has also played a crucial role and earned significant international standing on issues of nuclear proliferation. He has gained membership to United Nations (UN) Committees; and in 1994 he was appointed as Deputy Director General of the Multilateral Branch within the Department of Foreign Affairs. He also performed well as Acting Director General on Foreign Affairs for a year. He currently holds key strategic positions which include membership of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. He is also a member of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation and represents the Department on the National Conventional Arms Control Committee.

His other positions included: Chair of the SA Council on Non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD); Ambassador and special representative on the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) Steering Committee, among others.  He has amassed over 40 years of experience in this area, and is currently the most knowledgeable official in South Africa on these matters.

Dr Ntsaluba further provided background to global developments on nuclear energy. He said that since September 11th 2001, issues of nuclear proliferation and weapons of mass destruction have taken centre stage as global political issues. Furthermore, there are ongoing debates on energy security, spurred by increased demand in the general consumption of oil, and instability in the Middle East. Countries have stepped up efforts to exploring options other than nuclear energy. However, there is a delicate balance between use of nuclear energy for peace and for weapons of mass destruction. South Africa has not been spared from this debate, as it was a signatory to the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treat (NPT). Although it destroyed its nuclear arsenal prior to 1994, it has now stated its intention to enrich uranium for energy and peaceful purposes.  South Africa has hence mediated between the non-aligned movement and the West.  This stance carries heavy political implications. Although the Treaty recognises space for nations such as South Africa to embark on such nuclear enriching programmes for peaceful purposes, this space is being increasingly contested by bigger powers, amidst concerns that nations will use this clause to develop weapons of mass destruction. He stated that contestation had implications for future energy sources for countries such as South Africa. Its recent occupation of a seat at the Security Council from January 2006 entails a more strategic engagement in these issues.

He reported that Mr Minty had guided South Africa to develop principled positions and thus to engage as a country. Currently, there is insufficient expertise in this area, which requires a combination of technical knowledge and political sensitivity, and access to restricted information. It is thus important that his expertise be retained on full term, rather than in an ad hoc manner. In the same vein, the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Minerals and Energy are collaborating on developing a sustainable capacity building plan. But this requires investment over a significant period of time. 

Discussion
The Chair stated that the motivation was clear and sound. However, he noted that no documents had been furnished to the Committee beforehand. It was important that these be made available as soon as possible. They provided the basis for evidence and application of “the mind”. He asked if this particular extension would be setting precedents for other situations, and whether plans for succession were being developed.

Dr Ntsaluba agreed, and assured the Committee that the documents will be made available immediately.

Mr A Worth (DA, Free State) wanted to know what the length of the requested extension period was.

Dr Ntsaluba responded that the requested period of extension was for five years.

Mr A Moseki (ANC, North West) stated that Mr Minty seemed to have vast knowledge possessed by few. He asked the Director General to elaborate further on the succession and sustainability plans being put in place after his tenure. He also wanted to know which Act regulated this particular extension, and if there were other key players to be consulted on this matter.

Dr Ntsaluba responded that as far as he knew, no other authority could respond to this matter other than this particular committee. This is in response to Section 16 (7) of the Public Service Act. He added that there were succession plans in place. There was an ongoing process of identifying expanding and strengthening skills and capacities of individuals at different levels. Importantly, this would focus on strengthening both the technical and political levels. He highlighted that the Minister had issued instructions on this matter. He stressed that this is not just the DFA’s responsibility, but also a national capacity issue. Hence, other stakeholders are equally involved.

The Chair added that Parliament is the custodian of Public Service Act, and hence, this exceptional case had to be referred to Parliament. But he stressed the need to confer with counterparts in Parliament to ensure that the decision taken was clear and consistent.

Mr Z Ntuli (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) enquired why Mr Minty was not being considered as a contract employee. He wished to know what the disadvantages would be if the Department were to consider employing him on these conditions, and echoed concerns of setting precedents.

Dr Ntsaluba stressed that the decision to offer such a renewal was not taken lightly by the Department. In other cases, employees had been given contract terms. He reiterated that Mr Minty’s case was unique. His job requires a certain level of exposure and access to a wide spectrum of information within this sensitive area. He agreed that there is need for increased focus on capacity building, but stressed that such specialised capacity takes long to develop. Importantly, the global changes since 9/11 have made these issues more dominant and dynamic. This was unforeseen.

The Chair endorsed that Mr Minty was indeed an asset, not just for South Africa, but for Africa and the world. He also encouraged Members to take the opportunity to engage with the Department on the broader discourse of nuclear energy. He asked the Director General to elaborate on some of the recent developments within the United Nations Security Council, and more specifically, the response of the United States to North Korea’s nuclear enrichment programme. 

Dr Ntsaluba responded that the United States have had to undertake a tactful approach towards North Korea in light of its interests and alliances with South Korea. It is also cautious against developing antagonistic relationships with China. The Middle East experience has provided lessons for this approach.

Mr Ntuli enquired why the United Nations Security Council is dominated by a few powerful nations.

Dr Ntsaluba explained that the governing legislation in international law is the NPT. However, there are key challenges to the three nodes of this treaty, as they have increasingly been used by powerful nations to limit developing countries from nuclear energy enrichment. Importantly, these powerful nations occupy permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council, and thus have the power to veto temporary members.

Mr J Mack (ANC, Western Cape) agreed that energy was very important to South Africa.  He enquired if South Africa had enough capacity and expertise to embark on uranium enrichment plans.

Dr Ntsaluba responded that he was not in a position to state in precise terms, the number of nuclear scientists currently present in South Africa, but pointed to the fact that some capacity still existed, and the challenge would be to merely strengthen it. He further clarified that Mr Minty was not the ‘only expert’ in issues of nuclear energy. But he certainly possessed a unique balance of technical knowledge and in depth understanding of global political dynamics.

The Chair asked if South Africa’s decision to destroy its nuclear weapons was a mistake, and what would the costs of rebuilding enrichment facilities and related capacity be. 

Dr Ntsaluba responded that South Africa undertook voluntary disarmament, which was feasible and conducive at that time. He emphasised that this reflected South Africa’s peaceful approach towards international relations.  This in fact, has accorded South Africa a moral high ground on the nuclear energy for security debate.

The Chair thanked the Dr Ntsaluba for the impressive and convincing motivation, and his responses to issues that were raised. He said that the Committee would re-convene at a later stage to make the final decision.

The meeting was adjourned.

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