Support Intervention in Department: briefings by Minister and Task Team

Home Affairs

13 March 2007
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Meeting report

HOME AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
14 March 2007
SUPPORT INTERVENTION IN DEPARTMENT: BRIEFINGS BY MINISTER AND TASK TEAM

Chairperson
: Mr H Chauke (ANC)

Documents handed out:

Final Report on the Support Intervention in the Department of Home Affairs
Progress Report on the Investigation of Financial Management Systems at Home Affairs
Remarks by Honourable NN Mapisa Nqakula, Minister of Home Affairs


Audio recording of the meeting

SUMMARY

The final report of the Task Team on the Support Intervention in the Department of Home Affairs was submitted to the Committee. The Minister of Home Affairs stated that the Task Team was set up to address the concerns raised over the problems inherent in the systems and structures of the Department, some of which were highlighted in the 2004/05 Auditor General's report. The transformation process recommended now would need to cover all aspects of the Ministry's and the Department's work. There was a need for integrated solutions that were sustainable and covered the entire organisation. The Team was categorised into five focus areas. It found that there was a lack of strategic leadership and input, and a key area was therefore immediate reconfiguration of the Department, and urgent changes in Government.

The Public Service Commission and National Treasury, who were participants in the Task Team, presented details of the findings. The new Director General would have to be a change agent as well as an effective manager and be fully supported by a management team. There would need to be a review of the structure, a fast tracking of short term initiatives to improve service delivery, including an upgrade of IT, implementation of effective monitoring, and a comprehensive audit into ICT systems. The Task Team was providing support to help the Department. Certain parts of the financial investigation had been completed. Findings included capacity constraints, skills shortage, lack of managerial supervision, policies not properly rolled-out and internal control weaknesses. The recommendations were listed.

Members queried whether the Director General's appointment should not be advertised in the private as well as the public sector, the need to speed up the appointments, the implementation of the recommendations, the progress on the investigation of money siphoned away from the Department, the outcomes on the staff who were currently suspended, correlation of staff records, and the reasons why no names had yet been released in regard to disciplinary issues.
The Committee needed a clear picture of how the Department would implement the Task Team’s recommendations, but would assist in its endeavours. .

MINUTES
Support Intervention into the Department of Home Affairs (DHA): Findings by Task Team
The Chairperson mentioned that the meeting held with the provincial managers brought to light a number of challenges. He was pleased to note that of the recommendations made by the Committee almost half had been implemented. There were bigger challenges that included the shortage of staff that impacted directly on service delivery, mobile units that had broken down and issues of information technology. During the last budget debate the Committee supported the call of the Minister and recognised that these were not new problems, but problems that had spanned over the years. There was no clear action plan from the Department. He stated that the Committee had earlier received a summary of the final report and noted that the Minister had stated that the recommendations of the task team would be implemented.

Support Intervention Task Team: Report by the Minister of Home Affairs
Hon Ms N Mapisa-Nqakula, Minister of Home Affairs said that the anxieties and the numerous issues raised by the Committee in regard to the task team had been noted. The Committee would be presented with the outcome of the work of the Support Intervention Task Team that had been working in the Department for six months last year.

The Minister had compiled the task team following the concerns raised over the problems inherent in the systems and structures, some of which were highlighted in the 2004/05 Auditor General's report. These problems were frustrating the efficient functioning and service delivery priorities of the Department and were symptomatic of deep-rooted problems in both the organisational and operational systems of the Department.

The transformation process envisaged would need to cover all aspects of the Ministry's and the Department's work. There was a need for integrated solutions and a clear idea of which solutions could be achieved in the short term and which in the longer term. The solutions would have to cover areas such as human and infrastructure capacity, business processes, organisational design, service delivery models, supply chain management and support systems, including technology.

The Minister noted that this was not the first time that support teams had been sent into the Department. Therefore it was necessary that this particular intervention had to be different, in terms of its focus and the impact its work would make within the Department. The Task Team was required to provide sustainable solutions that covered the entire organisation. The Team itself comprised Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), National Treasury (NT) and the Office of the Public Service Commission (OPSC).

The support team was categorised into five focus areas and in addition looked at some current challenges the Department faced with regard to systems and processes. The team presented their initial findings to the Committee a few months after starting their work in October last year and were then further committed to come back and brief the Committee on the outcomes of the work.

Once the Team gained leadership of the Department, it was found that there was a lack of strategic leadership and input, with over 70% of the establishment comprising clerical officials up to level six. The infrastructure of the Department was never improved or increased to ensure more convenient access to services by all its clients, particularly those in the rural areas. The technological infrastructure was virtually non-existent with many outdated key systems needing urgent upgrading or replacement.

A key area was to focus on the immediate feasibility of the reconfiguration of the Department, including finalisation of the necessary organisational model and structures. Governance issues with regard to the financial management of the Department needed to be addressed urgently, and the recommendations for changes in the budget programme structure would be discussed.

Public Service Commission: Briefing on the support intervention
Ms Odette Ramsingh, Director General, Public Service Commission confirmed that the Support Intervention Team had embarked on a joint effort to address the challenges facing the Department, and that the report was divided into the five areas described by the Minister. The team submitted several comprehensive reports to the Minister that were used to compile the final report and recommendations. There was also an action plan.

The action plan had noted that the position for Director General should be filled. The new Director General should not only have a team of capable managers, but should be a change agent as well as a manager. Those responsible for effective implementation of the performance development and management system (PDMS) should be accountable. A review of the organisation structure should be completed as fast as possible in order for the Department to carry out its current tasks. The Department should fast track the implementation of short-term initiatives that were aimed at service delivery to decrease the pressure. This should include the upgrading of the information technology and communication sector of the Department, in order to connect all Home Affairs offices and service points, the development of an interim track and trace system and the implementation of the infrastructure roll out plan. There was a lack of an internal monitoring and evaluation system, and therefore an effective monitoring and evaluation capacity should be established to provide up-to-date management information for relevant decision making purposes. This would help identify and improve areas of performance. A comprehensive audit should be conducted into the ICT systems solutions the Department was currently implementing. The Task Team discovered that a longer term ICT strategy should be developed and an integrated implementation plan was required in order to ensure that the Department had a secure and viable system.

The final report also shows that 90% of its initiatives of the support team were completed. Where initiatives had not been completed, the team provided support and assistance to help the Department take the processes forward.

Accountant General: Briefing on Support Intervention

Mr S Freeman Nomvalo, Accountant General, stated that the Task Team had taken the view that any irregularity must be critically examined because the Department was struggling with its systems. The Task Team was not being critical but was trying to assist. Most of the financial investigation took place after the regularity audit had identified areas that did not have an internal control environment model that could be used as a benchmark. The parts of the investigation that were completed were the revenue and accounts receivables, expenditure on human resources, specific managerial issues, assets such as vehicles and other moveable assets as well as an internal audit. The investigation that was still in progress was covering the internal controls, banking and cash, expenditure on supply chain management and information systems.

The findings from the Team had noted capacity constraints, skills shortage, lack of managerial supervision, policies not properly rolled-out and internal control weaknesses. The recommendations included the use of retired professionals to enhance internal skills, and finalisation of a human resources plan to eliminate bottlenecks in the recruitment process. The risk assessment should be reviewed regularly and used in internal audit planning process. There should be a final co-sourcing arrangement. The Department should develop a comprehensive asset management plan as well as finalise the financial management manual. The controls should be tightened on the overtime management and the Department needed to take the appropriate corrective action on the past non-compliance, as well as on cash registers and the recording of revenue. It should develop and implement a receivables policy. Monthly reconciliations were necessary. There should be a strict protocol on management of penalty debtors, such as sending statements regularly, as well as stricter control on subsistence claims. There should also be management meetings as a follow up on all audit findings.

Discussion
Mr F Beukman (ANC) noted that since the Director General required such specific skills it would be prudent to extend the search to fill this post to the private sector.

Ms Ramsingh responded that the Director General to be appointed would have to be a change agent as well as a manager, but that the appointment remained the priority of the Minister.

Ms S Kalyan (DA) mentioned that there were eleven persons who did not qualify for appointment to the post. She asked in which positions these people were currently serving.

Ms Ramsingh stated that the appointed people might not have met the advertised requirement in one or another way. The competency tests had illustrated that the managers were more operationally that strategy based.

Ms N Mathibela (ANC) wondered what could be done in order for the Department not to delay in filling vacant positions.

Ms Ramsingh stated that the issue was more a question of obtaining the right person for the right job. The review of the recruitment policy had tried to address some of the administrative blockages

Mr W Skhosana (ANC) wanted to know if there was a shortage of staff at all levels.

Mr Nomvalo stated that there was not enough time to examine each and every activity, but that the Task Team had used a sample as a basis for the study. The Team also tried to cover both national and regional offices, but could not go to each and every district office.

The Chairperson asked who would implement these recommendations.

Mr Nomvalo responded that it was up to the Department to implement the recommendations, although some of the implementation processes would also require the support of departments involved in the Task Team.

The Chairperson asked about the progress of the investigation on the R561 million that was siphoned from the Department.

Mr Nomvalo replied that because of the scope of their investigation the Task Team could not focus on just one particular point, it had to be specifically referenced. However, he stated that in regard to this amount, it did not seem that the current investigation would provide a complete answer.

Mr M Sibande (ANC) enquired what was going to happen to those staff who had been accused of corruption and who were currently suspended with pay. He stated that this would affect the budget.

Mr E Trent (IFP,SCOPA) made the comment that it was critical to understand and support the new vision the Department had in mind for the Director General. The use of seconded staff was a useful avenue to explore. He asked how the staff would be configured, and asked whether a head-count on the staff would also involve the simultaneous updating of personnel files.

The Minister responded that there was a need to match the records held in the Government payroll system PERSAL to what was held by the Department. In regard to the issue of corruption, she stated that there were investigations going as far back as two years, but because of delays and the fact that criminal charges took precedence there had been a marked delay and backlog. It was also true that some people had received salaries for work that they had not done. This issue was quite difficult to sort out. The Minister also stated that she would not be averse to exploring the private sector if that was where an appropriate candidate was to be found. She noted that an appointment would have been made by the time of the budget vote. The Director General would require a team of managers. The Department would set up a programme of action with time frames to present to the Committee.

Ms Ramsingh commented that there were mechanisms in place where reliance would have to be placed on the performance agreement systems. When performance agreements were closely observed there would be no abdication of responsibility. Skills and Audit policies were intended to cover the whole Department and that would ensure that those results could then be used in other areas. She was unable to give details of when the head count would be complete. She said that it was not appropriate at this forum to deal with those who had been accused of corruption and of incompetence as it would be the Minister’s decision what to do with those individuals. There were serious gaps around competencies and it would be resolved. The new leader should bring about transformation, not in terms of people and process, but in terms of integration.

Mr Nomvalo commented that one of the root causes of corruption was usually when an environment was not checked in a particular way as constant changes to the checking policy gave rise to an internal weakness. Unfortunately there were long delays both in recruitment and disciplinary measures. There should be a clear message that spoke of no tolerance. Action taken against offending people carried the danger of being partisan and inconsistent, and a culture should develop that remained consistent. In order to be properly informative, clear action was needed that took into account all other reports.

Mr Kalyan asked if there was a reason why no names were mentioned.

The Minister responded that there was no need or reason or intention to protect people. Appropriate action would be taken at an appropriate time against those people. She noted that competency tests were not used to determine if a person should be employed, but were rather used to determine to what extent a person or a department was fully operational. Since the Task Team was undertaking a combined effort it was requested that it assist with implementation so that the Department would be able to meet the time frames that it would set for itself.

Mr M Sikakane (ANC) expressed the view that it would not matter if the Director General was employed from the public or the private sector, provided that he or she was capable of doing the job.

Dr S Huang (ANC) wanted to know if the fact that the Minister placed her contact details in the newspaper decentralised issues and shifted work away from the relevant areas.

The Minister replied that because a number of the complaints were related to client services many people tried to use those contact details. This was a mechanism to deal with those queries. The reality of the situation was that if the people were not satisfied with the situation they could then approach the Minister but this was only a temporary arrangement.

The Chairperson noted that the Minister was trying to process the relevant issues. The more action the Committee saw the more would it be a reflection of the ongoing processes of the Department. However, the Committee required is a clear picture of how the Department was going to attempt to implement the Task Team’s recommendations. He was concerned that the Accountant General had to leave before the Committee could ask relevant questions. He stressed that the Committee would support the Department and would exercise its oversight capacity to assist endeavours of the Department.

The meeting was adjourned.


 

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