Public Service Amendment Bill: briefing by Department of Public Service and Administration

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Meeting report

SELECT COMMITTEE ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ADMINISTRATION

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ADMINISTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE
5 June 2007
PUBLIC SERVICE AMENDMENT BILL: BRIEFING BY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SERVICE AND ADMINISTRATION

Chairperson:
Mr S Shiceka (ANC, Gauteng)

Relevant Documents:
Public Service Amendment Bill [B31-2006]
Department of Public Service and Administration presentation

Audio Recording of the Meeting

SUMMARY
The Department of Public Service and Administration tabled the Public Service Amendment Bill, and indicated that a number of changes had already been proposed to the Bill by the Portfolio Committee, and that there had been extensive consultation which led to the current version being presented. The Bill aimed at strengthening the organisational and human resources aspects within the public service. It further regulated power conferred upon the Minister of Public Service and Administration, such as delegated powers. It dealt with the powers of the President to create and disestablish government agencies, and aimed at enhancing compliance with the Public Service Act.

During the discussion, Members sought clarity on issues such as the manner in which the Bill dealt with political rights of public servants, the creation of government agencies and the impact of the Bill on government’s plan for the envisaged single public service. It was noted that there would be a further meeting to consider the final draft of the Bill after the Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration had adopted the proposals.

MINUTES
Public Service Amendment Bill: Briefing by Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA)
Ms Empie van Schoor, Chief Director: Legal Services, DPSA, informed the Committee that the proposals contained in the Public Service Amendment Bill came out of a consultation process with relevant stakeholders, such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), other labour unions and the Public Service Commission (PSC).

She outlined the objective of the Bill, which included the strengthening of the organisational and human resource dimension in the public service. Certain definitions had been included, such as of the ‘executive authority’ and employment practice’. The Bill also included provisions relating to the powers of the Minister of Public Service and Administration (the Minister), and strengthened the existing collective bargaining procedures. It also sought to regulate government agencies by, for example, providing for the creation, establishment and disestablishment of government agencies by the President. Certain provisions were aimed at enhancing compliance with the Public Service Act, the implementation of disciplinary sanctions, and alignment of the grounds for dismissal with those contained in the Labour Relations Act. The Bill also proposed the excising of political rights of public servants from the Public Service Act, as those were already dealt with sufficiently in the Constitution. The regulation-making powers of the Minister would be simplified, and the delegation of powers by senior department officials would be further regulated.

Discussion
Mr L Fielding (DA, Northern Cape) thanked the department for the presentation. He wanted to know what was meant by ‘outside institutions’. He further enquired about the meaning of ‘executive authority’, and whether it stood for employed or elected individuals. Mr Fielding asked how an employee could be dismissed on the grounds of ill health.

Ms van Schoor responded that the termination of service on the grounds of ill health was recognized by the Labour Relations Act, and so were provisions for temporary ill health (with reinstatement on recovery). Sufficient and fair pension amounts were given to those dismissed on these unfortunate grounds.

She said that ‘executive authority’ meant elected officials.

Mr A Manyosi (ANC, Eastern Cape) had a question on political rights of public service employees. He wanted to know if the department faced a challenge with individuals who played both roles, elected and employed.

On the issue of employees who held political offices, Ms van Schoor said that the Bill would allow employees to be candidates in elections, only if they were to hold part-time positions (i.e. that of Councilor) and not perform such duties on the State’s official time.

Mr N Mack (ANC, Western Cape) wanted to know what methods or guidelines were used to determine whether outside work was interfering with employees’ work.

Ms Colette Clarke, Deputy-Director General: DPSA, said that in the education sector and elsewhere, the primary contract was with the employer and the secondary with other work. Some public servants erre registered with professional councils and erre expected to consult privately from time to time. The Amendment Bill proposed a policy framework around this, and pushed for ethical conduct.

Ms van Schoor added that the idea behind forming agencies was to prevent more outside entities coming up.

Mr J Le Roux (DA, Eastern Cape) commented that although he understood the advantages of a single public service system, he feared that it might have unintended consequences.

Prof Richard Levin (Director-General: DPSA) said he also feared that the unintended consequence could be further fragmentation of the State. This had been a trend globally since the early 1990s.

Kgoshi L Mokoena referred to the Minister’s powers, specifically the making of decisions only ‘after consultation’. He asked whether the Department foresaw any negative aspects in such a provision. He also wondered if, by proposing the formation of government agencies, the department was not admitting failure. Kgoshi Mokoena felt it was unacceptable that the agencies would directly report to the Minister, and ignore the Director-General. Kgoshi Mokoena also felt that the proposal of attaching disciplinary actions on transferring employees would jeopardise people’s careers and was not progressive.

Prof Levin responded that the proposal for the formation of government agencies had been discussed with all stakeholders, including Unions, COSATU and the Public Service Commission. There were lessons that had been learned. If the Department had to this all over again, things would be done slightly differently, especially the consultation process. He said that the department believed that there were strategic issues to be discussed, such as the fragmentation of the State, a proliferation of alternative entities post-1994, and some departments,  like the Department of Trade and Inudstry (dti) had a number of entities in the economic sector.

The Chairperson asked the department whey they chose to table the Amendment Bill now, whilst also trying to put the legislation in place for a single Public Service, as he felt it wasted time and resources.

He further enquired if the department faced a lot of legal challenges from disgruntled staff on appointment processes.

Ms van Schoor said that in terms of appointments and promotions, internal candidates (within public service) had an advantage insofar as allegations of unfair labour practices were concerned, because they could take the route of bargaining councils, which was a cheap process. External candidates did not have these rights. The Department was hoping the Bill would regularize the position. 

Ms van Schoor added that there would be a meeting to consider the final draft of the Bill after the Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration had adopted the proposals. The State Law Advisors would deal with any more concerns.

The Committee agreed that since this was the first time it had seen the amendments, a further meeting should be held for more input, even if the Portfolio Committee had gone through the process.

The meeting was adjourned.


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