Department of Foreign Affairs' 2006/7 Annual Report briefing

NCOP Economic and Business Development

04 March 2008
Chairperson: Mr J Sibiya (ANC : Limpopo)
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Meeting Summary

A delegation from the Department of Foreign Affairs presented its annual report to the Select Committee on Economics and Foreign Affairs. The achievements in implementation of high level objectives of the Department were outlined, The Department had received a matter of emphasis by the Auditor General due to inadequate debt management. He outlined the key areas of focus for the period in review.

The discussion  that followed  centered around the Auditor General's decision to write off R31 million that could not be accounted for. Members posed various question pertaining to property owned and rented by the DFA, multilateral relations, organizational and human management capacity, Franco – African relations, evacuation of South Africans from Chad, South Africa's involvement in Iraq and general questions on the daily working of the DFA.

Meeting report

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Annual Report 2006/07
Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba, Director–General, Department of Foreign Affairs, presented the Annual Report 2006/07 to the Committee. He highlighted some achievements in the implementation of the high level objectives of the Department. He also highlighted the challenges and initiatives taken on in the Department's Human Capital Programmes, with special focus on organisational establishment, talent management, employment equity, organizational culture, employee wellness, labour relations and the filling of vacancies. There was a need to find a proper building that could host the whole DFA as there were currently eight satellite offices in Gauteng and the Foreign Service Dispensation Project. All property related activities were being handled by a new chief directorate.

Dr Ntsaluba also gave a review on the Auditor General's (AG) report and financial issues. The Department used 96.8% of its Budget. The under expenditure arose through vacant funded posts, capital works projects not completed, foreign service dispensation and fees to international organizations. Three additional audit committee members were appointed at the end of the financial year.

Dr Ntsaluba said that in the previous financial year, 2005/06, there had been a matter of emphasis on debt management, performance information and receivables from the African Renaissance Fund and International Cooperation Fund. In the 2006/07 year the Department had received an unqualified report, but with a matter of emphasis again raised around inadequate debt management. R59.9 million of the total R157 million of debt had been owing for longer than a year. 51% of this figure had been recovered. R31 million could not be recovered and there was no supporting documentation. National Treasury agreed that this amount could be written off. Other concerns were raised around inadequate asset management, receivables once again from the African Renaissance Fund and International Cooperation Fund, the vacancy rate, delay in the finalisation of the audit and performance information. An action plan had been developed to address the observations raised and bi monthly reports were being submitted to the audit committee. The programme of action was outlined in detail.

Details were provided of the plans for human resources, including a list of offices and personnel. A labour relations framework had been developed. All five arbitration disputes had been resolved in favour of the Department. There were 37 disciplinary cases, of which 12 had been resolved. The foreign service institute programmes were described. Challenges in human capital management included increasing the capacity in terms of numbers and competencies, accreditation of the Foreign Service Institute, retention of employees, support to employees abroad, and building a robust leadership pipeline.

Dr Ntsaluba then gave a detailed review of the actions taken on the key strategic priorities for 2006/2007. This covered the consolidation of the African Agenda and the fact that a site had been identified for the construction of the Pan-African Parliament. Southern African Development Community (SADC) was strengthened. Democratisation in the DRC dominated the political agenda. In respect of New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) the final draft of the implementation strategy had been developed. Progress had been recorded in project implementation. The African Renaissance and International Co-operation Fund activities were summarised. Support for peace, security and stability had taken various forms, as outlined. There had been active participation in south groupings to facilitate South-South Co-operation, including South Africa being elected to chair the G77 and China. South Africa continued to support the UN reform process. Political and security issues in global governance were fully outlined (see attached presentation). South Africa’s involvement in North-South Dialogue, political and economic relations were further described. It continued to manage state events, assist other departments and provide protocol capacity building, as well as consular services. Several new diplomatic missions had been opened.

Discussion
A Member asked where the Pan-African Parliament would be situated.

Dr Ntsaluba replied that a site had been identified in Midrand, Gauteng.

Ms S Chen (DA: Gauteng) requested clarity whether the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) liaised with other governmental departments in the implementation of bilateral agreements.

Dr Ntsaluba replied that the DFA had a meeting with other governmental departments in the implementation of bilateral agreements. He added that a meeting was also held with the same departments in the coordination of South Africa’s Foreign Policy. There were some problems with coordination but the DFA was trying to rectify this.

Mr D Gamede (ANC: Kwazulu-Natal) noted that many people were unaware of the difference between an ambassador, consular-general and Head of Mission.

Dr Ntsaluba replied that an ambassador was the representative of the President in a foreign country. In Commonwealth countries an ambassador was called the High Commissioner. A Consular-General would head the consular office of a country in a city other than the capital city – for instance, the Ambassador would be based in Washington, whilst consular offices would be situated in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. Consular- Generals reported to the DFA through the Ambassador.

Mr D Mkono (ANC: Eastern Cape) and the Acting Chairperson enquired whether political affiliations played a role in who would be appointed to represent South Africa abroad, and to what extend security clearances were done on these officials as well as on representatives from foreign countries.

Dr Ntsaluba responded that a meeting was held with the Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs where this matter was discussed. He stated that the criteria would combine a number of factors, of which political affiliation played a part. Dr Ntsaluba noted that the South African Foreign Service was a reflection of the bi-partisan political equation of South Africa.

On the issue pertaining to security clearances and vetting, he stressed that two years ago, Ambassadors and Heads of missions did not require vetting, but officials needed vetting. He added that the DFA now had a system in place that allows the National Intelligence Agency to conduct clearance checks on Heads of missions. No clearance checks were done on foreign diplomats as they were sent in good faith by their governments.

Ms A Mchunu (IFP: Kwazulu-Natal) commented on South Africa’s involvement in Africa in terms of infrastructure development and other areas. She said that these African countries should be made aware that South Africa was a poor country with its own developmental issues.

The Chairperson asked whether the successful candidates who made it through the cadet training were placed already and whether there were any conditions attached to employment. He added that it was pertinent to ascertain whether these cadets underwent a debriefing session when they left the Foreign Service.

Ms Mathu Nompozolo, Deputy Director General: Human Resources, Department of Foreign Affairs, replied that the intention of the Cadet Training Programme was to place those who completed the training successfully, and that a lot of cadets were head hunted by sister departments. In addition the cadets signed a full time contract without any conditions attached, and that a full debriefing meeting would occur if they left the Service.

A Member asked what the difficulties were around retention of the employees.

Ms Nompozolo replied that the DFA had a turnover rate of 7% and that officials quitted the Service due to bigger salaries, as they attracted public as well as private sector interest. She stressed that ultimately the goal was not to lose these people due to their wealth and expertise.

Mr Gamede asked the Department to inform the Committee on their vacancy rate since the drafting of the Annual Report.

Ms Nompozolo noted that progress had been made in terms of filling vacancies. She said that posts were advertised and 423 were filled in total. Of the 423 filled vacancies, 277 were external and 146 were promotions.

She added that the DFA had had challenges in filling the vacant Assistant Directors’ positions due to a lack of competency on the part of those individuals who had applied. She stressed that the Cadet Training was widely considered as a good source to fill these vacancies in future.
 
Ms M Themba (ANC: Mpumalanga) raised the issue pertaining to the failed World Trade Organization (WTO) talks and enquired whether there had been any developments since the talks were suspended.

Dr Ntsaluba noted that there had been progress, but that there was nothing specific, nor could it be seen as a breakthrough.

Mr Mkono commented on French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s new approach in engaging with Africa, and especially its former colonies like Ivory Coast.  He asked whether this new strategy of the French President was really a step in a new direction in French-African relations.

Dr Ntsaluba noted that France’s relations with West Africa were a reality, due to a shared history, and that it was too soon to form a judgment as President Sarkozy was newly elected. He added that France had played a major role in terms of their own capacity in West Africa. However, it was stated to him by the French Director-General of Foreign Affairs that the Sarkozy strategy revolved around a mutual understanding that these countries were sovereign states, and that Sarkozy would not be following the same principles as his predecessors when dealing with Africa.

A Member commended the DFA on their Wellness Programme. She requested clarity on the criteria used to select those who could participate in the Programme, as well as the limits on numbers.

Ms Nompozolo stated that there were limits on participation attached to the Programme. Invitations were extended to officials and their families. She added that the Programme was conducted in conjunction with the United Nations, and that about 200 children participated.

Mr Gamede commented on the UN’s understanding of the word “terrorism”, in light of the African National Congress being labeled a terrorist organization by the former regime. He asked whether South Africa felt comfortable in serving on the UN Security Council’s subsidiary body on terrorism.

Dr Ntsaluba replied that South Africa did not view liberation organisations as terrorist organisations. He added that the UN got stuck on the definition of terrorism, especially on the issue of liberation movements and state sponsored terrorism.

Mr Mkono asked what the nature of the relationship was between the DFA and the Department of Trade and Industry (dti).

Dr Ntsaluba replied that relations used to be bad between the DFA and dti, but that these has improved. He added that the dti came to accept that DFA had a much broader scope and that the dti would discuss their annual report with the DFA.

Mr Sibiya was dismayed at the opposition South Africa faced from countries like Egypt and Botswana at multi-lateral meetings. He asked why this was the case.

Dr Ntsaluba replied that within the South African Development Community (SADC), South Africa had already engaged with Botswana on key issues pertaining to their differences and that both countries had realised their mutual interdependence.
 
Ms Themba said she understood the reasons given why the National Treasury had agreed to the write-off the R31 million that could not be accounted for, but expressed her surprise that the Auditor-General was not able to trace where the money went.

Mr Asogan Moodley, Chief Financial Officer: DFA, replied that the Auditor-General's office tried to trace the R31 million, but decided to drop the investigation as it was not leading anywhere. He added that many of those people who could shed light on this issue were not employed by the Department any more, and that part of the money dated back to the previous regime.

Ms Themba asked what impact South African delegations had on the DFA's budgetary constraints.

Dr Ntsaluba replied that when South African delegations visited foreign countries, the DFA usually shouldered the financial burden, until the relevant department repaid the DFA. He said that there were problems with this process as some governmental departments, provinces and municipalities failed dismally in repaying the DFA, and that new measures were being looked at to address this problem, as it affected the Auditor-General's report.

Mr Moodley added that R475 million was set aside by the DFA as transfers to international governmental organisations, such as the African Union and the United Nations. He said that these transfers varied as these institutions changed the monetary requirements every year. He added that the DFA had challenges in this regard as the Rand was very volatile against major currencies and that had an impact on the amount of transfers the DFA could make.

Mr Gamede asked whether State Protocol would be ready to deal with the demands of the Soccer World Cup in 2010 as there were already problems with handling at South African airports.

Dr Ntsaluba noted that a visit to Germany was undertaken to assess how they dealt with State Protocol. He said that new protocol facilities would be in operation at OR Tambo Airport very soon and that the DFA would take over space from ABSA bank to serve as protocol facilities at the Port Elizabeth and East London Airports. He was confident that the DFA would be ready to meet the demands of 2010.

Mr Mkono asked why emphasis was being placed on French as a required language for all South African diplomats.

Dr Ntsaluba noted that it tied in with the DFA's African agenda. He stressed that French was one of the major languages spoken in Africa, as well as being an official language of the UN.

Ms Themba asked how the newly established UN Human Rights Council viewed South Africa's role in light of South Africa's objectives in terms of its mission and vision.

Dr Ntsaluba stated that South Africa was very clear on what must be focused on by the Human Rights Council. He said that there were ongoing debates about the core values of the Human Rights Council due to industrialised countries trying to shy away from their responsibilities on socio-economic rights entrenchment.

Mr Gamede asked whether unused properties owned by DFA could be utilised by expatriates for extra-curricular activities – he referred especially to those in Germany.

Dr Ntsaluba replied that in practice all buildings were owned by the Department of Public Works. He added that the buildings in Bonn would have been sold a long time ago, but due to declining property prices they could not be sold. There had been a boom in the property market recently and these buildings would now be sold off as they had special accreditation by the German authorities to operate as a diplomatic mission. He did say however that these proposals could be discussed with Department of Public Works.

In relation to Mr Gamede's question, Ms Chen asked whether it was true that the DFA was paying exorbitant amounts of money on rent every month.

Dr Ntsaluba noted that the DFA was looking at the possibility of buying properties abroad as it was paying a lot of money on rent every month, especially in New York where the rents cost about  $30 000. It would be more viable to buy than to rent.

Mr Sibiya sought clarity on South Africa's involvement in the evacuation of South African citizens from Chad, noting that the French governmental took control of evacuating South Africans. He also asked to what extent South Africa was involved in Iraq.

Dr Ntsaluba replied that South Africa had an agreement with France, hence France’s involvement in the subsequent evacuation of South African citizens. He said that it would be impossible for South Africa to deploy its air force all over the world in the eventuality of such matters occurring and that countries tended to help each other, just as South Africa had evacuated foreign nationals from DRC when violence erupted there.

Dr Ntsaluba emphasised that the South African government as in no way involved in Iraq as it was against the war from the beginning. He added that there were South Africans that were employed by American and British security companies and that these individuals were there due to the lucrative salaries offered.

The Acting Chairperson said he was surprised at South Africa's voting pattern in the Security Council, pertaining to South Africa's vote in favour of the military junta in Myanmar, and South Africa's backing of Russia in condemning the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo from Serbia.

The meeting was adjourned.

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