ATC230907: Report of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation on conducting a fact-finding oversight visit on the status of vacant state-owned properties under the responsibility of South African embassies in Germany and Portugal, dated 6 September 2023.
Report of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation on conducting a fact-finding oversight visit on the status of vacant state-owned properties under the responsibility of South African embassies in Germany and Portugal, dated 6 September 2023.
The Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation (hereinafter referred to as the Committee), having conducted a fact-finding oversight visit on the status of the vacant state-owned properties under the management of South Africa’s embassies in Germany and Portugal; and on the implementation of South Africa’s international relations policy in Germany and Portugal, from 26 June to 7 July 2023, reports as follows:
One of the focus areas for the Committee has been to ensure that the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (the Department) is ready to fully implement the Foreign Service Act, 2019, especially regarding the new role of becoming a custodian of all state-owned properties used by South African Missions abroad. The Department is focusing on the disposal of vacant state-owned properties in Europe. The Committee needed to satisfy itself that all the necessary professional assessments were done and how the Department arrived at the decision to dispose of these vacant state-owned properties. These state-owned properties are of high value, situated at prime areas and the Committee needed to assess the levels of dilapidation of the concerned properties. From there, it would make its own findings, from which it would develop its own oversight related recommendations aimed at assisting the Department to address the issue of vacant state-owned properties abroad, in Europe. The Committee needed to urgently undertake such a physical oversight to Europe before the Department implements its decision to dispose of these properties.
1.1Findings of the Auditor-General (AG)
1.1.1Fruitless and wasteful expenditure
The Auditor-General (AG) has made findings that the Department is paying exorbitant rental fees where they own vacant properties in Europe. The Committee also discovered that the Department has to pay service providers either for cleaning, security, painting, and general maintenance for the upkeep of empty state-owned properties in Europe. This practice creates a perpetual trend of fruitless and wasteful expenditure for the Department. As part of oversight, the Committee has to ensure that such incidents of wasteful expenditure are addressed, especially where the Department is paying high rentals in foreign currency, despite having empty properties which remain neglected and dilapidated.
As disclosed in the reporting year, through the AG’s report 2021/22, within the Department and Missions, compliance with Supply Chain Management (SCM) prescripts remains a challenge for the Department. This is mainly at missions where procurement prescripts were not followed in the procurement of goods and services, such as minimum quotations required were not obtained resulting in irregular expenditure being incurred, and the tender did not stipulate the minimum threshold for local production and content. The deviation was not approved by a properly delegated official. This was due to the lack of oversight and monitoring by those involved in the compliance processes which must be addressed. Has any of these Missions contributed in any way towards the irregular expenditure! The Committee would seek to know if there any incidents of irregular expenditure or SCM challenges experienced and how they were solved.
A new non-compliance was identified by the AG in 2021/22, relating to revenue management of the Department where effective and appropriate steps were not taken to collect all money due to the Department from rental deposit refunds, as required by section 38(1)(c)(i) of the PFMA. This was due to inadequate controls including the lack of reconciliations of the rental deposits account and a lack of consequence management on employee-tenants and corporate services managers for deposits not returned. Due to lack of effective and appropriate steps to collect rentals deposit refunds, the Department wrote off R26.9 million in rental deposits not collected in the 2021/22 financial year.
It would be established whether there had been similar instances in Portugal or Germany, where Transferred officials returned home or vacated rented premises, and such premises were damaged, and the Department had to pay and lose the deposit paid to the landlords. What is the arrangement currently, is there an arrangement between the missions and the transferred officials which incorporates acknowledgement of debt at the beginning of the rental period? Does the arrangement incorporate a standard period to return deposits? Should the deposit not be returned within a certain time frame, what measures are put in place for collection during the year?
In 2021/22, the Auditor-General noted that whilst acknowledging the consequence management actions taken by the Minister in the prior year that resulted in dismissal of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Director-General (DG), there is slow progress in these processes filtering down to the rest of the Department which remains a concern. Have there been any of the root causes leading to non-compliance with legislation that were identified and not addressed by the two Missions?
1.1.5Corporate Services Managers (CSMs)
The AG found out that one of the biggest problems in missions abroad, is the fact that the Corporate Services Managers are not trained in financial and supply chain management when they get posted. The Committee has sought clarity on the steps taken by the Department to address this issue in line with the Foreign Service Act 2019. The Committee expressed frustration with lack of progress in ensuring relevant skills in finance, CSMs, built environment and supply chain management. In this regard, the Committee has recommended a relook at the policy for posting of officials abroad, as some of the CSMs do not have formal finance background training and experience.
CSMs are charged with the day to day running of the missions which amongst others include managing finances. It was noted that transactions of this nature require a Finance Team that is adequately qualified to deal with complex accounting standards within diverse multi-currency environment. Foreign exchange gains or losses require high level skills and frequent reconciliation exercises performed on time. It transpired that record keeping of financial transactions remained a challenge in both missions and headquarters. There is a lack of daily reconciliation of transactions, to unpack receivables and payables. Some Missions were contributing to the cash and cash equivalents and receivables findings because of lack of financial management skills.
The Committee has further urged the Department to ensure that Deputy DGs (DDGs) assist the Department by working closely with the Heads of Mission and the CSMs, in order to determine the true root causes for repeat findings coming from their respective missions. DDGs should also assist the Department to pursue consequence management on those responsible for irregular expenditure.
What are the skills levels of CSMs in the two Missions? What sort of turnaround strategy do the Missions think could address these challenges and adequately equip the CSMs with requisite skills?
What is the status of the Asset Register for movable and immovable assets, in terms of its completeness and credibility? Are there any items in storage waiting disposal, and for how long?
1.1.7Locally Recruited Personnel (LRPs)
The higher expenditure trend on compensation of employees is attributable to Cost of Employment (COE) ceiling implemented by National Treasury, which does not cover the cost for the filled positions, as well as the depreciation of Rand against major currencies which impacted expenditure incurred in foreign currency. This phenomenon also contributes to Department’s challenges for staying within the ceiling prescribed for COEs, especially since some employees are abroad, including the Locally Recruited Personnel, and are paid in foreign currency. The Department has since embarked on the closure of some missions abroad. What are the obtaining conditions of employment for the LRPs in Portugal and Germany? Are there any challenges brought about by the labour laws of the host countries? Have the two Missions been in any way part of the processes for the reduction of Missions that the Department has embarked upon?
1.1.8Implementation of the Digital Strategy
The Department is still presenting an information and communications technology infrastructure that is in urgent need of an upgrade. Department has adopted a Digital Strategy in 2020/21. The Department has noted that digital diplomacy is gaining traction, as opposed to traditional face to face diplomacy due to limitations on movement as a result of the pandemic. The lower than projected expenditure in 2021/22, was recorded in the budget for payments for capital assets, due to delays in the procurement of the network infrastructure modernisation system and laptops for missions, as well as delays in the actual delivery of the tools of trade to Missions; due to delay in identifying a service provider for these services. The Committee has urged the Department to address the archaic Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure, and implement efficient and secure information and communications technology infrastructure and systems between headquarters and the 116 Missions abroad.
What is the status of ICT network infrastructure in the Missions in Portugal and Germany? Has the ICT migration been completed? What are some of the successes and challenges experienced so far? Some Missions have reported that numerous backup failures were experienced due to obsolete backup solution and infrastructure, and that some program changes were not tested prior migration to the production environment. How are these Missions protected against being vulnerable to the risks of cyber-attacks and business continuity risk?
1.1.9Implementation of the Property Management strategy
The Foreign Service Act 2019 is operational. The Act bestows custodianship of all related state-owned properties abroad to the Department. It is of major importance for the Portfolio Committee to ensure the full implementation of the Act at headquarters and in Missions abroad. In 2021/22, the Department reported delays in the implementation of the property management strategy. It resorted to implementation of cost saving measures, such as revision of rental norms and standards. The Department reported it had developed a property management, and have a director qualified in built environment, and are partnering with G-Tech in National Treasury in this regard. An assessment of all 118 properties has been done, and 18 are earmarked for disposal.
1.1.10Structured bilateral mechanisms (SBMs)
The 139 SBMs are important mechanisms for assisting South Africa to address the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. The National Development Plan (NDP) has guided that these mechanisms be used to deal with domestic priorities and enable Missions to qualitatively and quantitatively assess their activities in terms of what South Africans are able to benefit from their engagements in their countries of accreditation.
The Committee has urged the Department to ensure that bilateral agreements assist the Department to respond to the aspirations of the NDP, in relation to addressing the triple challenges facing the country. The Committee has also recommended that the Department should review these bilateral agreements, to identify and ensure they respond to the Foreign Policy needs of the country, and support economic diplomacy with mutual benefit.
1.2.1Mandate of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation
The mandate of the Department has expanded due to global demands and the country’s role within that space. The Department operates in a dynamic environment that encapsulates varying legislative and monetary regimes, which in turn, impact on its foreign policy operations. South Africa maintains1 diplomatic relations with countries and organisations through 116 missions in 106 countries abroad, and through the accreditation of more than 160 countries and organisations resident in South Africa.
The South African diplomatic and consular missions abroad are charged with implementing South Africa’s foreign policy to enhance its international profile, and serve as strategic mechanisms for the achievement of national interest. As widely argued by foreign policy analysts, a successful foreign policy can only be measured by how well domestic priorities are met through the country’s bilateral and multilateral involvement and engagement.
The Department is responsible for developing and maintaining bilateral political and economic partnerships in the various regions of the world. This is usually pursued through structured bilateral mechanisms such as bi-national commissions (BNCs), joint national commissions (JNCs) or joint commissions (JTs). These bilateral mechanisms remain important vehicles for cooperation and promoting South Africa’s national priorities as reflected in policy documents such as the NDP. Through bilateral relations, the priority needs of Africa and the South are also pursued, and most importantly, these relations exist for the promotion of South Africa’s trade, investment and tourism potential.
2.2 Mandate of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation
In terms of sections 55 and 92 of the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation (the Committee) is mandated to oversee and ensure accountability in the formulation and conduct of the South Africa’s international relations policy (also called foreign policy). Consequently, the Committee conducts oversight on the Department, and holds it accountable for its activities and those of the South Africa’s missions abroad. These would include issues on policies, legislation, financial spending patterns, administrative issues, impact of its participation in multilateral forums and any other matter relating to the Department’s operations and functions.
1.2.2Foreign Policy framework
Chapter 7 of the NDP envisioned South Africa as a globally competitive economy and an influential, leading member of the international community. In pursuing South Africa’s Foreign Policy, the Department is informed by South Africa’s current global stature where the country is a respected, active and responsible global player.
In 2023, South Africa maintained diplomatic relations with countries and organisations through 116 missions in 106 countries abroad, and through the accreditation of more than 160 countries and organizations resident in South Africa2. Thus, South Africa hosts the second largest number of foreign representations in the world. As a consequence of this mandate, the Department has embassies in many parts of the world and it has to maintain its presence including with suitable accommodation for office use and for residence of staff members.
1.3.1Members of Parliament
- Honourable SOR Mahumapelo (ANC) Chairperson and Leader of delegation
- Honourable TS Mpanza (ANC)
- Honourable B Nkosi (ANC)
- Honourable M Chetty (DA)
- Ms L Mosala, Content Adviser
1.3.3Representatives of the South African Embassy in Berlin, Germany
- Mr W Van der Westhuizen, Counsellor, Charge d’Affaires, in the absence of the Head of Mission, H E Ambassador S Sizani
- Ms L Seripe, Corporate Services Manager
- Mr Molokomme
- Mr Kemp
- Ms N Xita
- Other staff members who are transferred personnel.
1.3.4Representatives of the South African Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal
- Ambassador M Gaoretelelwe, Leader of the delegation
- Mr C le Roux, Political Counsellor
- Mr Ernest Mahalefa, Corporate Services Manager,
1.4Structure of the report
This report serves to outline the engagements of the delegation of the Committee (herein after simply referred to as, the Committee delegation) to Berlin and Bonn in Germany, and Funchal, Madeira in Portugal. The draft report will cover the introduction which gives the background for the fact-finding oversight visit and the Committee delegation that undertook the fact-finding oversight visit. It would also depict the constitutional mandates of the Committee and the Department which influenced the undertaking of the fact-finding oversight visit; the conducting of the inspection in loco to the vacant state owned properties, thematic issues discussed with the South African Embassy in Berlin and in Funchal, Portugal; the issues relating to the status of the current accommodation facilities for the two South African Missions; inspection in loco on the identified office space locations; findings by the Committee delegation and proposed recommendations to the National Assembly.
1.5Objectives for the fact-finding oversight visit
- Determine whether the proposed model for property acquisition will assist the Department to realise value in preparation for the full custodianship of relevant state-owned property abroad now that the Foreign Service Act 2019 has become law.
- Assess and ensure accountability in the conduct of international relations by the Department through the two Missions. Also measure the Department’s performance on the implementation of South Africa’s Foreign Policy, with regard to its ability to respond and adapt to global trends that are influencing the international system and therefore impacting on the country’s national interest.
- Observe, and assess the impact of the Department’s/Missions performance regarding the implementation of Structured Bilateral Mechanisms with these countries. Is Economic Diplomacy being effectively applied to assist the country to overcome the injustices of the past? Are the international agreements related to their work assisting to address the triple challenges facing the country? How are these Missions discharging their diplomacy to leverage South Africa’s national interest and the African Agenda?
- Conduct oversight on the activities of the two Missions. This would include receiving a full report and/or looking into: inspection of working space, chancery and official residence; welfare of staff, general running of the two missions, note both the achievements and challenges facing the two Missions, and how operational issues which contribute to the Audit findings of the Auditor-General are being addressed.
1.6Key questions in the fact-finding visit
- Establish whether the two Missions are aware of the mandate of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation.
- Establish whether the two Missions are aware of the Foreign Service Act 2019, and what it entails with regard to the accountability structure of the Missions; and the new role of custodianship of state-owned properties abroad.
- Establish the role played by the two Missions in the processes towards disposal of such properties, if any.
- If tenders have been advertised already, what are the terms of reference, the identity and credentials of potential bidders, for purposes of transparency.
- Conduct an inspection in loco of the vacant properties in Funchal and Bonn, to establish their state of dilapidation, whether there is a way of salvaging the properties; and establish the suitability of the disposal model to be applied, if need be.
- Assess the state of the current office accommodation for the two Missions, and establish its suitability for the South African Diplomatic Missions abroad.
- Establish steps already taken to address the state of the vacant state-owned properties in the two Missions.
- Establish the accessibility of the embassy by South Africans, including foreign nationals who seek consular assistance from the embassy.
- Enquire on the welfare of staff in general, including whether the Department responds to their queries timely; assess the security for the Chancery and Official Residence.
- Engage on issues relating to the LRPs and how many they are; how they are vetted, their conditions of employment.
- Follow up on issues of the Asset Register; inspect the storage room for furniture not in use.
- Establish whether the premises of the Chancery and the Official Residence were on lease terms or state-owned.
- Establish who is responsible for the upkeep/overall maintenance of the premises.
- Get more information on the transport for the missions, how many cars they have.
- Establish whether there are modernised tools of trade, including desktops, laptops, phones.
- Establish whether there is timely monthly reconciliation of financial statements.
- Observe when walking in, whether the missions portray a warm South African welcome.
- Establish how many South Africans are in distress in their area; and the type of distress.
- Find out whether South Africans voluntarily register or report their presence in Portugal and Germany.
- Observe whether the official signage visible.
- Process feedback on issues of staff complement – whether they are adequate for the kind of work at the 2 stations; establish whether there are Attachés from other departments in the Consulates or embassies.
- Establish the volume of work on visas in the Consulate and volume of work by permanent mission in both Missions; and
- Assess how the foreign exchange fluctuations are affecting the operations of the Missions.
2Meeting with the South African Embassy in Berlin, Germany
The Committee delegation was met by the Charge d’Affaires of the South African Embassy in Berlin, Mr Van der Westhuizen together with the transferred officials from South Africa. The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation, Honourable Supra Mahumapelo, introduced the Parliamentary delegation and elaborated on the reasons why Germany was chosen for the kind of oversight. He then explained that the Committee delegation was on a multi-pronged approach oversight visit to Germany.
The Chairperson reminded the Mission of the mandate of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation. He recalled that the Committee’s mandate emanates from sections 55 and 92 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996. In that regard, the Committee is mandated to oversee and ensure accountability of the Department in the formulation, conduct and coordination of South Africa’s foreign policy.
He further made a comparison that other departments in South Africa, have offices at the provincial and local levels, and this is where these other departments would conduct oversight. He pointed out that since the Department has a unique mandate, its service delivery is implemented and measured beyond the borders of South Africa. This is carried out through the activities of South African women and men in 116 Missions spread across 106 countries abroad. The Chairperson noted that the missions are the provinces and municipalities of the Department, and they are the engines that leverage diplomacy to deliver on South Africa’s national interest.
As a result of this setup, the Committee has to conduct oversight abroad in the missions too, to verify what the Department has reported to the Committee, and what has been highlighted in the Auditor General’s findings. This also ensures that the Missions attract business and investors to create employment for the marginalised people and that there is service delivery for the people of South Africa. The Committee ensures that the missions activities abroad are addressing the triple challenges of poverty alleviation, inequality and unemployment, and are in full compliance and in pursuit of the tenets of South Africa’s Foreign Policy.
The Chairperson also highlighted the fact that the Foreign Service Act 2019 is applicable and is binding on all transferred officials from various sister departments in South Africa. He further elaborated on the primary objective of the Act, being to ensure that the Head of Mission takes full charge and accountability of the activities and personnel of the Mission.
The other important component of the Act which the Chairperson talked to, was that the Department would assume custodianship of the state-owned properties in use by missions abroad. The new responsibility would include acquiring, leasing, renovating, maintaining and disposing of such properties. Now that the Act is in force, the Committee would also ensure that it is adhered to and fully implemented.
The inspection in loco would further enable the Committee to fully understand the situation around the vacant properties, per the findings of the Auditor General. By so doing the Committee would be in a better position to ascertain whether there is indeed a need to dispose of them, rehabilitate them or otherwise. The Committee would then recommend an appropriate action to the National Assembly, which would in turn require the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation (the Minister) to consider the recommendations as contained in the report.
Mr Mahumapelo further pointed out that the Committee’s oversight role extends to ensuring that SCM prescripts are adhered to. Missions were also expected to adhere to SCM requirements with regard to the tender processes for the acquisition, maintenance and disposal of the state-owned properties abroad. It was said that the Committee would not hesitate that those found in the wrong, face the might of the law.
The Chairperson further pointed out that part of the oversight included general discussions with both the transferred and locally recruited personnel. Oversight meetings cover a wide area of issues, including all matters work-related, ICT issues, the welfare of personnel, and there would also be a walkabout inspection for compliance and fit for purpose of the Chancery and the Official Residence.
The Chairperson stressed that the ICT issues and communications in both Missions and Dirco was a focus area.
2.1Presentation by the Berlin Mission
The Charge d’Affaires, explained that the Head of Mission, Ambassador Stone Sizani, had travelled to South Africa, to attend the Eleventh meeting of South Africa-Germany Bi-National Commission (BNC), which took place on 27 June 2023 in Pretoria. The Charge d’Affaires expressed happiness for the oversight visit by the Portfolio Committee. He further gave an overview of the political and multilateral activities as carried out by the Embassy in Berlin, and elaborated on the bilateral relations between Germany and South Africa, together with the resultant activities for the strengthening of ties between the two countries. He explained the different roles played by the embassy and the Consulate, in that the Embassy is responsible for the political work, while the Consulate-General in Munich is responsible for providing consular services to South Africans resident in Munich and nearby federal states.
The Charge d’Affaires mentioned that the biggest part of the Federal Republic of Germany is landlocked. Germany is well integrated in European air, road and rail logistics networks. Frankfurt is one of busiest and largest air hubs in Europe. States of former German Democratic Republic acceded to Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October 1990.
He went further to point out that the Federal Republic consists of 16 Federal States. Each Federal State has elected Legislature, and Federal State Governments or Parliaments have considerable powers, including on education and policing. Federal President is Head of State, currently Dr F Steinmeier and the Federal President is elected by the Federal Assembly for maximum of two five-year terms. The Federal Assembly consists of 736 Members of Parliament and same number of delegates designated by Parliaments of 16 Federal States. The Head of Government is a Chancellor, who is elected by the Federal Parliament on nomination of Federal President. The Chancellor exercises executive power, similar to Prime Ministers in many other countries. The current Chancellor is Mr O Scholz, the leader of the majority party in the German Parliament, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which is in a coalition government of three parties. The Federal Cabinet currently consist of 16 Ministers, of whom eight are women.
It was pointed out that the Deutscher Bundestag, is the equivalent of National Assembly, and currently has 736 seats, while the Bundesrat, which is the equivalent of National council of Provinces (NCOP), currently has 69 Members. Parties needed at least 5% of national vote to gain representation in Deutscher Bundestag. In terms of the German economy, it was mentioned that Germany is the 4th largest economy in the world and biggest in Europe. Germany was reported heavily export oriented, and as a result was rated the 3rd largest exporter in world. It was reported that in Germany, the export of manufactured products dominates the export basket which includes machinery, vehicles, chemicals and household equipment. The other unique feature about Germany was said to be that over 99% of German companies are SMMEs, which employ more than 78% of population and contribute about 57% of GDP.
However, it was highlighted that the GDP decreased by 0.3% between January and March 2023.Following decline of 0.5% between October and December 2022. This puts Germany in recession for first time since 1st and 2nd quarters of 2020, which was mainly as a result of Covid-19 pandemic. The Unemployment rate was at 3%; inflation rate at 10.4%, regarded as an all-time high since German reunification.
It was mentioned that very substantial and diverse relations with Germany are managed through South Africa-Germany Bi-National Commission (BNC), which comprises following seven Working Groups: Foreign and Security Policy; Economy; Energy; Environment and Climate change; Development cooperation; Agriculture; Science and Technology; Arts and Culture; Labour, Social Affairs and Vocational Training. The Eleventh meeting of BNC took place on 27 June 2023 in Pretoria. The BNC is co-chaired by two Ministers responsible for Foreign Affairs. 72 Bilateral agreements provide legal framework for cooperation in several areas. Agreements were concluded on Technical Cooperation in 2016 and on Cooperation in the Field of Vocational Education and Training in 2019. Joint Declaration of Intent on Vocational Training was signed on occasion of Eleventh meeting of South Africa-Germany BNC on 27 June 2023.
In terms of economic relations, approximately 660 German companies are represented in South Africa, which provide jobs to around 65 000 South Africans. The total trade increased by 2% from R266.5 billion in 2021 to R271.8 billion during twelve months to end of April 2022. South Africa’s major exports to Germany are motor vehicles, South Africa’s major imports from Germany are automotive components. Major German investments are in auto-industry, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and mining machinery.
German companies in South Africa are: Daimler, BMW, VW, MAN, Siemens, Bayer, and South Africa companies in Germany are Bell Equipment, Curve Technology Group, Silverback Technologies, SASOL, SAPPI, Dimension Data. South Africa was said to also offer opportunities for German companies in renewable energy, water and infrastructure sectors.
Germany is the third largest source of overseas tourists to South Africa after UK and USA. The number of German tourists declined by 86% from 322 720 in 2019 to 44 388 in 2021. The numbers again increased by 85% from 2021 to 81 978 during twelve-month period until end of March 2022. In March 2022, South Africa received 16 362 German visitors in comparison to only 2 082 in March 2021. The challenges to enhance tourism from Germany to South Africa include cutting of flights between two countries, negative impact of load shedding and perceived lack of safety and security for tourists in South Africa. A number of German citizens have either been hijacked or killed in South Africa.
In terms of Development Cooperation, German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) are focusing on creation of decent jobs and just energy transition in South Africa. The German Government has agreed together with USA, UK, France and EU to work on Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) with South Africa. Germany alone is supporting investments in infrastructure for renewable energy with funding that amounts to more than €1 billion. It is believed that the construction of solar and wind power installations of transmission lines for green electricity would help create new jobs, specifically in coal mining regions.
Another priority area mentioned was the vaccine production, where BMZ is providing more than €550 million to support efforts of African Union and individual Member States to establish and develop vaccine and pharmaceutical production in Africa. South Africa has become an important location in this context due to mRNA Hub in Cape Town. It was further agreed during recent government negotiations to align vocational education and training with needs of energy transition. In the wake of many Germans being caught up in unfortunate incidents of crime in South Africa, Germany is providing support to prevent violence and for efforts to upgrade urban spaces in townships that are particularly affected by violence.
Presentation on the operations of the Embassy depicted that the staff complement encompasses eight (8) transferred officials from Dirco; one (1) from Defence; two (2) from SSA; and two (2) from Department of Home Affairs. It was reported that the position for the Department of Trade and Industry has been vacant since 2020. At the time of the Oversight visit, the Home Affairs officials were supposed to return home, however, an extension of two weeks was granted. The Mission has twenty-eight (28) positions for Locally Recruited Personnel (LRPs). At the time, only twenty-three (23) were filled. Overall, the embassy has nine (9) vacancies.
2.1.2State-owned properties in Berlin, Germany
It was reported that South Africa has four (4) state-owned properties in Germany, with two (2) in Berlin and two (2) in Bonn. In Berlin these are the Chancery and the Official Residence. The Chancery was occupied on 14 November 2003, and the property is 20 years old, with the total size of the plot at 2,573sqm, however the purchase price is unknown. The property is currently occupied and operates as the Embassy of South Africa and the title deed is available.
The Official Residence property was conveyed between 2000-2001 and occupied in 2002, and the property is said to be 111 years old, with a plot size of 2.005sqm, however, the purchase price is unknown. The property is currently occupied and operates as the Official Residence of the Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa in Germany and its title deed is available.
2.1.3State-owned properties in Bonn, Germany
The Chancery was conveyed on 20 January 1970 and occupied on 9 June 1970, and the property is 53 years old, with 4767sqm size of the plot. The initial purchase price remains unknown; however, the title deed is available. It was reported that the property was vacated when the Embassy moved to Berlin in 1991, and it has remained so since then. With regard to the Official Residence, the property was conveyed on 20 January 1970 and occupied in 1977. It was highlighted that the property is 45 years old, with a plot size of 4875 sqm. The purchase price is unknown, however, the title deed is available. It was explained that the property was vacated when the Embassy moved to Berlin in 1991, and it has remained so since.
2.1.4Current status of the State-owned properties
Berlin: Both the Chancery and the Official Residence were reported to be in a fair state, there is a need for a lot of repairs and maintenance work. The fire alarm systems at both properties are not functioning. It was reported that a technical report has been received for the Chancery, and the Mission was waiting for quotations from service providers. The security system (cameras and videos) were reported not functioning at both properties. Similarly, a technical report has been received for the Chancery, and the Mission is waiting for quotations. The air-conditioning system was reported not working at both properties. It was said that proper landscaping and painting needs to be done, and furniture replaced, especially at the Official Residence.
Bonn: Both the Chancery and the Official Residence were reported to be in extremely bad condition, with some of the ceilings falling, windows broken and some fittings broken. It was said that it is very difficult to maintain the properties as Bonn is very far from Berlin. The Mission said it does not have the funds to visit frequently or hire a fulltime caretaker.
2.1.5Implementation of Property Management Strategy
Bonn (Both Chancery and Official Residence): It was reported that as a result of limited resources, minimum repairs and maintenance were being carried out. Gardening services are done on a regular basis as required by the Municipality in Bonn. It was reported that the Mission has spent 14 101 Euros on maintenance and repairs as at the end of March 2023.
Berlin (Both Chancery and Official Residence): The Mission reported having limited resources to carry out all the required maintenance and repairs needed for both properties, as contained in the maintenance plans. The Mission reported it has spent an amount of 30 319 Euros on repairs and maintenance as of the end of March 2023. It was further said that conditions assessments have been conducted for both properties and the Mission was awaiting a report from the service provider. It was believed that the report would assist the Mission in ensuring that proper repairs and replacements are done at both properties.
2.1.6Processes undertaken as way forward
Berlin (Both Chancery and Official Residence): Repairs and maintenance are carried out as per the maintenance plans for both properties. Where there is a need for urgent repairs and there is no budget, the Department is informed and budget would be provided. Once the Mission receives the conditional assessments report, proper repairs, maintenance and replacements would be done.
Bonn (Both Chancery and Official Residence): It was reported that valuations had been conducted on both properties, the properties have since been advertised; tenders were received and collected in sealed envelopes by the Department. The process was reported as currently before the Bid Adjudication Committee for consideration.
It was reported that the embassy has old ICT equipment and a number of obsolete assets that were in the basement awaiting approval from the Department for disposal. Most of the assets in the basement were regarded unusable and mostly broken. It was explained that when an official return to South Africa without a replacement, their assets are stored in the basement to avoid storage costs, and that sometimes could result in furniture becoming damaged; and some of the assets were not barcoded. In September 2022, the asset verification was at 93%, and concluded the March 2023 at 90% verification. Moving to fully furnished option would reduce the number of assets and render assets more manageable.
2.1.8Financial management and ICT
The Mission reported that it had not incurred any unwanted expenditure for the past financial year. In terms of revenue management, the Mission said it managed to recover the rental deposit that was paid for the previous Corporate Services Manager. Regarding consequence management, the Mission reported that one of the LRPs was dismissed due to non-performance. The Mission said it exercised this taking into account the labour laws in Germany. In terms of ICT, it was reported that the Department replaced the old computers with new ones, where there were problems at the beginning, but now the equipment was still not working at 100%.
2.1.9Corporate Services Manager
The current CSM in Berlin has a Bcom Honours majoring in Accounting and Auditing amongst other qualifications. Prior to posting, the officials underwent relevant training for a year in finance, SCM, HR, PD and placed in different desks to obtain experience in different areas.
2.1.10Locally Recruited Personnel
The Mission reported having had 40 Locally Recruited Personnel, however, during the previous years, certain posts were abolished and others downgraded. As a result, the Mission has 28 posts, out of which 4 are not funded.
2.1.11Discussions and observations on the presentation by the South African Embassy in Berlin
The Committee delegation raised the following points for further discussion:
- It was noted with concern that as much as the Ambassador had travelled on an official trip to South Africa, official communication in advance on the trip with the Chairperson of Portfolio Committee would have made a difference.
- It was observed that the Mission was faced with a shoestring allocation from the Department’s budget, resulting in limitations on performance of critical assignments, such as maintaining security appliances, ICT upgrades and others.
- The Mission was asked to explain if they open the conference facilities within the Chancery for outsiders, and whether they charge for such facilities.
- It was observed that there were private routers being used in the Chancery due to lack of connectivity. A concern was raised regarding the information security risk associated with that, and how soon the Mission was going to resolve the problem.
- The Mission was asked to explain how they would not know the cost of the current Chancery in Berlin, which is reported to be 20 years old. More information was required on the market value and the monthly cost of the vacant state-owned properties in Bonn. It was also asked if the Mission was aware of the outcomes of the Bid Adjudication Committee findings.
- It was asked whether the staff of the Mission, especially the Corporate Services Manager (CSM) had the requisite skills and fit for purpose for the work required in the Mission. In terms of consequence management, more information was needed whether there were any outstanding disciplinary cases or grievances being handled by the Mission. Human resource was considered a very important asset in any workplace, hence the Mission was asked if staff morale was at expected levels. It was further noted that the position of a Trade Attaché was vacant, much as there is a lot of trade opportunities between South Africa and Germany.
- The Committee delegation discovered that the LRPs could qualify for a sick/maternity leave up 1000 days at a go. This labour law condition presents the Mission with a challenge of having to have stand-ins or have personnel doubling up. During the leave of absence, the concerned personnel gets a social grant.
- The Mission was encouraged to interact closely with other African countries represented in Berlin, and also the BRICS countries, to engage on issues of common interest, and to seize the opportunity to sell South Africa.
- In terms of the implementation of the Digital strategy, it was observed that the ICT issue was far from being resolved. The service provider identified by the Department, installed laptops and computers first, resulting in these tools not functioning as they are not compatible with the old infrastructure which is still in the Mission. These has affected communication of the Mission, as on inspection, telephones were not working. On inspection, it was also found that private routers were also being used, further compromising the security of information. The old computers were piled up in an office, awaiting to be disposed of. The Mission was thus asked which ICT hub was serving it, and when the new tools of trade were received. It was stressed that the ICT issues and communications in both Missions was a focus area. It was emphasised that the issues warrant urgent attention of the Ministers of Dirco and of Home Affairs.
- On inspection of other offices, the Committee discovered that the Home Affairs personnel had resorted to issuing handwritten visas, because the new tools of trade are not compatible to the existing printers. There was a huge file of spoiled handwritten visas, as any misspelling or technicality, rendered the visas invalid; this was seen as wasteful. The Committee regarded this as a very serious matter, as the security of the visas was exposed to syndicates who could use them for their own illegal activities. The Committee delegation attributed all these challenges to the dysfunctional ICT infrastructure.
- The air-conditioning was not functioning at the Chancery, making the environment rather uncomfortable during the three months of summer. A concern was raised by the LRPs that the issue of the air conditioning was not presenting an acceptable office environment. The was also a strong smell coming from the air-con box in one of the LRP’s offices, resulting in the personnel having to relocate temporarily in one of the spare offices.
- In terms of security of the Mission, it was found that the CCTV cameras were not working, and that compromised the requisite level of security at such an establishment. The lift was also not working, nor the conference system which is outdated in the conference room.
- On inspection, the office of the Ambassador in Berlin had no display of the official photos of the political heads. The reception had the photos displayed and cultural artifacts.
- On inspection of the rooftop of the Chancery, the Committee delegation observed that the place would be a good entertainment area, however it was kept untidy, with shrubs and weeds overgrowing.
- The basement was found to be a fire hazard, with stacks of old and new furniture awaiting to be disposed or to be allocated to the in-coming transferred personnel. The Mission has been waiting for approval to dispose, some items having been in the basement for over eight years. The furniture has taken most space needed for parking.
- On inspection of the Official Residence, it was reported to be 111 years old, having been built in 1911. The Committee delegation found that it has a basement, ground floor and three other floors. There is no lift, only stairs, it was reported taken out during the property’s renovations in 2001. There were no visible security guards at the entrance, and the CCTV cameras, the fire alarm system and the air-conditioning were not functioning. The landscaping was not done properly, a bit of cleaning of shrubs is needed. Some walls were in need of painting, and the furniture in the living and upper lounge were old. There was no display of official photos of the political heads, only a big tapestry of the South African flag.
2.1.12Responses by the Berlin Mission
- The Mission received the new computers and other related ICT equipment in March 2023. Emails were lost in April, while Wi-Fi was installed in June 2023, printing has to be done through a memory card. The license for the router had expired in May 2023, the Mission has no IT specialist, hence it is serviced by the Vienna ICT hub. The ICT was not optimal, and the Mission was experiencing a lot of challenges with the new system.
- With regard with the private routers within the Chancery, the Mission was also concerned, as the old router was not working, and now they were connected to Wi-Fi which was not strong enough; telephones were also not working. However, the previous Friday (23 June), a replacement router was received. This did not solve the problem as it had no license, and therefore is still not functional.
- The Head of Mission had to attend the 11th BNC in South Africa. The bilateral meeting was confirmed in April, and the Mission was made aware, officially, of the Committee’s visit on 20 June 2023.
- The issue of a Trade Attaché needs attention; it has been vacant since 2020. Such skills are needed in a Mission in developed countries like Germany, which is also the biggest trading partner with South Africa. There were 72 Structured Bilateral Mechanisms (SBMs) with Germany.
- Budgetary limitations were a real threat to the work of the Mission. The Mission is not able to cover all the states in Germany due to budget constraints. The Heritage Day celebrations would not take place due to budget constraints.
- The valuation of the two state owned properties in Berlin was also performed in 2008, so an educated estimation in 2023 would place the value of the Chancery at 8.3 million Euro, and the Official Residence at 6.9 million Euro. Conditional assessment would be conducted for both properties once the requested approval is received from Dirco in this regard.
- The conference system is also outdated and not working. Sound and catering services are done separately when leasing out the conference center.
- In terms of consequence management, one LRP was dismissed due to non-performance. There were two grievances: a former domestic worker of the Head of Mission assumed that she was a permanent employee. She lost the case. The other concerned a senior maintenance officer, who kept submitting sick-notes for a year. He is challenging his termination, and the Mission is hopeful to win this case too.
- The role of the Mission in the disposal process was focused on advertising the property inviting bids, and tenders were received. Dirco sent over an official to collect the sealed tender envelops, and currently the process is with the Bid Adjudicating Committee.
- There is no purchase price found from the original documents of the Official Residence. The Chancery was built by South Africa, while the Official Residence was bought. In 2022, a condition assessment was conducted to see what needs to happen. It was expected that funds would come from Headquarters for repairs and necessary maintenance. The Mission has since received approval for the quotation for security upgrades and repairs for both the Chancery and the Official Residence. There was a serious concern as security of both properties in Berlin is not optimal. It was expected that the SSA official expected in the beginning of July, would do a proper security assessment guiding the Mission further.
- South African Consulate General in Germany is in Munich. Budget constraints do impact on the Mission and Consulate performance.
- The Mission would deepen engagement with BRICS countries embassies in Germany.
2.2Meeting with the Locally Recruited Personnel (LRPs) in South African Embassy, Berlin
The Locally Recruited Personnel met with the Committee delegation and raised the following challenges in their work:
- There is a LRP forum where issues concerning LRPs should be ventilated quarterly, however in this quarter they felt their issues were not being addressed adequately, and see no reason of attending such meetings anymore. Moreover, there used to be general staff meetings, the last meeting was in 2016, and it has since been abolished. This was where the diplomats would get to hear about challenges facing LRPs.
- LRPs have been asking for pay increase, 5% increase came through in this financial year. The cost of living is very high in Germany, making it difficult to cope with a less than competitive salary. They lamented the fact that incentives, such as the Performance Management and Development (PMDS) Systems did not exist. Specifically, they regretted the fact that the tour to South Africa after 10 years of service was taken away.
- There were concerns of the air-conditioning which is not working, making the working environment uncomfortable in summer. One LRP had to relocate as a foul smell was coming from the air-conditioners box in her office.
- There is a concerning shortage of personnel, LRPs, in the Mission. They felt they were being pushed hard to deliver, by being asked to double-up on their daily jobs. A driver has been made to be an electrician, plumber, receptionist, and given other jobs to perform. They reported two unfunded positions of consular and immigration officers.
- The LRPs felt there was no proper communication to them on matters affecting the Mission. They also felt that there was no teamwork. At times there was also no feedback on positions they have applied for.
- Because of the shortage of tools of trade, and the red tape to procure, they felt they should be allowed to work from home. There was, however, an assumption that when not within the four walls of the office building, one is not working.
- It was highlighted that there were low levels of trust between the transferred staff and the LRPs. As a result, employees end up with divisions among themselves due to suspicions about one another.
- It is very difficult to get rid of useless and damaged movable assets packed in the basement and unoccupied offices, because of the red tape in place to get approval for disposal of unused items.
- There was also shortage of cleaning material for the upkeep of the Mission. LRPs no longer have protective clothing and the clothing allowance has since been scrapped.
- The bureaucratic red tape and hierarchy made it difficult to meet deadlines, especially when it comes to the Ambassador’s travel because quotations should be sourced and approved, at times, at short notice.
- It was felt like the headquarters was hamstringing processes, especially with the centralization of visa approvals, and delay in authorizing disposal of redundant items in storage, which has a huge negative impact.
- The LRPs were of the view that management was very poor, and that there was a gradual decline in performance of the Mission. This, in their view, resulted in some of them at times being forced to resort to labour courts. The LRPs recalled that the post of the Deputy Ambassador was still vacant, perhaps that office would be addressing their concerns.
- There was a concern on the poor maintenance of the Chancery; including the fact that ICT was not functioning optimally, rendering printers obsolete; connectivity in general being impacted by the old server not compatible with the new tools of trade, laptops, computers etc.
- A concern was raised that whenever the Mission is faced with budget cuts, they are the ones who are usually on the receiving side for such cuts. It was said that the Home Affairs officials are usually not interested in learning the German culture while on posting.
- There were many visa applications a day, between 40-60, and telephones and printers are not working making consular work very difficult, furthermore, passports take long to return from headquarters.
- The Mission has asked LRPs to double up, to work in portfolios that are not initially assigned, due to shortage of staff. There are two unfunded positions of consular and immigration officers.
2.3Inspection of state-owned properties in Bonn, Germany
- The Official Residence is a two-storey building with a cellar, double garage and a flat roof. The surroundings were covered with overgrown shrubs, dirty surroundings, with the old apartheid coat of arms still on the face of the property. The roof was covered in moss, drainage blocked, water damage visible on ground floor, built in cupboards, staircase and ceiling ripped off. The property is in a prime area, few minutes from the banks of river Rhine.
- The Chancery has three floors, plus a cellar and an attic with a roof deck. The outside look presents a solid building, a massive structure with tinted windows, alas with overgrown shrubs and trees. It is situated in a residential area, and could be turned into a block of flats.
- The level of dilapidation in the interior of the building is immeasurable, with mould everywhere, ripped flooring and basically an empty shell. The basement garage has 23 parking spaces. It has outdated pipe work, stolen electric cables in the cellar, ripped off appliances, graffiti on the walls, the structure is largely damaged by damp conditions, it has a strong smell of damp inside.
3Meeting with the South African Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal
The Chairperson Hon S Mahumapelo opened the oversight meeting by appreciating the way Her Excellency Ambassador MJ Gaoretelelwe and her delegation warmly welcomed the delegation since their arrival in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal. It was most appreciated that the Committee delegation was personally met by the Ambassador and her support staff at the Madeira airport and accompanied to the hotel in Funchal.
After introductions of accompanying delegations, Hon Mahumapelo pointed out that the objectives of the Oversight visit. The Committee delegation sought to know who had the overall responsibility of the issues relating to LRPs in the Mission. It was further asked whether monthly reconciliations were carried out accordingly, and whether the asset register was complete and reliable for the two offices. The Members further asked whether the Mission was within easy access by ordinary South Africans who need assistance.
3.1Presentation by the South African Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal
The oversight meeting was held in Funchal, Madeira as the vacant state-owned property is in Funchal. With regard to the staff complement, it was reported that the transferred officials at the Mission are five including the Head of Mission. These are the Ambassador, Counsellor Political, Counsellor Security, Corporate Service Manager and the Third Secretary Administration. The Mission said it was short staffed as result, was not able to visit the northern parts of Portugal. It was further said, the Chancery of six floors is too big as it is not fully occupied, and the Department is looking at disposing of it to acquire a smaller one. The Mission has 14 posts for LRPs, 13 are filled as one cleaner retired in 2022. The Mission was in the process of securing a contract cleaner instead. The other predicament was said to be that the Mission has no receptionist, as the post was dis-established, resulting in different people alternating, including cleaners, as receptionist. The Mission felt that the corporate image is lost due to this issue.
In her political overview of Portugal, Ambassador Gaoretelelwe highlighted that Portugal’s foreign relations are linked with its historical role as a major player in the Age of Discovery and the holder of the now defunct Portuguese Empire. It is a member country of the European Union and a founding member of NATO. Under the new government of Prime Minister António Costa, there are no new priorities but rather different “levels of intensity”. Strengthening trans-Atlantic relations is an important point on the agenda and the country has established an organisation named, the Atlantic Centre, located in the Azores, which it hopes will bring together countries of the Atlantic together to deliberate on various issues related to the Atlantic, such as security, climate change and pollution.
Unfortunately, the war in the Ukraine has forced Portugal to refocus some of its international relations efforts to Europe, away from Africa, specifically on the economic and security fronts. Relations with countries such as Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and Namibia remain high on the agenda for Portugal.
3.1.1South Africa-Portugal Structured Bilateral Mechanism (SBMs)
H E. Ambassador Gaoretelelwe reported that she was able to resuscitate the Structured Bilateral Mechanism between South Africa and Portugal in 2017, after a lull of eight years. It was then decided, since 2019, to elevate the SBM to Deputy Ministers level, and it has been meeting ever year. In 2023, Minister Pandor visited her Portuguese counterpart, Minister João Gomes Cravinho, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Portugal, to discuss the State Visit when the President of Portugal, Mr Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa visited South Africa in June 2023. Besides bilateral consultations with Minister Cravinho, Minister Pandor also met with the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, the Mayor of Lisbon and made a courtesy call on President de Sousa. Prior to all these meetings, Minister Pandor hosted a business engagement with a number of important Portuguese companies, who have made considerable investments in South Africa.
President de Sousa paid a State Visit to South Africa from 05 to 06 June 2023, during which time he was hosted by President Ramaphosa and a long awaited Defence Agreement was signed between the two countries. The visit went well and President Ramaphosa has accepted an invitation from President de Sousa to visit Portugal in March 2024. President De Sousa also met with several Portuguese Diaspora communities in Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg to celebrate Portugal’s 10 June National Day celebrations with the Portuguese Diaspora. Unfortunately, no business delegation accompanied the Portuguese President on his State Visit to South Africa.
One of the achievements of the Mission was reported as the signing of the Defence Commission Agreement. Through this, Portugal is to train SANDF navy on maritime navigation, which was regarded a Portuguese specialty. It was further reported that based on the Mission Annual Plan (MAP) as well as the Missions’ Country Strategic Planning document, relations are strategically focused on three areas, i.e. Bilateral Political Relations, Trade and Investment and Tourism. This does not mean that the Embassy does not pursue other areas such as science and technology, education, arts and culture or agriculture, it does in a reactive way but not in a focused manner, due to lack of staff and resources.
South Africa and Portugal maintain friendly political relations and the two countries have strong historical and cultural ties. There are approximately 500,000 South Africans of Portuguese descent and about 200,000 Portuguese nationals who reside in South Africa permanently.
A Memorandum of Understanding that was signed in 2002, that established a Structured Bilateral Mechanism (SBM), between South Africa and Portugal, named “Bilateral Consultations”, which is held at Deputy Minister level. The Seventh round of Bilateral Consultations were chaired by Portugal in Lisbon, on 24 June 2022. The main areas of cooperation that were reviewed at the Bilateral Consultations included the following: Official Visits; agriculture; cooperation in international fora, human rights, language, culture basic and higher education, science and technology, defence, ocean economy, energy, tourism, trade and investment.
The Mission were expecting future visits from the Minister of Defence Ms T Modise to Portugal, to discuss and operationalise the newly signed Defence Agreement, as well as a visit by the Portuguese Minister of the Economy, Mr Antonio Costa Silva, to South Africa later this year, which should include a business delegation.
It was important to remember that South Africa is focusing on collaborating in a number of sectors such as education, science and technology, trade and investment, and defence. This collaboration in the exchange information and expertise in key areas such as renewable energy, could be extended. It was mentioned that Portugal is a leader in Europe on the deployment of renewable energy and may have relevant experiences, technology transfer and investment potential for South Africa.
It was said politically, Portugal regards South Africa as an important strategic partner - both at political and economic level – although its policy towards South Africa is largely determined within the EU context. There is convergence on major international issues such as human rights, conflict resolution, peace keeping and the promotion of peace, security and development in Africa and over the last few years on science and technology co-operation in the context of marine, space and ocean research and convergence across the Atlantic.
3.1.2South Africa – Portugal trade
It was reported that South Africa and Portugal have well established trade relations and there is potential for further growth and diversification in 2023 and onwards. Bilateral trade figures for 2021 and 2022 have been positive. South African exports in 2022 were valued at approximately R3.4 billion while imports from Portugal were approximately R6.1 billion in the same year. Currently, approximately 50% of the South African exports to Portugal are food products. Furthermore, these present a huge potential for growth in the Portuguese market not only because South African products are widely recognized by consumers as quality products and offer a competitive price/quality ratio, but also because they are a central part of the Portuguese Mediterranean diet and are consumed on a daily basis.
It was mentioned that South African fruit exports, especially citrus, but also grapes and pears are best sellers in the Portuguese supermarkets, taking advantage of the counter-season factor in Europe and the competitive price/quality ratio. South African citrus exports enter the EU through three (3) countries, i.e. the Netherlands, Italy and Portugal and the two Portuguese ports serve the southern Europe region of France, Spain and Portugal. At the end of April 2023, Ms Salamina Maelane, Agricultural Attaché, South African Embassy, Brussels and Mr Deon Joubert, Special Envoy of the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa, visited Portugal and held meetings with the relevant Portuguese authorities to discuss the new EU regulations governing the importation of citrus from South Africa.
Cape Hake was said to also be a leading South African export fish which is perceived as a quality product amongst Portuguese consumers. The other three (3) top South Africa exports (vehicles aircraft & vessels, plastics & rubber and chemicals) also present potential for growth. Portugal has a relevant automotive cluster and a developed metal & machinery sector which require large amounts of metal, plastic, and rubber on a regular basis to continue the Portuguese Government’s strategy of industrialisation and economic recovery.
The Mission highlighted that tourism promotion remained a priority for the Embassy, specifically given the potential for growth in the context of over 500 000 South Africans with Portuguese roots, targeting the Portuguese to visit their South African families and the Portuguese appetite for long haul, exotic destinations (especially the safari experience, wildlife and adventure trips). It should be noted that Portugal is regularly ranked in the Top 10 European markets (arrivals). According to SAT’s stats, in 2022 Portugal accounts for approximately 9% of the total arrivals from the South Europe hub region.
It was cautioned that the tourism figures should also be seen in the context of no direct flights from Portugal, as well as the absence of South African Tourism and SAA Offices. South African Tourism only reopened at the end of 2018 in Paris, a hub dedicated to western European countries which included Portugal, with a budget allocation to tourism promotion related activities. The return of direct flights and the signing of a Tourism Agreement between the two countries have been a priority for the Mission in the last few years.
The violence against foreigners in 2019, which also affected several Portuguese businesses in South Africa, the new visa restrictions (which have since been reversed) on travelling minors also impacted negatively on the numbers several years ago. Finally, it was also pointed out that a large majority of Portuguese citizens with dual nationality visit South Africa on a regular basis, on leisure, but they all present their South African passport on arrival, thus not adding up to the tourism stats. The Embassy has compiled a Tourism Strategy for Portugal and has submitted the document to DIRCO as well as SA Tourism, which is intended to boost the tourism potential in the country, aiming at further consolidating South Africa as a tourism destination of choice in Portugal. Participation in leading tourism events in the country, such as the Lisbon Travel Market BTL or the Tourism Road Show “Os Especialistas”, as well as the regular engagement with the relevant stakeholders, are instrumental in the successful implementation of the strategy, thus assisting on the economic recovery and job creation of the South African tourism sector as per the 10-Plan & Reviving Economy.
3.1.4State-Owned property in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
The property is in Funchal, Autonomous Region of Madeira, was reported an urban building situated in high price area. It was reported that the building was constructed in 1982, purchased on 7 April 1988 for 62, 981, 226 Escudos, has three floors (basement, ground and 1st floor) and six bedrooms; and it has a total area of 580 sqm with a title deed in place. The property was last occupied in 1996.
Funchal property: Ambassador Gaoretelelwe informed the Committee Delegation that on her arrival she sought a professional assessment of the property, in order to advise whether to dispose or turn to other use. The other challenge was that the yard is overgrown and the Mission wanted to have a cleaning service. This was queried as wasteful expenditure.The Mission was first informed of the Disposal of the property in Funchal, through a memo from the Acting Chief Financial Officer, dated 12 October 2021. It was reported that the lease evaluation of the vacant property was carried out by the H&LP Consulting (Evaluators) on 24 March 2022 with a cost of 1525.00 Euros. The value of the property was pitched at 246 000.00 Euros. The Mission reported having spent 17 615.88 Euros since 2020 to date, for the general upkeep of the property in Funchal. The expenditure was on garden maintenance, municipal services, cleaning and security, property valuation, and the disposal advertisement.
The Mission has been maintaining the property in a presentable condition through minor maintenances of the garden and cleaning when necessary. In terms of financial implications, the Mission is currently spending Euro 7.00 per month for the Municipal water bill. Early in 2022, the Mission worked together with the Directorate: Property and Facilities Management for funding and preparation of the Disposal Terms of Reference. The Mission had in the process ensured that the property was clean, secured and in good condition. The Mission sourced the services of three local newspapers with the highest readership in order to place advertisements.
The Tender was advertised in January 2023 with a closing date of 10 February 2023. The CSM was in Funchal during the advertisement period, to allow prospective bidders access to the property. On the closing date, the Bids that were received in sealed envelopes, were collected in person by Ms. Aneke Veenswijk-Nel, responsible for state-owned properties within the Directorate: Properties and Facilities Management. The Mission is currently awaiting the final decision following evaluation by the relevant Adjudicating Committees at Head Office.
The Mission is not aware of the identity of all the bidders, except one who stays within the walking distance of the property. He personally visited the property twice in two days during the open days. This bidder is said to be within the construction business in Funchal. All bids were submitted via DHL sealed envelopes. According to the evaluation report by HL&P, which was conducted in October 2021, the property requires substantial work to be salvaged. This will of course require a substantial financial outlay and a team of expert project managers in the construction industry. Disposal process of the property in Funchal is at an advanced stage, where the Mission is only awaiting the decision from Head Quarters on who the successful bidder is.
Lisbon (Chancery and Official Residence)
It was reported that the proper maintenance of the State-owned properties was carried out after the mission received a Condition assessment report which was basically requested for security upgrades.
Security of the Chancery
Although, there is no Receptionist at the Mission, there is a rotation schedule for the local staff working as receptionists on daily basis. This is a challenge and is extremely disruptive to the operations. The Mission’s efforts to re-establish this post have been unsuccessful to date. The Chancery is fitted with CCTV cameras and monitors. Visitors’ sign a register and leave their laptops/mobile phones in a lockable safe box at the reception. The main entrance and garage doors are always locked. They are only opened by the receptionist during the day. Transferred staff have each their remote controls for the garages. The main keys of the office are always locked in a safe, only accessible by the Transferred Officials, through a code. Generally, the Chancery is safe and patrolled by the Local Diplomatic Police on daily basis.
3.1.6Security of the Official Residence
The property was reported to be 128 years old, and its electrical system in need of an overhaul. The Residence is also in a safe location. The perimeter walls are high and not easily accessible from outside. There are CCTV cameras around the house and two (2) monitors in the house. The Mission has installed additional CCTV camera in the garden as per the recommendations of the previous Security Audit. The Mission has also replaced old Fire Detectors and Intruder alarms in order to enhance security for the Ambassador and all the occupants. Both properties in Lisbon and one (1) in Funchal are state owned. The functions of upkeep and maintenance of the three state-owned properties lies with the Mission CSM.
The Mission reported that generally, the Department’s Network and ICT infrastructure is old, slow, and impacts negatively on the overall performance of the Mission. There was a period when the Mission went for four months without connectivity in 2020. It was said that the Department invested a lot of money on ICT, and although the Mission has recently completed the installation of new desktops and laptops, and allocated all transferred officials with mobile phones, there were still challenges with the network and some of the critical applications are not fully functional. The communication of the Department and that of the Missions continues to be highly exposed due to use of private Wi-Fi. It was argued that the tools of trade were bought before the new infrastructure could be installed. As a result, the challenge is the laptops and computers are not compatible with the old infrastructure system that is still on the premises. The problem was with the issuance of visas, so the Mission decided that rather than issue handwritten visas, they kept the old infrastructure, especially as the new system does not read commands for printing.
3.1.8Implementation of Property Management Strategy
The Mission has maintenance plans for all three properties, which is implemented and reported on a quarterly basis. The Department has informed the Mission of the decision to dispose the state-owned property in Funchal, following an extensive process which took almost two (2) years to complete. The Mission ensured that all these properties, occupied and vacant are all safeguarded against theft/damages through advanced security systems. The Mission commissioned a Property Condition Assessment and Valuation in 2021 and a Property Condition Assessment for the Official Residence and the Chancery in Lisbon, reports of which were received in May and June 2023. The Head Office has allocated a budget of 181 000 Euros, to implement maintenance recommendations emanating from the Condition Assessment report. As indicated, the Chancery, which is not fully occupied, there is a recommendation to repurpose the building, either for leasing as residence or relocate the Embassy to a more suitable building. It was further reported that the air-conditioning is archaic, resulting in the cooling and heating not working. However, the Mission was awaiting funding as they received quotations from service providers, in order to start servicing the systems.
It was reported that there was no case where the landlord withheld the rental deposit at the Mission in Lisbon. All the rental deposits of the recently transferred officials were realised to the State. The Department has since developed the Standard Operating Procedure on the Management of Rental Deposits and Refunds, dated 11 October 2022, in order to mitigate against this pattern. Officials are obliged to complete Indemnity Certificates at the beginning of the Lease. Officials are obliged to sign the handover certificates together with the landlord prior to vacating the property. The official’s PERSAL number is used as a reference against the debt incurred. In case the deposit is not recovered, these funds shall be recovered from the official. The time frame for recovery on rental deposit is 30 days.
3.1.10Irregular Expenditure and Fruitless and Wasteful Expenditure
It was said there were no cases of irregular expenditure reported at the Mission in Lisbon over the last and current financial year. The only expenses incurred for the vacant property in Funchal is the municipal costs for consumption of water, which is 7.00 Euros per month, contributing to fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
The Missions assets register, emanating from the last verification process was reported as at 97%. The Mission has requested Head Office to provide a list of items that were said to be exceptions, and was still waiting for the list. The Mission’s inventory is complete but there are slight discrepancies which are currently being addressed. There are items in the basement storage at the Chancery and there is no financial implication in terms of storage costs. The Mission had just completed disposal of assets through scrapping, following approval which was only relayed to the Mission in March 2023. It has also started setting aside the second batch of assets for disposal.
3.1.12Registration of South Africans
The Mission has a register and suggestion book at the reception where all visitors, South African and non- South Africans register themselves. Usually, South Africans are encouraged to register; however, some do not want to provide their personal details to the Embassy. It is estimated that South Africans in Portugal are between 20 000 – 25 000.
3.1.13Locally Recruited Personnel (LRPs)
The LRP posts at the Mission were reduced or abolished in separate processes, between 2008, 2013, 2015, 2017. The major challenge that the Mission is facing, which is brought about by the local labour law, is regarding Leave of Absence. The LRPs qualify for an extended sick leave of absence of up to 1000 days. During this period of absence, the salary is paid by the Social Security Fund. However, during this period of absence, if it is as a result of work accident, the Mission still expected to contribute towards the Work Accident Fund.
3.1.14Corporate Services Manager
It was reported that the CSM trained through the Diplomatic Academy. He possesses vast experience of various sections of the department. The CSM served at the South African Mission in Canberra – 2011 – 2015. He also served at the Mission in Bissau 2019 - 2021. He also conducted feasibility study for the establishment of the Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia. It said that generally, the CSM is well conversant with Procurement Processes, Budget and Financial Management, he is a qualified Recruitment and Selection specialist.
3.1.15Discussions and observations on the presentation
- Members observed that the Committee delegation could have benefitted from a short visit to Lisbon. Members again thanked the Ambassador and her staff for the warm manner which the Committee delegation was received, and for availing herself to account to the Committee.
- The Committee delegation applauded the Ambassador for reviving the Structured Bilateral Mechanism between South Africa and Portugal, to ensure the marginalised in South Africa benefit.
- The work of the CSM was found commendable, focused on the operations of the Mission and responsive to the queries often raised by the Auditor General. A question was raised regarding the timeframe needed to process the contract for cleaning services. Information was sought whether there were grievances or disciplinary processes in the Mission. It was also asked whether any of the staff members were doubling-up, doing other jobs coupled with their daily work. A question was raised regarding the unemployment rate in Portugal. More information was sought regarding trade volumes as a result from relations with Portugal.
- The Mission was asked to confirm that it was said the municipal bill is 7.00 Euros per month. More information was sought on the impact of unreliable ICT on telecommunication systems in the Mission, and how long the transition took. It was asked as to which ICT hub was serving the Mission in Portugal. Members sought to know whether digitilisation was a focus area in Portugal.
- A further explanation was sought on the way forward regarding the old Chancery and Official Residence in Lisbon. More insight was sought into what could have contributed to increase property valuation during the year. It was observed that the ICT connection is proving to be a real challenge, especially when used with the new system. It was noted with concern that when the Mission complies with municipal by-laws, cutting grass around the vacant property, it is regarded as fruitless and wasteful expenditure. It was felt that perhaps at times, circumstances should be looked at for such actions. It was said under the circumstances; it might be advisable to place someone at the reception than not having anyone at all. It was argued that there might be a difference of opinion on the Ukraine-Russia conflict, especially if it affected trade.
- A specific question was asked the Mission, as to how it ensures that relations and trade with Portugal, qualitatively and quantitatively, addressed the injustices of the past. It was said it might not be the war that is a threat, but the war could be a catalyst for perpetuating the status quo (capitalism). It was asked whether the war was not a cover for NATO’s further expansion. A suggestion was made that the Mission should also engage more with African and BRICS countries represented in their area of accreditation.
3.1.16Responses by the Lisbon Mission
- The Ambassador of the South African Mission in Lisbon appreciated the opportunity for the Committee to eventually visit Portugal. It was a great honour to host the oversight body in order to gain insights into its work and how the Mission could improve its service delivery.
- It was pointed out that the cleaner retired, and the Mission is instead opting to contract a service provider for cleaning, in the process the Mission would also be reducing the number of LRPs. A pattern was observed of one LRP who would take sick leave every second day and action was taken against the LRP. The Mission has a rooster for alternating LRPs to be at the reception at any given time. The Department could have started by modernising the infrastructure, and then supply tools of trade like laptops and computers, they rolled out the process vice versa. Then it would have been easier to know which tools of trade would be compatible. The Mission is served by the London hub. The relations with Portugal are very cordial. The President of Portugal, who is ceremonial visited South Africa in June 2023. There was a bit of commotion recently, when it was alleged that the Minister of Infrastructure was involved in corrupt activities and the President wanted to remove him. However, Portugal is seen as a worthy ally for South Africa. It was pointed out that when Spain was demotivating on South Africa’s citrus fruit in the EU, Portugal came to South Africa’s defence. South Africa further requested Portugal to continue assisting to solicit sympathy for citrus fruit and other commodities.
- Portugal is currently importing South Africa’s hake fish, avocadoes, and citrus fruit. There was a concern that the position of a Trade Attaché was disestablished, despite a need for those skills. It was suggested that other departments should have an MOU with Tourism so that it can be mainstreamed into other sectors like culture, sport etc., to focus on tourism from Europe. The Mission works closely with SA Tourism on these matters. In one tourism promotion event, the Mission had invited all the provinces in South Africa to come showcase their tourism products, only KZN attended. Luckily for them, a tour was subsequently organised from Europe and KZN was included to be visited.
- Portugal was reported to have a population of about 10 million people, with a 3.8% unemployment rate, hence it is on a drive to attract foreign young people to work in Portugal. It was reported that tourism and exports were increasing. Currently, trade is obscured in Portugal’s favour. It was said that the Ukraine-Russia conflict has introduced a punishment for South Africa due to its non-aligned position on the matter. For instance, Portugal is eager to trade with South Africa and increase investments, the EU is not allowing them to. A similar trend was observed in negotiations with the United States on the renewal of AGOA. There were a number (25 000) of rich South Africans who come to buy property in Portugal.
- In order to circumvent the impact of ICT on the telephone systems, the Mission acquired a satellite Wi-Fi, and would look for fibre network. The Mission is serviced by the London ICT hub. The transition has taken long, the Mission only completed the installation of tools of trade two weeks before the oversight visit, and that process affected telephone network. The absence of a Trade Attaché poses a challenge for all the identified opportunities in Portugal. Portugal is the web hub of Europe. The Chief Financial Officer paid attention to the Mission’s plight, she authorised for a condition assessment exercise and the Mission is currently acting on the report, looking into selling the old buildings. Portugal is holding key positions in the multilateral forums and advocates for economic development for the African continent. It is a reliable partner for South Africa’s aspirations There is a need to strengthen maritime security training cooperation, to protect the coastal areas of South Africa and the continent.
3.2Oversight inspection in-loco of the state-owned property in Funchal, Portugal
The Committee delegation emphasised the objective of the fact-finding oversight visit on vacant state-owned properties in Europe. It also reiterated the responsibility of Parliament to protect and respect the work of the Chapter 9 institutions which are known to be credible, hence the need for the Committee delegation to see first-hand what the concerns raised in the findings of the Auditor-General related to.
The vacant property is in an affluent residential area. It has three floors and is dilapidated. The window panes and door frames have rusted, loosening the hinges and doors no longer strong. The ceiling is torn and cupboards are missing. The surroundings have been cleaned before the arrival of the Committee delegation. The building structure is solid and appliances have been stolen. The flooring and ceiling have been ripped off. It has been advertised for disposal by way of tender bids. The Mission is waiting for a decision from the Department on the winner of the bid.
3.3Committee delegation de-briefing session on the overall fact-finding visit
The Chairperson of the Committee, Mr Mahumapelo, thanked the Missions for their availability which made the fact-finding oversight visit a success. He expressed appreciation for the openness and frank manner with which the meetings with the Missions were conducted. He further thanked the Members in the Committee delegation for their robust engagements during the visit, which he said resulted in some of the bottlenecks being addressed or in the process. He went further to mention the issues affecting the welfare of LRPs in Berlin, would be brought to the attention of the Minister directly.
The Committee delegation also appreciated the professional manner in which the Missions were discharging their political work on behalf of South Africa in the countries of accreditation. The Missions were further advised to create a conducive environment at the workplace, for all to feel appreciated. The Members reiterated that it was important that the human capital was taken care of. The Chairperson concluded by informing the two Missions that the Committee would create its report, deliberate and draw its own conclusions, which Parliament would recommend to the Minister as a course of action emanating from the visit.
In response, the Ambassador in Lisbon and the Charge d’Affaires in Berlin, expressed appreciation in that the fact-finding oversight visit was an eye-opener. They had learned a lot regarding the mandate of the Committee from the engagements with Members, and would also take into consideration the issue of thinking of South Africa first in their service delivery. They would also factor in the issue of collaborating with other African Union states and the BRICS Group of countries in their areas of accreditation.
The delegation left Dubai on Thursday, 6 July 2023.
During the deliberations on the inspection in loco and the Embassy specific issues, the Committee Oversight delegation made the following observations and findings:
- It was the first time for the Committee in the 6th Parliament that an international relations inclined oversight, beyond the borders of South Africa, took place in three cities, within two countries in Europe, amid the challenges brought about by the current Parliamentary Oversight Model.
- It was the first time in 20 plus years, that Parliament is seized with the contentious issue of processes around disposal of state owned properties in Europe. This was in response to the Auditor General’s concerns that the upkeep of vacant properties is tantamount to wasteful expenditure in the operations of Missions abroad.
- It was the second time, that the 6th Parliament undertakes a verification oversight visit relating to vacant state-owned properties abroad, informed by the findings of the report of the Auditor-General of South Africa. The oversight visit was taken in the same context of conducting oversight on issues of service delivery located beyond the borders of South Africa.
- The Head of Mission was absent at the oversight meetings of the Committee delegation. It was reported that he travelled to South Africa for a Structured Bilateral Meeting between Germany and South Africa. He was aware that the Committee delegation was coming over on oversight to Germany.
- The Department has gone full steam ahead with the processes for disposal of the three vacant state-owned properties in Bonn and Funchal. The Committee found out they were advertised for disposal by way of tender bids. The Tenders were advertised in January 2023 with a closing date of 10 February 2023. The bids that were received in sealed envelopes, were collected in person by Ms. Aneke Veenswijk-Nel, responsible for state-owned properties within the Directorate: Properties and Facilities Management. The bids are currently with the Bid Adjudication Committee for consideration, and both Missions are waiting for a decision from the Department on the winners of the bids.
- The level of dilapidation in the interior of the vacant state-owned buildings in Bonn and Funchal is immeasurable, with mould everywhere, ripped flooring, ripped ceiling, graffiti on the walls, appliances stolen and basically empty shells. The state-owned properties in Bonn and Funchal have been neglected for more than 30 years. They are in sort after areas and they are structurally solid properties, however the State stands to lose money on disposing of them as they are. It was found mind boggling that these properties were left to rot and decay to the level where they are rendered worthless.
- There were still questions left unanswered as the Department had reported a 100% performance and completion of its modernising of its ICT infrastructure in the Missions. However, the two Missions visited reported, and the Committee delegation observed, a system that was not functioning, as there was no compatibility with the new tools of trade. ICT processes were done vice versa, laptops and computers were secured first, only to find that they are not compatible with the old ICT infrastructure still in place. It was stressed that IT issues and communications in both Missions was a focus area of concern. For both Missions, the transition has taken long. In Lisbon, the Mission only completed the installation of tools of trade two weeks before, and that process affected the telephone network. The Mission also went through four months without connectivity.
- The Mission in Berlin is faced with tools of trade not being compatible with the printers, resulting in handwritten visas; telephones not working; and officials using private routers to connect to Wi-Fi. The Committee delegation asked itself what the understanding could have been (SLA) with the new service provider to make such a move in modernizing ICT. It was said that the issues warrant urgent attention of the Ministers of Dirco and of Home Affairs.
- In the wake of many Germans being caught up in unfortunate incidents of crime in South Africa, Germany is providing support to prevent violence and for efforts to upgrade urban spaces in townships that are particularly affected by violence.
- The Mission in Berlin raised a concern regarding transferred staff shortages and limited budget. The Mission is not able to cover all the states in Germany due to budget constraints. The Mission is constrained to do its work to its full potential due to these factors, much as Germany is a developed country, which is also the biggest trading partner with South Africa, with 72 Structured Bilateral Mechanisms (SBMs) with Germany.
- Germany alone is supporting investments in infrastructure for renewable energy with funding that amounts to more than €1 billion. It is believed that the construction of solar and wind power installations of transmission lines for green electricity would help create new jobs, specifically in coal mining regions.
- The Mission in Berlin is understaffed to the extent that the LRPs have to rotate or double up. The LRPs raised a concern in this regard. On the other hand, the Mission’s efforts to re-establish the post of a receptionist in Lisbon have been unsuccessful to date, resulting in a rooster being drawn for the LRPs to rotate attending to the reception.
- A concern was raised that staff morale was low due to outstanding matters relating procurement issues, policy on promotion, disposal of redundant items policy and a call for restoration of uniforms for identification.
- There is a concerning factor, that in the two countries, LRPs qualify for maternity and sick leave of up to 1000 days (3 years), and this condition is subject to abuse. In Berlin, a senior maintenance officer, kept submitting sick-notes for a year. He is challenging his termination, and the Mission is hopeful to win the case. In this period, the Missions have to seek for stand-ins.
- It was noted with concern that when the Lisbon Mission complies with municipal by-laws, cutting grass around the vacant property, it is regarded as fruitless and wasteful expenditure. It was felt that perhaps at times, circumstances should be considered thoroughly by the Department and AG.
- The air conditioners are not working in both Lisbon and Berlin. This has resulted in LRPs complaining about their welfare in Berlin, and office environmental discomforts by officials in both Missions. In Lisbon It was further reported that the air-conditioning is archaic, resulting in the cooling and heating not working.
- The Lisbon Mission has compiled a Tourism Strategy for Portugal and has submitted the document to DIRCO as well as SA Tourism, which is intended to boost the tourism potential in the country, aiming at further consolidating South Africa as a tourism destination of choice in Portugal.
- The use of private routers by the officials because of ICT challenges, poses a risk to information at both missions in Berlin and Lisbon.
- All the rental deposits of the recently transferred officials were realised to the State. The Department has since developed the Standard Operating Procedure on the Management of Rental Deposits and Refunds, dated 11 October 2022, in order to mitigate against this pattern. Officials are obliged to complete Indemnity Certificates at the beginning of the Lease. Officials are obliged to sign the handover certificates together with the landlord prior to vacating the rented property.
- Due to the non-compatibility of the tools of trade and the old infrastructure, the Visa section in Berlin issues hand written visas. There is also the issue of human error, where there are mistakes on the hand written visas, they have to be cancelled. The Committee delegation witnessed volumes of files containing cancelled visas. The question was why the two Ministers, Home Affairs and Dirco are not able to address this matter urgently. Hand written visas were regarded a security risk as they could be used by unauthorised persons or crime syndicates to access South African visas easily.
- The security systems (cameras, CCTV, monitors) are not working at the Chancery and Official Residence in Berlin. The need for security at all times at these properties cannot be overemphasised.
4.22Berlin is served by the Vienna ICT hub, while Lisbon is served by the London ICT hub. It was not clear how effective this arrangement would be for optimal functioning of the ICT infrastructure.
4.23The Mission has been waiting for approval to dispose, some items having been in the basement for over eight years. The furniture has taken most space needed for parking.
- On the completeness of the Asset register, the Mission in Berlin reported that in September 2022, the asset verification was at 93%, and concluded the March 2023 at 90% verification. On the other hand, the Mission in Lisbon’s assets register, emanating from the last verification process was reported as at 97%.
- The absence of a Trade Attachés poses a challenge for all the identified opportunities in both Portugal and Germany. The two countries are important trading partners for South Africa and they should be a focal point for increased trade.
- Both Missions would factor in the issue of collaborating with other African Union states and the BRICS Group of countries in their areas of accreditation.
- Portugal is a reliable partner for South Africa’s aspirations. When Spain was demotivating on South Africa’s citrus fruit in the EU, Portugal came to South Africa’s defence. Portugal is currently importing South Africa’s hake fish, avocadoes, and citrus fruit. There is a need to also strengthen maritime security training cooperation, to protect the coastal areas of South Africa and the continent.
- Ambassador Gaoretelelwe was applauded for reviving the Structured Bilateral Mechanism between South Africa and Portugal, after a lull of eight years, to ensure the marginalised in South Africa benefit.
- A concern was raised that the embassy in Germany had no recent information on the performance of the Consulate General in Munich, it was not clear the two offices share information regularly.
- The work of the Corporate Service Managers in both Missions were found commendable, focused on the operations of the Missions and responsive to the queries often raised by the Auditor General. Their qualifications and experience was a good fit for the job they are entrusted with.
- It has been a challenge for the Portfolio Committee to undertake oversight visits to South African Missions abroad, due to the prevailing Parliamentary Oversight and Accountability Model. Consequently, the Committee raised the fact that it would be helpful that in those few times that it is able to undertake oversight visits, the Heads of Mission in the areas to be visited should be available for the Committee to maximise outcomes of such visits. The oversight function of Parliament should be respected.
It was the second time that an international relations inclined fact-finding oversight, related to the findings of the Auditor-General of South Africa, beyond the borders of South Africa, took place in the 6th Parliament.
The overall experience of the Committee in the oversight reaffirmed the need for the Parliamentary Oversight Model to allow for more opportunities for the Committee to do random oversight in the South African Missions abroad. It was also clear that the mandate of the Committee is not fully appreciated and understood by some South African Missions abroad.
The inspection in loco undertaken in Germany and Lisbon was necessary in that it confirmed the findings of the Auditor-General. It also alerted Members to the scale of the problem with regard to lack of maintenance and the level of decay and dilapidation of these state-owned properties, and ensuring the readiness of the Department to assume the full custodianship of state owned properties abroad. This was regarded necessary and timely at this time for the implementation of the Foreign Service Act 2019, under which, the Department is to assume custodianship of state-owned properties abroad.
It also brought to light the lingering issues relating to the modernisation of the ICT infrastructure in the Missions visited. The recent Quarter 4 performance reporting by the Department gave a rosy picture of 100% completeness of the ICT project in the missions. The verification oversight has revealed that the road ahead is still long, before the Department gets the ICT matters right.
Having undertaken the fact-finding oversight visit to Berlin, Bonn and Funchal, the Committee recommends that the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation should consider the following and report on progress within three months of adoption of this report by the National Assembly:
- Liaise with Minister of Defence to strengthen maritime security training cooperation with Portugal, to protect the coastal areas of South Africa and the continent.
- Liaise with the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition to consider reinstating the positions of Trade Attachés, vacant since 2020, as the two countries are important trading partners for South Africa, and they should be a focal point for increased trade.
- Liaise with the Minister of Home Affairs to come to a lasting solution on the ICT infrastructure impacting on visa processes in the two Missions and discontinue the handwritten visa option.
- Increase and maintain trade and tourism cooperation with Germany and Portugal for mutual benefit.
- Ensure that the Structured Bilateral Mechanisms with Germany and Portugal are qualitatively and quantitatively assisting the Republic to address the injustices of the past.
- Install compatible ICT infrastructure including servers in the Missions to ensure compatibility and the completeness of the ICT project in the Missions.
- Upgrade air-conditioning and security systems at the Chancery and Official Residence in Berlin, and upgrade air-conditioning systems at the Chancery in Lisbon.
- Submit a report on the motivation for allocation of ICT hubs in Europe, and how effective this arrangement would be for optimal functioning of the ICT infrastructure.
- Submit a report on the motivation for the supply of tools of trade to Missions, before removing the archaic and incompatible ICT infrastructure.
- Submit a comprehensive report on the impact of the transition of ICT into the modernisation project at headquarters and Missions abroad.
- Ensure the Mission in Berlin liaises with the Mission in Lisbon to temporarily address the issue of handwritten visas.
- Ensure that the bidding processes are compliant with the PFMA for the three state-owned properties to be disposed of in Bonn and Funchal.
- Submit a report on the outcomes of the tender processes in the disposal of state-owned properties in Bonn and Funchal.
- Address long standing staff matters which affect morale, such as procurement issues, promotion policy, asset disposal policy and restoration of uniforms for easy identification.
- Address the staff shortages in Lisbon and Berlin, for optimal service delivery on the implementation of South Africa’s Foreign Policy.
- Ensure current and new Corporate Service Managers undertake mandatory training on supply chain management, financial management and contract management.
- Ensure that obsolete items stored in the basements in Berlin and Lisbon are considered for disposal to free up parking space and minimise fire hazard.
- Ensure the implementation of the property management strategy, through adhering to maintenance plans of Missions regarding continuous maintenance of all state-owned properties.
- Ensure the display of official photos of the President and Minister in the usual manner, both at the office of the Ambassador and at the Official Residence, as in all official buildings.
- Ensure that the South African Consulate-General in Munich is closely working with the embassy in Berlin, for information flow and accountability.
- Ensure that Heads of Mission are available for the oversight visits by the Portfolio Committee. These are accountability measures to assess performance in the areas of accreditation.
- Continue with the planned disposal of identified vacant state-owned properties in Bonn, Germany and Funchal, Madeira in Portugal, in accordance with the prescripts of the PFMA.
To the National Assembly:
- Consider reviewing the Parliamentary Oversight Model to take into consideration the responsibility to conduct oversight beyond the borders of South Africa, especially at the South African Missions abroad where the Foreign Policy of the country is implemented. The implementation of the Department’s Foreign Service Act 2019, requires that the Portfolio Committee closely monitor performance of the South African Missions in property management relating to state-owned properties abroad. The mandate of the Committee is not fully appreciated and understood by some in the South African Missions abroad. It was also evident from this oversight that the Committee needs to attend to most of the areas of concern raised by the Auditor-General in other Missions. These issues are the ones that often render the Department the negative audit findings.
- Consider allowing a standing oversight mechanism for the Portfolio Committee, of once a quarter oversight to the regions (continents) where South African Missions are accredited, and once a year to the international organisations to which South Africa is a member (AU, UN SADC, including the BRICS forums, for effective oversight on the implementation of South Africa’s Foreign Policy.
- Speaker of Parliament should consider having the administration in Parliament negotiate a better travel agency fee to guard against high travel fees which often end up with long hours on flights.
Report to be considered.