New Zuma ministry disabled

2009-11-14 14:26

ONE of President Jacob Zuma’s new ministries is in shambles, hardly functioning and its minister has been accused of incompetence and indecisiveness.

Six months after Zuma established the Department of Women, Children, Youth and People with Disabilities it has almost no personnel, the acting director-general has just been fired and the minister has no strategic plan to advance her ­department’s mandate.

Minister Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya is said to be central to the chaos because of a breakdown of working relations between her and senior staff members.

She has booted out acting director-general Vuyi Nxasana and postponed or cancelled many of her public engagements.

“I don’t think things are going to happen any time soon in this department,” an official who is part of a team recruited to help set up the ministry said this week. “Everything is in the air.”

The department’s problems were on Friday night discussed at an ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) meeting, where it was ­decided to extend a helping hand to Mayende-Sibiya.

Confirming this, ANCWL president Angie Motshekga said: “The ministry is not getting off the ground ... We will assist her.”

The turmoil in the department has forced Mayende-Sibiya to plead with several experts to form an ­advisory forum to “guide her in what needed to be done”.

One such expert is Lisa Vetten, policy analyst at the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to End Violence Against Women.

She received a request for help about two months ago. She responded but to date has not had any feedback.

“This is not a good start. The ministry was pushed through in a complete rush. There needs to be strong leadership,” Vetten said.

The minister’s requests for help apparently followed the disintegration of her relationship with Nxasana. Nxasana was seconded from the Department of Rural Development to help establish the new ­department.

Department spokesperson Sibani Mngadi confirmed that Nxasana had been “released” but refused to comment on the state of her relationship with the minister.

But insiders have described the relationship between the minister and her director-general as a “silent war”.

Nxasana, an expert in government systems, is said to have “nagged” Mayende-Sibiya to make crucial decisions, act on certain proposals and to stick to the guidelines as set out in the ministerial handbook.

These include the submission of an organogram to the public service and administration department in which the minister wants to inflate her ministerial staff complement to more than what is ­allowed.

Most of the department’s R23?million budget is said to be spent on salaries.

Nxasana this week refused to comment, but two senior officials, one in the presidency and the other in the ANC, confirmed that the relationship between the two had deteriorated to such an extent that over the past two months the minister had ignored Nxasana’s calls and SMSes and had not responded to her memos.

“Not answering calls and memo’s is symptomatic of bigger problems,” said one of the officials. “The wellbeing and functionality of the department should be much bigger than the minister but she does not want to admit it or ask for help.”

In recent months Mayende-Sibiya has dodged several discussions relevant to her department. She was absent during a parliamentary sitting during which she was scheduled to answer questions about her department.

Mngadi claims the minister honours her engagements but City Press has confirmed that she did not attend, among others, a two-day public hearing in ­October on escalating domestic ­violence and last week’s debate by the department’s portfolio committee on a plan of action for next month’s 16 days of activism campaign.

She has also turned down an invitation to address an event later this month commemorating the 20th anniversary of the declaration of the rights of children.

United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) Kate Pawelczyk confirmed that the minister had ­declined their invitation to speak at the launch of a special report on the state of the world’s children on ­November 23.

“Minister of Social Development Edna Molewa will now be the key speaker,” said Pawelczyk.

Democratic Alliance shadow minister of women, children and persons with disabilities Denise Robinson said no department could function properly without a director-general and added that recent developments had raised serious questions about Mayende-Sibiya’s commitment to her portfolio.

“We want to make things happen but this is a minister in absentia,” said Robinson. “It’s as if there is no respect for her portfolio and her own political party.”

She added that the ministry had been created “without forethought” and that everything else related to it had been arranged “haphazardly”.

In a carefully crafted response to questions by City Press Mngadi said the department was working on certain programmes and structures and that it was awaiting approval from the departments of public service and administration, and the Treasury.

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