Is it worth the money?

2013-05-30 00:00

BUDGET-VOTE speeches are traditionally a platform for bragging by the ministers. It’s in their interests to play up their achievements over the past year, to show that their department’s work represents value for money and deserves ongoing support. What the budget-vote speech delivered by Lulu Xingwana last week suggests, however, is just how scarce tangible outcomes are for the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities.

It is noteworthy, for instance, that almost every initiative mentioned by Xingwana, when it comes to work on the women’s portfolio, has been carried out in partnership with other bodies. International Day for Rural Women was undertaken with the KZN Premier’s Office and the Rural Women’s Movement. Research into “gender-responsive budgeting” was carried out with the Motsepe Foundation. The same goes for the institution of the annual Children’s Parliament, undertaken with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the On-Line Child Safety campaign.

With regards to its work on children, the department listed as one of its “main achievements” the establishment of the department itself. Clearly, the department did not start the department, so it can’t take credit for this. Other listed achievements are the drop in mother-to-child HIV transmission (thanks, Department of Health), the introduction of the child-support grant (thanks, Department of Social Development), the availability of a formal pre-primary year of schooling (thanks, Department of Education), and the improvement in rates of registering births (thanks, Department of Home Affairs).

Xingwana used her speech to cite the cases of individual women running successful businesses (with the help of the department’s partnership with bodies such as the Department of Trade and Industry). “For example, in Gauteng, Ms Anna Phosa has her business, Dreamland Piggery, doing exceptionally well,” Xingwana said. The intention may have been to humanise the speech. Unfortunately, however, the effect was to suggest that there are so few of these cases that they can be individually listed.

A boast repeated throughout the speeches by Xingwana, department deputy Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu and MP Dorothy Ramodibe was the number of women representatives in the ANC, with Xingwana hitting out at other parties for not doing similarly: “If the other parties in this august House could follow suit, we would have long reached the 50-50 target in South Africa”.

But the 50-50 representation policy of the ANC had nothing to do with the department. It preceded its establishment by two years. Fifty-fifty representation in the ANC was adopted at Polokwane in 2007, and the department was founded in 2009.

The National Council Against Gender-based Violence, launched in December 2012, was also lauded in the speeches as one of the department’s advancements. But the Daily Maverick has it on good authority that the council has been hamstrung by an incoherent mandate and shambolic organisation. One may argue that, by its nature, the department’s mandate lends itself to cross-departmental collaboration. Because what, exactly, is the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities supposed to be doing?

When it was established, a resolution at the 51st ANC conference specified that “there is a need to strengthen co-ordinating, monitoring and performance mechanisms and evaluation, across government departments”. Fair enough, but it appears that these priorities may not be followed through when it comes to allocating money within the department.

As the DA pointed out after the budget speech, the department exhibits a tendency towards “overspending on the administration programme and underspending on core mandates”. The starkest illustration of this was the report by the Sunday Independent in February that Xingwana allegedly spent R2,1 million of state funds decorating her office. By contrast, the DA points out that the department underspent by 66% on the Rights of People With Disabilities programme.

The DA spokesperson on women, Helen Lamoela, noted that R5 million is allocated in the budget to fund event co-ordination for “special days”, and only R950 000 to fund research projects. It’s not like the department has a lot of money to throw around. The total budget for the department is a relatively modest R198,3 million for 2013/14. The Department of Sports and Recreation, by contrast, gets R1,073 billion. Despite this, Xingwana’s department is not shy to splash cash on salaries. Its Estimate of National Expenditure states that 48 staff members earn salaries at levels 13 to 16, with a unit cost of R1 million per annum.

“Even though that may sound like a small number of employees earning this much, one has to note that this is 48 staff members out of a 149 staff complement,” said IFP MP Liezl van der Merwe.

“Therefore, one third [32%] of the staff in the DWCPD earns on average R1 million per annum.”

Van der Merwe said that by comparison, the Department of Social Development has budgeted for about 14% of the staff to earn on average R1 million a year. In the Department of Health, the ratio is about nine percent. “Clearly, the salaries Minister Xingwana is paying her staff are an anomaly in government departments, and begs the question why these staff members are so handsomely rewarded, when they have failed to meet more than 50% of their targets in the past financial year,” Van der Merwe said. “Also, these salaries are not warranted considering that Minister Xingwana is on record as saying that she does not have the requisite skills within her department.”

In some cases, the department doesn’t just lack the requisite skills, but any skills. The budget speech revealed that the department has filled only 61% of allocated posts. Some of these are due to the fact that they are “unfunded vacancies”. But ANC MP Dorothy Ramodibe also acknowledged that there is a “high turnover of staff”, which is often a warning sign. Xingwana has also previously been accused of making appointments nepotistically, which is why an independent law firm —Fluxmans — was appointed last year to investigate “allegations of corruption, nepotism and mismanagement in the department”.

(An individual, who wished to remain anonymous and who has seen the report, described it as “super incriminating”.)

This year, Xingwana said that’s all in the past: “I am pleased to inform you that the investigation has been finalised and its recommendations have been implemented,” she said.

Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that the department’s current director-general, Veliswa Baduza, also served as director-general in Xingwana’s previous department — Arts and Culture.

There are those who think that the department should be dissolved entirely. The DA is among them, suggesting that either functions are distributed between line departments, or have the Department of Social Development presiding over the monitoring and oversight-role mandated to the DWCPD.

The IFP takes a more cautious line. “The political leadership needs to commit itself to creating a leaner, meaner, more effective department that actually delivers on its core mandate,” Van der Merwe said.

Of course, the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities is extremely unlikely to be disbanded while Jacob Zuma remains president. That’s because it was Zuma himself who launched the department. And with the 2014 elections round the corner, we don’t expect to see anyone in the ANC going out on a limb with a call for Xingwana’s head. — From and iMaverick.

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