Shortage of Skilled Persons in the Public Service

THURSDAY, 18 MAY 2006

PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
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The House met at …
The Speaker took the Chair and requested members to observe a moment for silent prayer or meditation.

QUESTIONS TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA

QUESTION 8

The PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: Madam Speaker, yes, indeed there is a shortage of suitably skilled persons in the Public Service, which has given rise to the weakness in service delivery.

In 2004, an audit was conducted across the 284 municipalities to assess the challenges they faced with regard to delivery of services. The number one challenge that emerged was one of the lack of skills, especially management and ``hard skills'' in welding engineering, mechanical engineering and so on. That audit gave rise to Project Consolidate, which is aimed at providing hands-on support and capacity building at local government level.

Last year the Cabinet requested the Forum for South African Directors-General to assess capacity and organisation of the government to perform and deliver socio-economic programmes. Again, the number one challenge in the findings was identified as shortage of skills.

Following the discussions on capacity and the incapacity and organisation of the state, focus capacity assessments were conducted by the Department of Public Service and Administration on selected departments to determine the gaps and present corrective recommendations to the Cabinet. The departments that were assessed were Health, Education, Justice and Constitutional Development, Housing and Trade and Industry.

In addition to that, of course, there have been assessments made in the various sectors within the Public Service to identify precisely the shortages that we need to address. As a consequence of this, for instance, a plan of action has been developed for the health and education sectors for the development of targeted training programmes for hospital CEOs and the reopening of nursing training colleges, norms for principals and district staffing procedures, all of which have been completed. A skills database has been developed and piloted in the Departments of Trade and Industry, Justice and the Department of Public Service and Administration to focus on the levels of skills shortages across the government.

The same matter, as hon members know, is being addressed in the context of the accelerated and shared growth initiative. There are a number of initiatives currently being undertaken by government to address these challenges. Five priority skills have been identified as critical spheres for that intervention. The Joint Initiative of Priority Skills Acquisition - JIPSA - its technical working group is currently involved in the process of developing concrete plans for the implementation of interventions to address the following: The high level, world-class engineering and planning skills for the network industries, that is, transport, communications and energy; a city, urban and regional planning and engineering skills addressing gaps at the municipal levels; artisanal and technical skills, with priority attention to infrastructure development, housing and energy and in other areas of further education and training provision identified as being in strong demand in the labour market.

The other area is management and planning skills in education and health, mathematics, science, ICT and language competence in the public schooling system.

Among other things, the Old Mutual Business School, in conjunction with the Office of the Deputy President, will launch its foundational project management training to 100 employees within local government in support of Asgisa and JIPSA in particular.

The Infrastructure Delivery Improvement Programme, targeted at provinces, has already been initiated by the National Treasury. It comprises a comprehensive project management and infrastructure programme, management guidelines and computer spread sheet tools to provincial governments for departments to use.

In addition, consultants have been sent to provinces to train people in the use of the infrastructure delivery improvement programme toolkit and assisting in the analysis of provincial constraints with regard to infrastructure delivery. As we have already mentioned, work is continuing under the context of Project Consolidate as well as an intervention that has been made via the Development Bank of Southern Africa - an initiative called Siyenzamanje.

The clock says I must stop, Madam Speaker.

Mr P J GOMOMO: Madam Speaker,...
IsiXhosa ***
. . . ndicinga ukuba uMongameli uwuphendule ncakasana nangobuchwepheshe umbuzo. Kambe ke ndifuna ukulandelisa ngelithi ...

English ***
. . . we recognize the importance to create an enabling environment for a single Public Service. How far have we got to ensure a more harmonious Public Service across the three spheres of government? How far has the government come with the establishment of multipurpose community service centres in rural development nodes from where all our people can access a basket of basic services from government?

HON HE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: Madam Speaker, the hon member is aware that, of course, we have taken the necessary decisions with regard to the steps that need to be taken towards the creation of that single Public Service. Like him, we do indeed believe that this is an important part of the process of dealing with the challenge that he posed - the capacity challenge and the possibility to speed-up service delivery and development. That process requires a lot of negotiation with all of these stakeholders, including the trade unions. That process is on course, and I think that we just have to wait its outcome, but certainly it is proceeding apace.

With regard to the multipurpose community centres, again, we have set necessary targets to ensure that they are available and accessible to our communities. The hon member will be aware that there are some timeframes that have been set with regard to that. I cannot on my feet now remember exactly what dates we have set. Certainly, we have said we need to have these multipurpose community centres everywhere in our country. But we have gone beyond that to say that we would make sure that they are available in all of these areas by particular dates. I am sure that if the hon member checks the government website as to the implementation of that programme, he will see regular reports with regard to that to indicate what sort of progress we are making. It is an important initiative which is now being backed by the introduction of e-government activists that we are deploying among the people to assist people to be able to understand accessing the computer technology that will be at these centres, because one of the lessons has been that the mere fact you got that infrastructure there doesn't answer all your questions. You have to address the matter of the ability of the population to access that infrastructure to be able to reach government. But certainly, as I was saying, the hon member would be able to see on the government website reports on the programme of action of the government, the timeframes we have set and what we are doing with regard to this matter.

Rev K R J MESHOE: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Hon President, whilst the ACDP appreciates that JIPSA has an initial time-table of approximately 18 months, what progress has been made with the programme, particularly relating to special training programmes and bringing back professionals and engineers that are retired abroad and also South Africans who are working outside of the country, who can help us with economy?

The PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: Well, as I have indicated, Madam Speaker, the technical working group of JIPSA is indeed currently in the process of developing concrete plans for the implementation of the interventions that are required. So, it's working. But there have been other interventions with regard to this. I do not know if Minister Erwin would allow me to say this. Alec, do you allow me?

The MINISTER OF PUBLIC ENTERPRISES: Inaudieble.

The PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: Thank you. You see, for instance, with regard to the state-owned enterprises you are perfectly familiar with the very big infrastructure programmes that we have put in place as part of the Asgisa programme. They also have to address this matter of skills shortages. One of the things we have done is to reach out to the South Africans who left the country in the various skills that are required - engineering skills and so on - and have really combed through that, contacted people directly to say, ``are you ready to come home?''

There's extensive work in all countries in the world to identify these people to address them directly, each one of them individually and to ask them to come back and all of that. So, it's not just plans that are in the making, it's work that is actually being done. So, I think that hon Meshoe referred correctly to this 18-month timeframe. I would say let's give it a little bit more time, we will get these priority skills addressed.

Cabinet last week discussed and reviewed again the issue of immigration regulations to see whether the regulations themselves or the implementation of the regulations serves as an obstacle with regard to acquiring those skills outside of the country as work that is therefore going on Home Affairs, and as a result of that to make sure that we remove obstacles of that kind. So, I am making an appeal that let's give the project a few more days, I am sure it will be able to produce the results that we need.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Mr K J MINNIE: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Mr President, does the government agree with the judgement of the Cape Arbitration Court that black candidates should get preference over coloured candidates and members of other disadvantaged groups for employment in the public sector? Mr President, if government does agree with this judgement, what are the reasons? If government does not agree with the judgement, will the government support amending legislation to allow for the equal treatment of all previously disadvantaged groups?

The PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: Madam Speaker, it is the first time I hear about this decision of any arbitration process. Most certainly the government would not agree to this. Our Constitution and legislation that derives from that addresses in part the issue of sections of our population that were previously disadvantaged. The coloured community belongs among those sections of our population that were previously disadvantaged, and therefore it would never be possible for the government to say that the coloured people with regard to those processes should be excluded and therefore would indeed argue for the equal treatment to which you refer. [Applause.] I do not believe, Madam Speaker, that there is any need for any changes in legislation with regard to that. What might be necessary is that we pay a little bit more closer attention to what actually is being done which might be at variance with policy and the law. But I do not believe that there would be need to change the law. I think we must respect what all of us agreed that one of the critical matters with regard to the transformation of the country is indeed to ensure that these previously disadvantaged millions in our country catch-up with the previously advantaged in our society. [Applause.]

Mr W D SPIES: Thank you, hon Speaker. Hon President, regarding the bringing back of skilled people into the Public Service we have found with the private database that we have launched last year, we have got quite a number of queries from people who used to work for the Public Service, especially teachers who accepted severance packaged that they are not being readmitted into the Public Service because of the severance packages that were granted to them in the past. Now, certain Ministers have announced that these measures will be looked at. What is the actual position because people still complain that they are being referred away and told that severance packages were paid out to them? Will this barrier of entry be removed or should we give other plans to these people?

The PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: Madam Speaker, let me suggest that the hon member discuss this matter with the Minister of Education. I am sure that it will be possible to find some solution. I know that this matter relates also to people in the health sector who also once took severance packages and now want to come back to the Public Service. I would suggest that in the event that there are people of this kind on that list, that you engage the relevant Ministers. I am sure they'll be able to find solutions to that problem. Thank you, Madam speaker.

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