Is the Department of Women worth the money?


Budget vote speeches are traditionally a platform for bragging by the relevant 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 Disabilities.

Is the Department of Women worth the money?

The budget vote speech for the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities seems to have escaped much media scrutiny – perhaps a sign of the low importance accorded to the department. But there are some rather extraordinary aspects to the department’s budgeting. For instance, it appears that one third of all staff in the department earn on average R1 million a year. This would represent a greater ratio of millionaire staff members than the departments of Health, Education and Treasury, to name a few. By REBECCA DAVIS.

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 (carried out with Google SA and other departments).

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 this is something that can’t be taken credit for. 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 children’s birth (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 like the DTI). “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 and use these cases to inspire. 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 levels of female representation in the ANC, with Xingwana at one stage 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 literally nothing to do with the department: indeed, 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, is also lauded in the speeches as one of the department’s important advancements. But the Daily Maverick has it on good authority that the council has thus far been hamstrung by an incoherent mandate and shambolic organisation. In her speech, Dorothy Ramodibe betrayed a hint of this by saying: “It is not clear from the budget exactly how much has been allocated to this council.”

One may argue that by its very nature, the mandate of the department 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 coordinating, monitoring and performance mechanisms and evaluation, across government departments.” Fair enough, but it appears that these priorities may not be followed through with when it comes to allocating money within the department.

As the DA was quick to point out at the presentation of 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 Minister Xingwana had 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. DA shadow women’s minister Helen Lamoela noted that R5 million is allocated in the budget to fund event coordination for “special days”, and only R950,000 to research projects.

(Incidentally, one administrative area in which the department seems not to be overspending is its website. If you believe you can tell something about an institution by the state of its website – well, feast your eyes on the glory that is www.dwcpd.gov.za.)

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, is getting R1,073 billion. Yet despite this, the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities is not shy to splash cash on salaries. Its ENE (Estimate of National Expenditure) states that 48 staff members earn salary levels 13-16, with a unit cost of R1 million per annum.

“Even though that may sound like a small amount of employees earning this much, one has to note that this is 48 staff members out of a complete 149 staff complement,” IFP MP Liezl van der Merwe pointed out to the Daily Maverick. “Therefore one third [32%] of the staff in the DWCPD earns on average R1 million per annum.”

Van der Merwe says that by comparison, the Department of Social Development has budgeted for around 14% of the staff to earn on average R1 million a year. In the Department of Health, the ratio is around 9%.

“Clearly, the salaries Minister Xingwana are 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 says. “Also, these salaries are not warranted considering that Minister Xingwana is on record 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 was a “high turnover of staff”, which is often a warning sign within an organisation.

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 who has seen the report described it to the Daily Maverick 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. “As the African National Congress (ANC) government, we have declared zero tolerance to corruption and mismanagement.”

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 & Culture.

There are those who think that the Department of Women, Children and People With Disabilities should be dissolved entirely. The DA is among them. “We have called for the disestablishment of the department and to rather either have functions distributed between line departments, or to have the Department of Social Development presiding over the monitoring and oversight role currently mandated to the DWCPD,” Helen Lamoela told the Daily Maverick. “At present the department is definitely not delivering on its mandate and with the present minister heading the department we will never achieve the goals set.”

The IFP takes a more cautious line. “I don’t think the answer lies in disbanding this department, but 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. “So for starters, more money must be channeled to the core programme; smaller delegations sent on overseas trips; fewer big events; appropriately skilled, appropriately compensated, visionary passionate talent attracted, and so on.”

Of course, the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities is extremely unlikely to be disbanded while Jacob Zuma remains as president. That’s because it was Zuma himself who launched the department. And with 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.

By REBECCA DAVIS – 28 MAY 2013

Analysis: Is the Department of Women worth the money?

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