Hon Chairperson, chairperson and members of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training, hon members, it is indeed a great pleasure for me to address the House today on amendments to the Skills Development Act, Act No.97 of 1998, which was assigned to my department by the President on 1 November 2009. I want to thank the members of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training, led by chairperson Comrade Malale, for their patience and understanding during the public hearings, and for allowing us space to introduce this amendment during this parliamentary cycle.
In bringing along these amendments, we were initially confronted with a great deal of resistance when we first introduced some changes regulating the operation of the sector education and training authorities, the Setas. We were taken to court many times in our attempts to transform the functioning of the Setas. Our intention with this is all for the benefit of the majority of the workers and the poor in our country.
We did not relent; eventually all stakeholders rallied behind us in our efforts. I also want to express appreciation for the role played by our social partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Council, Nedlac, for their co-operation, comments and understanding. The engagements at Nedlac were robust, yet constructive and very helpful.
Thanks also go to my director-general and his team for facilitating the process of bringing the Bill before the portfolio committee and this House. I would also like to thank the National Skills Authority for always providing us with sound advice on this Bill and, indeed, on many other critical matters relating to skills development.
This Act provides for a more prominent role for the government in directing the Setas to meet our skills development priorities. It seeks to standardise the constitution of the Setas and to reduce the size of the Seta boards, with the aim of improving the governance, management and responsiveness of the Setas in line with our national skills priorities.
The Bill also seeks to eliminate conflicts of interest, corruption in the functioning of the Seta system and to provide for the appointment of independent chairpersons to lead the boards, as well as provide for ministerial appointees to these boards. In the context of the above, it is also important to remind this House that the Setas are a tripartite arrangement between the government, labour and employers, and not simply an arrangement between labour and employers or just an instrument for employers alone.
As we present these amendments, I want to assure the House that we do not want to make changes for the sake of doing so, but rather to ensure that the transformation agenda of the ANC government is not compromised. It is our primary task to deliver the post-school education and training system to the majority of our people with a particular focus on the workers and the youth. This is an essential component of realising one of the government's top priorities, that of the creation of decent work, which will not be realised unless the people acquire the necessary skills and knowledge.
The Setas remain one of our main delivery vehicles for skills development. No one would disagree with me that if the Setas receive approximately R10 billion per annum, as is the case in this financial year, then there is indeed a great need to introduce tighter control measures to ensure this money is spent on our skills priorities.
We want to reiterate that the Setas are public entities and not private entities. Thus, they are subject to public scrutiny, oversight and accountability. We shall not shirk our responsibility in this regard. We urge all those who seek to use the courts to resist the changes necessary to change the lives of the majority of our people for the better to desist from taking this route.
As the government, we are ready to engage with all the stakeholders for the sake of a skilled and capable workforce for an inclusive economy.
Amandla! Ngiyabonga, Sihlalo. [Thank you, Chairperson.] [Applause.]
Hon Chairperson, members of the House, I stand here to indicate that the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training has processed the Bill as referred by the executive. This Bill seeks to empower the Minister, after consultation with the National Skills Authority, to be able to incorporate a subsector from one Seta to another. This aspect was not provided for in the original Act.
The Bill provides for the composition of, the eligibility for and the vacation from a Seta board - hereinafter referred to as accounting authority - to be uniform in terms of the numerical threshold of membership of these institutions. The Bill ensures that six persons are drawn from organised labour, six persons must be nominated by organised employers, and two persons must be nominated by any government department, community structure, professional body or bargaining council.
The Bill states that people that have been convicted of theft, corruption, forgery, perjury and related crimes, as well as insane persons, may not serve on the board. The Bill prohibits board members and employees of the Seta from engaging in commercial or financial transactions with the Setas in which they serve. The Bill ensures that they disclose whatever conflicts of interest may arise in the execution of their duties, and nullifies proceedings in which people have given themselves tenders and so on. We think this is a very progressive piece of legislation.
The Bill further empowers the Minister to provide a standard constitution for the entire Seta landscape, so that no Seta can engage on its own - frolic - with the finances of our government. Any deviations that a Seta may want to make will have to be done by the Seta concerned by application to the Minister, and the Seta will have to have cogent and legitimate reasons for such in order to address the peculiarities that affect their sector. This empowerment will indeed ensure that we achieve flexibility with uniformity in our quest for a seamless, coherent and stable Seta system. The Bill further provides that the boards of the Setas must within six months of their appointment, recommend to the Minister competent possible appointees for the position of chief executive officer, CEO, so that we do not have incompetent people in charge of our Setas. This is because we think that this is very important in ensuring involvement by the state to ensure a strong presence of authority by the state in that arena.
Lastly, the Bill also repeals a few sections of the original Act that relate to employment service agencies, because the President had assigned such functions to the Department of Labour. These repeals will come into effect by notice by the Minister with the concurrence of the Minister of Labour so that there is an appropriate transition in the process.
I must indicate that during the deliberations in the committee there was a profound sense of collegiality across the political spectrum. The seven members who were present, five from the ANC and two from the DA, agreed to recommend that this House approve this Bill.
We have engaged with around 19 interested and affected stakeholders, amongst whom we include the Rural Youth Development Foundation of SA, the Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority, the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the National Youth Development Agency, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers, Union, the Information and Communications Technology Seta, the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa, the QuadPara Association of South Africa, Business Unity South Africa, the Professional Educators Union, the Wholesale and Retail Seta, the Services Seta, the Health and Welfare Seta, the Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority, and Master Builders South Africa. The Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training Authority and the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education Training Authority also attended, although they never made any specific presentation. They were nodding as others were making presentations, indicating support for the deliberations that were taking place with the stakeholders.
I would like to take this moment to thank those officials that were responsible for effecting the amendments, which the committee introduced within the process. I also thank members for the co-operation that was shown in ensuring that we finalised this Bill. If I have left anything out, the hon Makhubela will leave no quarter. I thank you very much. [Applause.]
Voorsitter, dit word algemeen erken dat die regering se swak prestasie en ontwikkeling van Suid-Afrikaners se vaardighede een van die belangrikste faktore is wat ekonomiese ontwikkeling strem. Die verband tussen groter vaardighede en 'n individu se kanse vir indiensneming word algemeen erken. Net soos in die geval van skoolonderwys, het die regering se eksperiment met vaardigheidsontwikkeling jammerlik gefaal. Derduisende Suid-Afrikaners is tans werkloos weens die regering se foute.
Die goeie nuus is dat die regering self besef dat sy pap op die grond val. Hierdie wetsontwerp is reeds die vyfde wysiging sedert die vaardigheidsheffing, die Nasionale Vaardigheidsfonds, en die stelsel van Sektoronderwys- en Opleidingsowerhede, Setas, net meer as 10 jaar gelede gepromulgeer is. Die slegte nuus is dat die wetsontwerp wat vandag voor u dien nie die oplossing verteenwoordig waarvoor soveel miljoene werklose Suid-Afrikaners hoop nie. Die wetsontwerp wat vandag voor die Huis dien verteenwoordig minder as een derde van die oorspronklike dokument wat voor Nedlac gedien het en wat vir openbare kommentaar gepubliseer is. Daardie dokument het net te veel dupliserings en inkonsekwenthede bevat. Ons glo dat die wetsontwerp in sy huidige formaat 'n veel beter stuk wetgewing verteenwoordig. (Translation of Afrikaans paragraphs follows.)
[Mr A P VAN DER WESTHUIZEN: Chairperson, it is commonly recognised that government's poor performance and development of the skills of South Africans represent one of the major factors inhibiting economic development. The relationship between improved skills and an individual's chances of being employed is generally accepted. Similarly to school education, the government's experiment with skills development has failed miserably. Thousands of South Africans are currently out of work because of the government's mistakes.
The good news is that government itself has realised the slip-up. This Bill already marks the fifth amendment since the promulgation of the skills levy, the National Skills Fund, and the system of sector education and training authorities were promulgated just over 10 years ago. The bad news is that the Bill before you today does not represent the solution that so many millions of unemployed South Africans are hoping for. The Bill before the House today represents less than a third of the original document that came before Nedlac and was published for public commentary. That document contained just too many duplications and inconsistencies. We believe that the Bill in its current format represents a far better piece of legislation.]
For the vast improvements to the "A" version of the Bill, all credit should go to the chairperson of the portfolio committee, as well as to the members who made enormous contributions to improve this document. I want to give credit today to the leadership shown by the chairperson of the portfolio committee, the hon Ishmael Malale, for allowing all committee members ample opportunity to contribute and to make various improvements. I want to thank the chairperson, who has gone to great lengths to facilitate these improvements and who even succeeded in fitting in an additional meeting this past Monday.
However, this Bill represents the knee-jerk reaction of the hon Minister of Higher Education and Training after having lost six times in a row in the Labour Court earlier this year; this, when the Minister showed no regard for the existing legislation and tried to force his way onto the Setas. During the national skills conference last month, the Minister of Higher Education and Training threatened people and institutions not to take him to court, as this would only result in his changing the relevant legislation.
This is what is serving before us today.
Ongelukkig sien ons vandag dat die wetsontwerp voor ons nie ver genoeg gaan om die hervormings wat ons land se onderwys- en opleidinglandskap so nodig het, deur te voer nie. Die Departement van Hor Onderwys en Opleiding het 'n gulde geleentheid verspeel. Aspekte wat ongelukkig nie in hierdie wetsontwerp aangeraak word nie sluit in die bepalinge rakende die Nasionale Vaardigheidsfonds en die Nasionale Vaardigheidsowerheid.
Die Minister het al self erken dat die Nasionale Vaardigheidsowerheid in staat moet wees om 'n werklik onafhanklike raadgewingsliggaam te wees. Die Ouditeur-generaal is daarvan oortuig dat die Nasionale Vaardigheidsfonds hervorm moet word en nie langer soos 'n spaarvark voor Kersfees van sy fondse gestroop mag word vir die Departement van Hor Onderwys en Opleiding se onbegrote uitgawes nie. Ongelukkig is hierdie wetsontwerp stil op hierdie belangrike sake.
Soos dit tans gaan, bereik die Wet op Vaardigheidsontwikkeling presies die teenoorgestelde van wat dit veronderstel is om te doen. Hierdie wet skep nie werk nie; dit is verantwoordelik vir werksverliese. Die slegste ding wat 'n regering wat werk wil skep kan doen, is om die privaatsektor te belas en dan daardie geld in onbruik in die bankrekeninge van die Setas en die Nasionale Vaardigheidsfonds te laat l. Die Nasionale Vaardigheidsfonds het tans meer as R7 miljard se opgepotte belastinggeld; geld wat, indien dit in die ekonomie gelaat was, deur entrepreneurs gebruik sou kon word om derduisende werksgeleenthede te skep. Setas is veronderstel om diensvlak- ooreenkomste jaarliks met die departement te sluit, maar nog nie een Seta het die laaste jaar so 'n ooreenkoms onderteken nie. Dinge boer vinnig agteruit onder Minister Nzimande se beheer.
Ons is daarvan bewus dat daar tans gewerk word aan 'n Groenskrif wat die hele bedeling van hor onderwys en opleiding onder hersiening sal neem, want dit is duidelik dat daar groot fout is met die bedeling wat ons tans in terme van vaardigheidsontwikkeling het. Dit is jammer dat hierdie wetsontwerp nie gewag het totdat daardie proses afgehandel is nie. (Translation of Afrikaans paragraphs follows.)
[Unfortunately today we see that the Bill before us does not go far enough to carry through the reforms that our country's education and training landscape needs so badly. The Department of Higher Education and Training has missed a golden opportunity. Aspects that are unfortunately not touched upon in this Bill include the provisions regarding the National Skills Fund and the National Skills Authority.
The Minister himself has already admitted that the National Skills Authority should be able to be a truly independent advisory body. The Auditor-General is convinced that the National Skills Fund should be reconstituted and no longer be stripped of its funds like a piggy bank before Christmas for the unbudgeted expenditure of the Department of Higher Education and Training. Unfortunately, this Bill is silent on these important issues.
The way things are going at present, the Skills Development Act, Act No 97 of 1998, is achieving exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to. This Act does not create jobs; it is responsible for job losses. The worst thing a government that hopes to create jobs can do is to tax the private sector and then leave that money lying unused in the bank accounts of the Setas and the National Skills Fund. The National Skills Fund currently has more than R7 billion's worth of accumulated tax money; money which, if left in the economy, could have been used by entrepreneurs to create thousands of job opportunities. Setas are supposed to annually conclude service level agreements with the department, but in the past year not one Seta has signed such an agreement. Things are rapidly going downhill under Minister Nzimande's control. We are aware that a Green Paper is being drafted which will review the entire dispensation of higher education and training, because it is clear that there are major problems with the current dispensation in respect of skills development. It is a pity that this Bill could not wait until that process had been concluded.]
The DA wishes to put on record our objection to the poor standard of the document that was first published, as well as the interim versions that served before the portfolio committee. It should not be the task of public representatives to proofread and edit the work of highly paid senior government officials. Even the version of the Bill that was circulated amongst members this morning contained errors that did not reflect the decisions of the portfolio committee accurately. Even the reprinted version, which only a small number of members were privileged enough to see, contains various punctuation and typographical errors. This, unfortunately, also reflects the chaotic administration in the department.
This administrative bungling, linked to the DA's longstanding criticism of the Setas in their current format, forced us to change our position on this Bill. The DA will therefore be voting against this Bill today. I thank you. [Applause.]
Chair and hon members, I would like to dedicate this short speech that I'm going to make to Gail Elliot, who was a tireless worker for better skills development, who passed away recently. Her contribution to the report that informs many aspects of the current Bill was substantial.
This Bill is an urgent piece of legislation that is required to shore up what is really a creaking edifice of the Seta system. I must say that despite very poorly drafted legislation, the committee spent a lot of time developing what I think is an important consensus on this Bill. This was very ably led by the chairperson of the committee, and my colleague has already referred to his leadership. I would like to add my voice in recognising his contribution in that respect.
I think that this consensus bodes well for the future, particularly the Green Paper because, Minister, while the Bill is important, I think it really only tinkers with the system. The Seta system is vital to the successful development of our economy.
This Bill has many positive aspects, such as the strong disclosure of interests, the standardising of the constitutions of the Seta and clearly defining the powers, functions and responsibilities of the accounting officer and the executive, as well as the clear service level agreements and strategic plans. So, there are very good things in the Bill.
On the other hand, some of the weaknesses - the philosophical blind spots, if you like - such as insisting on the constitution being put in the legislation, is not going to stop legal action. All that is going to happen is that legal action will now go straight to the Constitutional Court, because if people are unhappy with the law and think it is unfair, it is not that they don't have recourse, it's just that this goes to another court.
I think that that points us to the real fundamental problem, and that is the architecture of the current system is flawed. These flaws are such that the current amendments won't address the fundamental weaknesses of the system.
So, Minister, we are not going to oppose the Bill, but we really want to say that it's a stopgap measure. And we rather look forward to the Green Paper process in which, it is hoped, you will assist your committee chair in ensuring that we can address these fundamental problems. One thing that we saw in the committee is that across all the political parties there is a desire to make skills development work and make this institution function well. I really hope that that's what we will achieve. Thank you. [Applause.]
Chairperson, hon members of this House just unanimously supported a few minutes ago the Tax Administration Bill, which aims to strengthen tax collection in our country. Whilst government has a right to tax the people in this country, it equally has the responsibility to ensure that the use of the taxpayer's money is such that there is value for money at the end of the day. However, the operation of the Setas in the past leaves a lot to be desired in terms of value for money and, as we have just heard, a lot of money is still lying in the kitty. I do not serve on this particular portfolio committee, but I have been informed by my colleague, the hon Mpontshane, that we, as the IFP, will support this particular amendment because there certainly is a need to tighten up the administration and accountability of these Setas.
We do know that the President and this government and we in this House want five million jobs to be created by 2020. But in order for those jobs to be meaningful to our people, they have to have adequate skills. So, Mr Minister, what is going to be very important as we move forward is the appropriateness of the skills to match the needs of this country.
At the moment we have thousands of graduates who are without work. We are going to get thousands of matriculants who will be coming out of school soon, some of whom will get tertiary education, and yet they will not be able to find jobs. So, we therefore have to match the skills requirements of this country against what is needed out there in the market. We do trust that with the tightening up of the way Setas will operate, this objective will be achieved.
For Setas to operate efficiently, they have to also be financially and administratively adequately resourced. And we, as the IFP, trust that this will happen. As for what the Minister has told us here today, time will tell and we trust that there will be change for the better as this Bill gets passed in this House. We will support this Bill. Thank you. [Applause.]
Chairperson and members of this House, I also do not serve on this committee, but I have the following to say. The Bill before us seeks to amend provisions relating to the establishment, amalgamation and dissolution of the sector education and training authorities, Setas. It is an important step to ensure that Setas around the country are better placed to serve our skills development needs.
The UDM supports all initiatives to align Setas to the important skills development agenda. There are many instances in which there was duplication of work in the Setas. Sometimes you were left questioning the relevance of some of them to the country's skills development needs. We support the call for better alignment and improved efficiency and effectiveness of Setas. The UDM supports the Bill. [Applause.]
Chair, it is generally agreed that the Setas needed to be tightened up, both in terms of governance and their mandate, and this Bill goes a long way towards achieving this. There are, however, a number of areas of concern.
Setas, of course, must have an accounting authority and the final decision regarding the appointment of both the chairs and CEOs would be made by the Minister. Stakeholders have expressed concerns that the composition of the accounting authority is not sufficiently reflected in the Act, although it is addressed in Schedule 5.
The feeling is that it should be more overt, particularly in respect of the chairpersons and CEOs, to ensure meritorious appointments, rather than political ones. This would be consistent with the proposals in the National Development Plan. Skills development is very important, not to have technocrats running the organisation, and this point needs to be addressed.
Induction and capacity building, while, in principle, also good things, create waves as employers do not always take kindly to having staff away during production time. This is as much an issue to union representatives as it is for employer representatives. The ACDP will be supporting his Bill. Thank you. [Applause.]
Hon Chairperson, Ministers, Deputy Ministers, hon members, one of our major roles as this Parliament is to process and pass laws which aim to improve the lives of our people. The amendment of the Skills Development Act, Act No 97 of 1998, is no exception. Major aspects of the Skills Development Act, Act No 97 of 1998, need to be amended and new provisions inserted for a seamless skilling system of our people, proportional to the spending available within the sector education and training authority, Seta, system.
We are gathered here today to debate the Skills Development Amendment Bill which seeks to amend the Skills Development Act, Act No 97 of 1998. We are all aware that the Skills Development Act, Act No 97 of 1998 was assigned to the Minister of Higher Education and Training as from November 2009, with the aim of creating possibilities for a long overdue improvement in articulation between universities, further education and training colleges, as well as work-based education and training.
Setas are in charge of billions of rand in their possession, and they must be called to account. We support the Minister's efforts to put things right without fear of court cases in this particular regard.
We appreciate the efforts by the Minister of Higher Education and Training and his department in providing a framework for the Seta constitutions. The Seta sector has been plagued with problems of poor performance, and weak and uneven governance and management. As the ANC, we are not advocating a one-size-fits-all system, but we do need some form of regulation to ensure the smooth governance and management of all Setas.
We noted that the Skills Development Act, Act No 97 of 1998, has undergone many amendments and this is an indication that there are things that are not working as expected. We do acknowledge the fact that the Bill in its current form is not addressing the fundamental challenges affecting the skills development sector. Hon Minister, we are eagerly waiting to engage with the Green Paper process that will address the main issues of concern and challenges in this sector.
We, however, appreciate the steps that the Department of Higher Education and Training is taking to address some of the issues that will improve the functioning of the sector education and training authorities to fulfil their mandate of skilling and reskilling South African citizens by producing qualified and competent workers for the economic growth of our country. It is not a secret that the image of Setas out there is not good and there are public concerns about their performance although they have a key role to play.
One issue that we noted with keen interest was a section on the disclosure of conflicts of interest. The ANC supports the insertion of section 11B, in respect of disclosure of conflicts of interest to prohibit members of accounting authorities from doing business with Setas. Similarly, they must declare their interests. Conflicts of interest lead to conflict of commitment where the interest is no longer in the core business of the Seta but on financial gain. The aim here, ladies and gentlemen, is to detect and voluntarily defuse any conflicts of interest before any corruption occurs and to prohibit members of the Setas' accounting authorities and other staff from exploiting their positions in some way for their personal benefit.
Hon Minister, we have noted with concern that Setas are established for a period of five years. However, there are some Setas with chief executive officers, and probably some staff members, whose contracts go beyond the Seta life span - what is called an indefinite employment contract. This is a situation that needs urgent attention.
Nawu lowu wu ta antswisa matirhelo hikuva wu nyika matimba eka Holobye wa Ndzawulo, Dokodela Blade Nzimande, ku vona leswaku tiSeta ti va na vumbiwa byo yelana kumbe ku fana. Ku nga ha va na ku hambana ntsena laha swi nga fanela.
TiSeta ti na rihanyu ra ntlhanu wa malembe. Swa fanela leswaku vatirhi va tona va va na tikontiraka leti nga hundziki vutomi bya tiSeta leti.
Mali yo tala ya tiko yi vekisiwile eka tiSeta ku vona leswaku vaakatiko va korhekeriwa hi ndlela leyi nga fanela ku ya hi matirhelo ya tona. Hikokwalaho swa fanela leswaku Holobye a va yimisa hi milenge leswaku va ta va na vutihlamuleri eka matirhiselo ya timali ta vona.
Van'wana va tiSeta leti a va kumeka va ri na mali leyi va endlaka vuvekisi hi yona ehandle ka tiko ra Afrika-Dzonga. Leswi a swi kahle. Ha tshemba leswaku Holobye u ta kota ku swi landzelerisa kutani a tirhana na swona ku kondza lava khumbekaka va tikiseriwa hi nawu. (Translation of Xitsonga paragraphs follows.)
[This Bill will improve performance because it empowers the Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, to ensure that Setas have related or similar constitutions. There might be differences where possible.
Setas have a life-span of five years. It is compulsory that its employees have contracts that do not exceed the life-span of these Setas.
A lot of government funds have been invested in the Setas to ensure that communities are serviced in accordance with the way they perform. Therefore, it is imperative that the Minister hold them to account for the manner in which funds are utilised.
Some of these Setas were found to have had funds that they invested outside South Africa. This is unacceptable. We hope that the Minister will be able to investigate this and work on it until those involved are brought to book.]
I thank you, Chairperson. [Applause.]
Chairperson, let me once more thank all the members and those political parties who have supported this piece of legislation, because they are acutely aware of the importance of the sector education and training authorities, Setas, in addressing skills development.
It's not working!
As always, I am not surprised by the DA, because it is a political party that really has no interest in the training and development of the overwhelming majority of our people. [Interjections.] They will find every excuse.
For instance, hon Van der Westhuizen, I was not taken to court by six Setas. It was one Seta that took me to court, and that was the Services Seta. The question you are not asking - you are only emphasising the fact that I was taken to court - is: Have you ever examined the reason why that particular Seta took me to court at that time, but then decided to change its mind later? The reason for being taken to court is the same resistance that the DA is actually defending here today. [Interjections.]
Also, it is very opportunistic to say that we have no spending plans for the National Skills Fund. [Interjections.] The portfolio committee was briefed on this, and they are acutely aware ... Mr Van der Westhuizen is so nice in the committee, but when we are in the House, he comes and grandstands here, as if he has actually not been briefed. [Interjections.]
I hope, Mr Van der Westhuizen, in your investigation of what is going on in the Setas, you are also possibly not working too closely with service providers in a manner that could actually be clouding your own judgement about what we are trying to do.
There is nothing unfair in this legislation. We need it so that we can align the Setas with the rest of the postschool education and training system. Thank you. [Applause.]
Bill read a second time (Democratic Alliance and Independent Democrats dissenting).