GCIS budget vote 1999

24 February 1999

24 February 1999


I. Introduction

  1. GCIS Secretariat welcomes the opportunity to report to the Portfolio Committee on Communications. Unlike last year, at the point of GCIS launch, we are now able to report on work carried out during the course of the previous financial year; and give broad indicators of future plans, which will be fine-tuned after the elections.
  2. We also wish to express our appreciation of the improving relations with the Portfolio Committee, including regular contact with the Chairperson, the visit to our Offices and the comments made - which we will be following up.

II. Communication Environment

  1. Our broad assessment is that the formation of GCIS has helped take government a step further in ensuring that it meets its mandate to ensure an informed public which takes part in changing its life for the better. On a variety of fronts, issues of communication are now being dealt with systematically by government. The Open Democracy Bill is now before the Portfolio Committee on Justice, and we hope that it will come into operation during the course of this year.
  2. Over the past year GCIS Secretariat started to implement the recommendations of Comtask, starting off with the setting up and consolidation of the government communication system. A better service is now being provided to Cabinet and the executive as a whole. However, this is just the beginning of a protracted process that should see us ultimately confident that the right to information is being realised.
  3. On the broader front of communication, two issues have arisen, which have generated debate on the matter of freedom of expression and of the media:
    1. The Criminal Procedures Act (S205) which has led to court cases about media providing information for prosecution. The broader principle of the rights and obligations of the media, and the independence of the courts cannot be challenged: but it is this government's position that where this Section is applied, it should be as a matter of last resort, for the many reasons that the media themselves have advanced. Thus the Memorandum of Understanding signed last week is to be welcomed.
    2. The issue of the investigation by the HRC into the existence or otherwise of racism in media content is one that has been widely debated even within the media fraternity itself. SANEF's initial statement after meeting the HRC was broadly in support; though after their recent meetings there are some qualifications. The HRC decision had nothing to do with government. Our own view is that the terms of reference and modus operandi should be finalised in consultation with the role-players, as seems to be the case; and that the investigation can benefit society as a whole.

III. Re-organisation of structures

  1. The GCIS Secretariat, in its first year, has completed the conceptualisation of the structures of the establishment. This has included a decision to retain most of the staff of the former SACS. The fact that employees had continued producing many excellent examples of communication while the future of the organisation was being debated, served to indicate their commitment to the organisation, its future and to communication.
  2. To cite but a few examples:
    1. a one-person Art Studio trying to meet the demands of a number of departments who continued making use of organisation's services
    2. a Communication Centre running a clipping service seven days a week despite the dramatic drop in number of personnel
    3. a tiny group of individuals working at setting the foundation for what is rapidly developing into an effective web site - South Africa: Government Online.
  3. This commitment was not the only feature of the organisation which the recent appointments to the GCIS management found. Because of the length of the Comtask investigation, many employees suffered from despondency and uncertainty. There were several negatives which had to be dealt with urgently, including: the dramatic efflux of almost the entire senior management; and an IT system which had deteriorated to a situation best described as tragic. There did not exist a realistic benchmark around which the budget could be developed. Thus the MTEF prescripts were being mechanically adhered to.
  4. The Secretariat thus set about urgently working through a broad strategic plan which helped define what the GCIS establishment should be, including the principle of a lean communication organisation. The establishment was thus reduced from the 501 of SACS to about 360. This is an area which requires continuous attention. From the base of 230 found at SACS, about 50 posts were advertised and filled in a matter of months. It is envisaged that the rest of the posts will be filled in the next financial year.
  5. There was also emphasis on getting the ratio between the actual communicators to administrative function correct. In this regard, a new concept of the establishment has been completed and lodged with DPSA and Department of State Expenditure. At the same time, work is continuing to set up Project Teams dealing with specific government campaigns, and to ensure that the culture within the organisation is geared towards professional service.

IV. Consolidating the communication system

  1. A national government communication strategy was drafted and it was adopted by Cabinet in October 1998. This forms the basis of the approach by various departments, outlines the central message and themes. For each of the transversal campaigns of government such as the AIDS Awareness Campaign, Jobs Summit, Anti-corruption Conference and Summit, GCIS has been central in developing communication strategies and programmes. It has also assisted departments around specific campaigns and events, as well as in setting up their own communication structures.
  2. Given the challenges of perceptions internationally regarding SA, GCIS has worked with the CIU in the Deputy President's Office to bring together all role-players in government and its agencies to work out an integrated approach. Deriving from these consultations, and after approval of the broad approach by Cabinet, a research proposal has been put to tender, on the basis of which a comprehensive strategy will be developed.
  3. A critical element of consolidation of the system is the Government Communicators' Forum which meets fortnightly to plan for Cabinet meetings, and to share ideas and experiences on major communication challenges. The various departments and agencies have been grouped into Clusters and regular meetings of these have started to take place. At major turning points in GCIS work, a National Communicators' Conference is organised bringing together national and provincial communicators twice a year. The new BUA magazine for government communicators also contributes to the consolidation of the system.
  4. A number of special meetings have been held with Heads of Communication in the Provincial Governments; and the aim is to have these on a regular basis, at least once in two months. Arising from these consultations, the GCIS Secretariat is to brief Premiers and Provincial DGs so as to formalise relations with this sphere. A generic draft Memorandum of Understanding on the relationship between GCIS structures and Provincial Government has been drafted for adoption, taking into account Provincial specifics. Once sufficient progress has been made in this regard, work will start with local government structures.

V. Media relations and policy

  1. Much attention was paid to improving relations with the media. A number of innovative forms were utilised including the institution of monthly press breakfasts where Ministers would provide in-depth background briefings, and consultation with journalists on the format of the Parliamentary Briefing Week. Community media were also placed on an electronic network for government and development news. The considerable increase in the size of the Media Liaison Section (in March last year it had only two communicators) has meant that the GCIS can better service the needs of departments and the media. What is critical is that the improvements being introduced are worked out in consultation with the main client, the media.
  2. With the introduction of the new system, including the fact that the CEO attends Cabinet meetings, it has become much easier to service the media on corporate governmental matters. Regular briefings and/or statements, and clarification where required, ensure that decisions of Cabinet meetings are communicated on a systematic basis, in line with the broad approach emerging from the Government Communicators' Forum.
  3. During the course of the year, consultations have been held with a number of media houses around the issue of media diversity and the broad approach of government in this regard. Our assessment is that there is a broad consensus on the principles underpinning government's approach. This matter is to be tackled more systematically and deliberately when the new personnel for this directorate start working in the coming month.

VI. Development communication

  1. Development communication continued to occupy the GCIS agenda, and we view it as the primary mandate of the establishment. If the organisation erred this year on the side of trying to define this strategy more than acting around it, we hope that the next financial year will see great strides being made in this area. A radio communications unit has been established to meet the needs of community radio as an early contribution to development communication.
  2. A major research project is under way to define the information needs of the various communities which make up the South African population. We hope that the results will help us service the public better and use the media preferred most. The regional offices have been transformed into Government Iformation Centres (GICs) committed to grassroots communications.
  3. Ensuring that material which has been the product of many creative minds and that has been subjected to all manner of research, eventually gets into the hands of those for whom it was designed, requires a good distribution system. The GCIS regional offices have been vital in this communication chain, resulting in 1,8 million copies of the Government Report to the Nation '98 being distributed through this channel alone. A major breakthrough was the distribution of the Report through post offices. Though there have been delays and many weaknesses with this process, the infrastructure now acquired holds the promise for easier access to printed government information by the public.
  4. Progress in this area also depends on the training of communicators especially at regional level. The visit to India by the Deputy Minister and the CEO during the course of last year not only exposed GCIS to the impressive experience in this country with regard to development communication; but it also laid the basis for training of our communicators, a programme around which will be launched soon.

VII. Technology and training

  1. A revamped government web site, Government Online has been launched, as a single entry-point to Internet sites of departments and agencies. This launch is surely one of the most important events in the period under review. Carrying with it the potential of bringing government ever close to the people, the launch was marked by enthusiastic reception amongst users of government information. However, much work needs to be done to improve the facility. The responsibility of having a comprehensive electronic government information service rests not only on the shoulders of the small group at the GCIS, but all users who can provide feedback about their needs and requirements.
  2. The GCIS has taken the first tentative steps toward developing a training strategy for government communicators. An audit was conducted of the areas of competency displayed by the various communication components. There has been collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat in providing training. A six-month contract appointment has been made with the brief to set up a training curriculum which is within the NQF and which serves to professionalise government communicators, and work has already started.

VIII. Budget

  1. We wish to thank the Portfolio Committee for its support regarding the additional resources GCIS needed last year to carry out its mandate. Our request for additional funds was honoured.
  2. With regard to the MTEF allocations for the Years 0+1, 0+2 and 0+3, the same trend manifests itself: The lag in acquiring and upgrading equipment during the years when SACS was instructed to freeze major operations and acquisitions means that the main requirements for our MTEF entail upgrading or purchase of new equipment. It should be noted that about R10-million in these years is simply a restoration of the funds for personnel which were suspended in 1998/99, and which will be required as we reach the full complement of the establishment. As a result, the amount of additional funds required actually declines quite sharply.
  3. Discussion on this issue is continuing with the Department of State Expenditure. Our sense currently is that there is an understanding of the needs of GCIS.


GCIS organisational development

Statement of the issue

From the SWOT analysis which GCIS conducted it emerged that a key challenge was to improve the efficiencies and effectiveness of the GCIS.

The following strengths were noted:

  • That the organisation had a reasonably sound infrastructure which was offering cost-effective and high quality services. It was found to be reasonably in touch with the private sector, even with partnerships at provincial and local level with private sector and community role players. It is found to be highly credible, has an innovative management at the top, and the knowledge base of the organisation had been enhanced by the new personnel being brought in.
  • While most of its work was geared at delivering a service to government depts it had sections which dealt with the public providing the public direct access to government centre. These include the recently launch govt web site and an information service. It has also been found to deliver in crisis moments.
  • The GCIS would prefer to dwell more on the challenges it faces. At the broad organisational level the key ones are:

1. Rendering a professional service


With the lack of adequate human resources and outdated equipment, many sections of the organisation felt hugely under pressure. Depts were coming with requests without clear strategies, short deadlines or taking too long to approve the work done for them. Often the communication professional were not being properly briefed leading to more frustration.


A Standing Request Committee is being established. All Depts have been informed of this. The procedure will be that depts will be required to submit requests which have been mandated and with the approval process clearly marked out. The level of our service is set to improve with the investment the GCIS has made in upgrading technology.

The GCIS will be seeking alliances with other production units within government such as those located in the SANDF, SAPS and Dept of Agriculture. Also, the fact that many of our employees are conversant with suppliers in the private sector, we will be able to advise depts on how such jobs can be outsource. This becomes a viable option only when depts are better organised.

Furthermore, GCIS intends embarking on a systematic dept by dept process whereby GCIS will share the approaches it is developing at government wide level so that depts can be stimulated into developing cogent communication strategies.

2. Ensuring professional media liaison


This section is still suffering from acute personnel shortage. Apart from facilitating the required media liaison of different campaigns, arranging the Parliamentary Briefing Week at the beginning of each session, and the recently started Press Breakfasts, it has also been assisting the offices of the President and Deputy President as well as the Foreign Affairs Dept in state visits. Because many of their requests coming in with short lead times, it tends to disorganise and overwork the few people at hand. This carries the threat of declining relations with the media.


With interest in South Africa still high we will continue facing this challenge. The short-term approach adopted by the GCIS Media Liaison is to work themselves to the ground. The long term solution is the staffing of the section with appropriate people. A big step forward has been the appointment of a person to staff the GCIS Parliamentary office - this helps carry out many of the function required here.

An even further step will be the establishment of what is being referred to as the communication calendar. This is obviously only possible with greater planning by depts, Ministries etc. The idea will be to include all major communication events on a calendar so that journalists and communicators can better plan their lives.

We will continuously seek to brief the media proactively as part of cementing our relations.

3. Other issues

The following areas continue to impact on GCIS operations and will be receiving high attention:

  • Developing solid distribution networks. The alliance with the Post office is a good, though costly, start.
  • Having a marketing strategy in place which promotes the products and services of the GCIS. This becomes more and more possible with the full range of GCIS work becoming available.
  • A government wide Corporate Identity project was identified as an important project. With the further strengthening of the CI unit in 1999/2000 we can begin taking steps towards that.
  • Improving our photographic services. This becomes especially important for key state functions, state visits etc.
  • The creation of a comprehensive data base. This is an internal matter which will be getting our attention. As you may appreciate no communication organisation can work without a solid data base. The one we have currently is inadequate.


All we can hope is that as GCIS becomes more and more successful it will not be seen as simply spin doctoring or even worse a propaganda machinery. We hope that it shall be an effective conduit for dialogue between government and the people.


Development information


At the briefing last year, we had identified development information as one of the priorities of the organisation - this continues to be so. We do have very limited number of staff in the GICS and we need to ensure that there is a uniform approach taken in communicating in the different areas. We are also trying to find a balance between the requirements of national departments and provincial realities and imperatives.

We are looking at making the GIC offices more accessible to the public. We will be addressing the issue of language and methods which are suitable to the majority of South Africans, not the current literate, urban bias that we admit having.

Social instability will make government communications difficult in some areas. Perception of slow delivery and lack of communication of government's successes or problems in delivering need to be dealt with. Size of the regions makes it difficult to service all areas with the limited capacity available. Low literacy levels and diverse language requirements as well as the high expectations of the public are key challenges. Elections and possible negative attitudes towards government communications will be something we will have to weather. For this period and beyond, we have set our aim and operational objectives.

Objectives and approaches

Objective 1

To facilitate the establishment, co-ordination and maintenance of national, provincial and local partnerships and relationships between the different tiers of government.


  • Our major challenge is to arrive at a common approach to development communication with the various components of the government communication systems. Currently it has become a catch-all phrase. GCIS will collaborate with NGOs, CBOs, and development agencies in arriving at participatory approaches while trying to ensure that these organs of civil society become partners in development communication.

Objective 2

To facilitate the establishment, utilisation and maintenance development communication and information methods.


  • We have to identify and develop alternative methods of communication. We cannot rely on the commercial media alone to carry the message of government to the people.  We need methods that involve a two way communication between communicators and communities. We will look at how the GCIS Bua News Service can be improved so that community media can use it for their needs. The radio unit which we are currently putting in place will allow us to provide government with sound bites to community radio.  Community media faces the problem of closing down if the issue of funding is not urgently addressed.
  • We will explore other participatory, community based methods of communication such as interactive drama, road shows, we will explore how the MPPCs and telecenters can be used for maximum community communication needs. The Deputy Minister and the CEO were impressed by experiences of India in development of alternative methods of communication. We hope to obtain services of their trainers in areas of development communications.

Objective 3

To compile and deliver development-centered information programs and campaigns.


  • Our challenge will be to intergrate the development approach (which emphasises developing the capacity of individuals and communities to improve their lives) and the human rights approach (which emphasises information on how to access rights. We will strive to move away from simply providing information to actually changing habits, attitudes and outlooks. We will therefore draw up programs and campaigns to provide information in a manner in which people can use. Programs and campaigns will be in languages with which people feel comfortably free to particpate. Our programmes and campaigns will take into consideration communities at different levels of development, literacy, language, and be based on access to different mediums of communication.

Organisational development: Provincial and local liaison

  • The finalisation of formal relations with provincial communications structures will form a major part of systems changes.
  • Our pessonnel need to be realigned to fulfil the needs of development communication. Our personnel will have to reflect the profile of the communities they serve in terms of language and culture.
  • Appropriate training for development communication will therefore be necessary. New skills in development communication, marketing, change management, community facilitation, participatory methods will be introduced to personnel.
  • Communication personnel will be linked with other parts of government in order to provide the public with wider scope of information. Communication personnel will be deployed at strategic points to serve communities particularly in rural areas.
  • Our challenges will be to assess all GIC's accessibility and visibility to the public particularly to rural areas who have limited access to electronic media and limited access to print media due to illiteracy and language.
  • Our long-term vision would be to see GICS becoming the hub of community based information resource centres providing access to government information in partnership with provincial and civil society structures. Our long-term vision is to see information communicated in a manner and language in which people can use for their own development.


Personnel and development

Statement of the issue

GCIS is advantaged in that most of the staff are experienced, well-trained, multi-skilled and extremely dedicated, hard-working and willing to learn.

The certainty around the future of the department has boosted and motivated most staff after a period of great uncertainty and demotivation.

There are however some challenges facing GCIS on this front, namely the

1. Large number of vacant posts in GCIS


GCIS is still in the process of advertising and filling posts in the various chief directorates. The high vacancy rate has led to extreme work pressure and overload on the few, with the danger of burnout. It has also meant that GCIS has at times had to turn down requests from client departments.


A new organisational structure for GCIS has been approved with a staff complement of 353, down from the old SACS structure of about 700. We are currently advertising and filling posts. We are confident that we are attracting highly skilled professionals, who will make a great contribution to government communication.

2. Attracting and retaining highly skilled competent staff


During our current process of recruitment, we are finding that whilst we are succeeding in attracting high calibre personnel, we are unable to offer successful applicants market related salaries, similar to what they are earning in the private sector. This is particularly true for middle management posts. Communication is a specialised field, and it is difficult to retain professionals for more than a few years, especially in the area of Information Technology such as web development and programmers.


In these instances, we are consulting the Department of Public Service & Administration, for guidance and advice in making the necessary buy-offers to attract suitable staff. Once the new Public Service Regulations are implemented, Departments will be in a position to decide on the level of remuneration, in particular where scarce skills are required. The new Public Service Regulations provide this kind of flexibility specifically because it is recognised that government has to compete with the private sector for scarce skills.

3. Training


Whilst we have some competent well-trained staff, training is an ongoing requirement in any organisation. Professionals and specialists, in particular, need to keep apace of developments in their specific fields. It is generally accepted that 10% of the time of any employee should be spent in training each year.


The Directorate for Human Resources Training & Transformation will conduct a training needs analysis to determine the training needs for GCIS staff, and to ensure appropriate training for all members of staff, and to promote a career path, especially for staff at the lower levels.

In addition, as referred to earlier, a Chief Director has been appointed on contract to establish a national Training Board that will address the training needs of all communication staff in government.

4. Other issues

Other issues that require mentioning are:

  • A Transformation Committee has been established which provides management with the opportunity to discuss policy issues on transformation and monitor implementation within GCIS
  • Trainers within GCIS who are undertaking training in our nine regional Government Information Centres, are utilised to conduct training for other provincial departments as well, resulting in a saving for government.
  • One of our major projects for implementation is the new Public Service Regulations, which provide greater responsibility and management discretion to line departments.


Facilities and services

A. Facilities and IT equipment

Statement of the issue

From the SWOT analysis it emerged that one of the key challenges GCIS had to address to improve its functionality and performance was the information technology and equipment at its disposal.


Good quality equipment does exist in pockets of the building. For example, the Communication Centre has a sophisticated computerised radio system which facilitates the recording and retrieval of broadcasts. However, this is the exception rather than the rule. Another significant point is that the Y2K programme at GCIS is on track.

In general, the key challenges facing us in the realm of production and information technology include:

1. Office space and location


Office space at the GCIS Head Office in Midtown Building, Pretoria, is limited and does not currently facilitate functionality. In previous years, the administrative section was located in a different building. The entire establishment is now in Midtown and this, together with the recruitment of new staff, a new orientation, structures and service lines - requires readjustment. In addition, the building in its current form does not project a positive, user-friendly image for government communication.


It is recommended that GCIS remain in it current building, pending negotiations between the Department of Public Works and the landlord on refurbishment to suit the organisation's needs. In addition, GCIS will begin to move towards an open plan office arrangement and improve the corporate identity of the building.

2. Improving production and information technology


It appeared that, in many instances, information technology and production equipment had not been upgraded since the early 1990s, because of the uncertain future of the then South African Communication Services. This has meant that, in many areas of work, staff were operating at sub-optimal level. Besides general administrative lag as a result, certain areas of work were especially adversely affected. These include internal communication, provincial work, media monitoring, art and design, website maintenance and access, as well as the radio and video units. Although in the latter cases very basic equipment does exist, this has become obsolete. A proper radio studio is required, with a recording booth and duplicating facilities.

There is a general shortage of vital equipment for a communication organisation, such as printers, fax machines, television VCRs and cell phones - all of which impact on the ability of staff to be effective.

For a good deal of the last year, the information technology system has been virus-infected - although with the recruitment of new staff this situation has improved. However, much still needs to be done to improve information technology capacity. Current IT restraints lead to slower output and updating of information. In addition, financial management and audit control could be greatly improved with the acquisition of appropriate software. If the access speed to the government web site does not improve, the legitimacy of the site will be threatened. Government Information Centres at present do not have access to the Internet.


A comprehensive review of production capacity in the organisation was conducted, revealing that urgent attention needs to be paid to the maintenance, upgrading and acquisition of production equipment and related software to ensure that:

  • a cost-efficient service will continue to be rendered to clients
  • equipment will be kept in good working order, and
  • compatibility with private sector service-providers will be maintained.

In terms of Information Technology, a total of R2,5-m was allocated to improving the situation. This included a new file server and routers, LAN cabling and Telkom wiring for Midtown and all functioning regional offices, the Y2K upgrade, and purchase of a Microsoft Licensing Agreement. In addition, a video conference facility for government press conferences and internal accommodation has been put out to tender, and existing audio links with regional offices will be improved.

The establishment of SITA will also serve as a source of knowledge and offer opportunities for absorption.

B. Marketing and services

Statement of the issue

From the SWOT analysis it emerged that a key challenge was to improve the service capacity and public profile of the GCIS.

With the establishment of GCIS, a great deal of attention was paid to reorienting the services of the old South African Communication Services in line with the vision and mission of the new organisation, and the recommendations of the Comtask Report. In the initial period, priority was accorded to servicing the primary clients of GCIS, i.e. national government Ministries and Departments. As the organisation's capacity grows, so do our services and the need to market them. This is an area which will require priority attention during 1999.


GCIS offers a wide range of quality services and products which support government's obligation to communicate and provide information. New products are always on the horizon and existing services are being improved.

In relation to services and marketing, the key challenges are:

1. Improvement of services


GCIS' service lines and products are directed by the needs of its clients, on one hand, and by the organisation's broad mandate to improve government communication and provide a one-stop information service. As stated elsewhere, technical shortcomings currently hinder quality service in many areas. In addition, staff in many instances need to be trained towards multi-dimensional communication project management, as it is our objective to be able to offer clients a comprehensive service. Those sections of the organisation which deal with public information also need to become far more visible and accessible, and an information hotline is being considered as a future project.


Areas of service which will improve in the forthcoming year include:

  • Constant maintenance of the government website
  • A strategy for development communication
  • Improved provincial distribution infrastructure
  • Greater usage of exhibitions
  • Improved news service, especially to community media
  • Utilisation of technology to create more opportunities in media
  • Improved service at Parliamentary Office, such as the Information Resource Centre

2. Proactive marketing strategy for GCIS


Government clients are generally quite familiar with GCIS, but the public at large is not very aware of its existence. Hence, ordinary citizens do not really know that there is an organisation they can approach for any information which they need about government. This shortcoming, and the intended solution, have important implications for the image not only for GCIS, but for that of government and its obligation to provide citizens with information, and the right to be heard.


A marketing strategy has been devised, to create awareness of the GCIS' image, product lines and services. The customers/clients identified in the marketing strategy broadly include: government, civil society, national and international media, foreign missions and local embassies, individual citizens and, of course, GCIS staff members. The challenge would be to transform GCIS into a market- and client-oriented organisation which "sells" itself through satisfying customer needs and constantly monitors client satisfaction. The marketing strategy would include stakeholder briefings, marketing material and corporate/information products. Products would include proper signage, a personnel guide, user brochures and information on the government website.


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