11 May 1998
Towards the launch of Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) (Addendum to SACS Annual Report and Explanatory Memorandum)
- GCIS Secretariat and management welcome the opportunity to account to the Portfolio Committee. This presentation will be somewhat different from the norm, as we are in a period of transition from the old SACS to a new GCIS. We will thus account for the activities of the previous year mainly on the basis of reports by officials who have been operating in SACS.
- In so far as the budget allocation to our establishment is concerned, the projections for 1998/99 are based on the figures in the Printed Estimates of Expenditure contained in the Minister of Finance's 1998 Budget Review. The budget cycle is such that these estimates and the motivation for them had to be completed before the implementation of the Cabinet decision on the establishment of the GCIS. As such, the projections reflect previous trends in the operations of SACS.
- The projections constitute a useful starting point as we enter the period of transformation as mandated by Cabinet. Yet it is not an adequate starting point. We will therefore propose that after the presentation of these estimates, we briefly outline the vision of the transformation process as well as the tentative organisational and financial implications.
- Enriched by your comments and the Debate on the Budget Vote itself, we will speed up the implementation of most of the concrete plans that derive from the Report of the Communications Task Group appointed by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, and whose recommendations were in substance accepted by Cabinet as contained in the Memorandum of 26 September 1997.
Budget review and estimates
Refer Annual Report
Mandate of the GCIS
- The GCIS derives its mandate first and foremost from the Constitution, which in S16 of the Bill of Rights guarantees citizens freedom of speech. The corollary of this is their right not only to receive information about government activity but also themselves to communicate their views and activities. It is recognised in the Reconstruction and Development Programme that an informed public is better able to take active part in changing its life for the better. This lies at the foundation of the principle of people-centred and people-driven transformation.
- The recognition that SACS was not constituted and geared to serve this purpose was at the core of the decision to set up Comtask, and its report confirmed as much.
- What this means is that, though there had been some changes to personnel in SACS, ministries and departments in all spheres of government, the democratic government has not really had a communications structure, vision, ethos and programme that meet the demands of the current age.
- The long process of transition in this area of work, resulted in many weaknesses identified in the Comtask Report. This also created inordinate uncertainty within the profession; and with regard to SACS in particular, it resulted in a situation in which through VSP and other unnatural attrition, the establishment was left with about a third of the total personnel compliment that it was meant to have.
- The problems of personnel, lack of vision and uncertainty of the transition all conspired to undermine government communications particularly at the centre. Understaffed and unmotivated, the organisation has in the main been going through the motions of the most basic work required. Pockets of excellence do exist and most of the remaining members of staff are working their hearts out; but, as Cabinet decided, the organisation has to be fundamentally transformed.
- The GCIS is envisaged as a system of government communications, headed by a Secretariat characterised as:
- A strategising body located in the Presidency dealing with issues of government message, communications strategy, and corporate image.
- A body to integrate, co-ordinate and rationalise the work of all communications structures in government, including training.
- Through a Service Agency, to be responsible for the production and distribution of government media and general dissemination of information.
- Through its Media Liaison structures, strengthen working relations between the media and government and ensure accurate and unbiased reflection of government work and views.
- Through its Research and Policy Unit, conduct research into public opinion and process these for utilisation by government as a whole.
- The GCIS should also develop media policy for government, including such issues as diversity of ownership.
- In liaison with relevant departments, it should work out strategies and implementation mechanisms to promote South Africa abroad.
- The CEO and DCEO started working in February and March 1998 respectively, and two additional members of the Secretariat at beginning of May. In this period, consultations have taken place with communicators in national ministries, provinces and erstwhile SACS Regional Offices, culminating in a Government Communicators Conference held on 6 May to concretise the GCIS vision and the process towards putting the organisation on an operational footing.
Broad indicators or priorities
- In order to afford citizens their right to know and to be heard, it is a critical element of the GCIS' vision that emphasis in our work should be placed on "developmental communications" - directed primarily at communities such as those in rural areas, townships, the illiterate, the youth and the women to empower them both to know their rights and to take full advantage of the socio-economic opportunities.
- As an institution committed to transparency and accountability, government has to ensure that its messages are coherent, easily understood, and fit into a clear strategy of transformation. The Secretariat serves as the central body for promoting integration of government communications strategy and messages, without derogating from the responsibilities of line functions.
- Our vision of the relationship with the media is that they are in principle partners in communications - both of us with the responsibility and obligation to keep the public informed of relevant developments. The relationship needs improvement: on the one hand with GCIS ensuring better all-round servicing of the media, and on the other with the media transforming itself to meet the challenges of the new democracy.
- Among the major reasons for weaknesses in South African media is the lack of diversity - from ownership to printing and distribution. This short-coming is recognised by at least some of the media houses and SANEF. GCIS therefore considers the achievement of diversity of voices, with the people's capacity to be heard, as a critical element of its vision.
- An important element of the GCIS vision is to utilise to maximum advantage the new communications technology, within the limits of available resources.
Broad indicators or programme
1. Development information
- In co-ordination with the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Broadcasting and the Universal Service Agency, GCIS is taking part in the launch of tele-centres, and in co-ordination with civil society structures it is attending community activities around Multi-purpose Community/Information Centres. It is to play a critical role in servicing them with relevant government information. Research will start soon around community information needs in these centres.
- Within the next two months, provincial and regional communications structures are expected to do an audit of distribution channels and possibilities at grassroots level, networking and creative means of information dissemination.
2. Strategy and integration
- GCIS has started servicing Cabinet with regard to communications matters. Strategies on particular issues are discussed with relevant principals; and guidelines on overall strategy in the current phase are being finalised.
- Research of public opinion will be conducted on a more systematic basis, and so will the monitoring and analysis of trends in the media, to allow timely and effective intervention by government in discourse.
- While consultations have been held in the past few weeks, a more regular schedule will be finalised within the next two months between GCIS Secretariat on the one hand and ministries/departments and provinces on the other. This includes the ministerial clusters, as well as the vexed area of integration of international communications.
- An audit has been completed on the functioning of departmental communications structures and the findings will be used to make proposals regarding structuring and prioritisation.
- Another departmental audit is being finalised on advertising and research, from which concrete proposals will emerge on bulk-buying. Consultations are also being held with role-players in the industry.
3. Training and industry-wide relations
- The GCIS will in the next few weeks employ a person dedicated to training, who will also service a broader National Training Board to be made up of role-players in the communications industry.
- In order to ensue that government benefits from the wide array of experience and expertise in the industry on communications matters, the GCIS is to set up a Communications Forum made up of individuals from the journalism, advertising, academic and other media disciplines.
4. Relations with the media
- To attain better media relations will require training of communicators, integrated strategy, messages, coherence of programmes and good mutual relations - all of which will form part of the programme of the new Chief Directorate.
- GCIS will also serve as a servicing arm for departments in terms of discussion of strategy, approach to particular campaigns, co-ordination of programmes, crisis-management and so on.
- In consultation with the media themselves, better mechanisms of briefings, packaging of information, accessibility and so on will be developed.
5. Media diversity
- A dedicated directorate on media policy is being set up, and among its immediate tasks will be the drafting of regulations/legislation on the matter of diversity of ownership, including distribution channels and printing. The work will start as soon as the post(s) have been filled; and this will include consultations with community and other media institutions around these issues.
- This will also encompass particularly policy on resources to community media. Current news-flow assistance to community radios and other such media will be improved with the reorganisation of the section.
6. Information technology
- GCIS is already working with the Ministries of Posts, Telecommunications and Broadcasting and Public Administration to rationalise the government web-site, including provisions for a single entry-point.
- Investigations are under way to assess the affordability of a computerised government information "hot-line" where the information needs of the public can be attended to as expeditiously as possible.
Organisational and budgetary implications
- Cabinet decided that the GCIS should be headed by a CEO deputised by a deputy CEO whose tasks will include the production, administrative and financial aspects of the establishment: what is referred to as the CSA in the Comtask report. Three Chief Directorates will take responsibility for Media Liaison, Research and Policy, and Provincial and Local Liaison. Our assessment since taking office is that the production, administrative and financial matters of the organisation need to be improved. This will require attracting people with the necessary expertise to take charge of the production units and project management as well as human resources and financial management
- With regard to the three core functions, the new structure will reflect a continuation of past services, strengthened and reorganised as well as new ones. The core Chief Directorates are:
- Media Liaison: Client Relations mainly to service line functions and parliament; as well as a news service assisting mainly community media; and general media liaison.
- Policy and Research: Information resource management including monitoring and analysis of trends in media reporting and comment; opinion and other research as well as policy and strategy.
- Provincial and Local Liaison: Fundamental reorganisation is envisaged here - with the long-term possibility of closing down the "SACS regional offices" being examined, as the Provincial Government Communication and Information structures develop the capacity to carry out the required functions. It needs to be noted that when SACS was established there were no provincial or metropolitan structures. At national level, a dedicated team of provincial liaison officers will be put in place. The overall exception in this regard may be the major metropolitan areas of the Western Cape (and parliament), Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal where it is proposed that fully-fledged Provincial Offices should be maintained. In discussion with provinces, and depending on availability of resources, the need or otherwise for satellite offices will be continually assessed.
- Personnel implications arising from the above are as follows:
|Total number of established posts directly in SACS||605|
|Funded vacant posts||139|
|Total number of posts filled as at 30 April 1998||230|
|Total estimate proposed directly in GCIS establishment||350|
- As indicated in the Explanatory Notes, we have received notice that, of the 139 funded vacant posts 104 (the equivalent of R10 685 490) have been frozen in accordance with the Manual on the Financial Budgeting System of the State. While this was logical on the basis of expenditure trends in the old SACS, account was not taken of the decision of Cabinet regarding the imminent establishment of the GCIS.
- Budgetary implications of the proposals on the new GCIS structure are as follows:
- Rationalisation across government, including the proposals on bulk-buying will result in savings for government as a whole. Though these savings will not accrue to the GCIS, we do appreciate that they will benefit government as a whole.
- Within GCIS itself, there will be both savings and more expenditure as it starts to fulfil its mandate. The balance in this regard will emerge in the next few weeks as the various sections are established and finalise their programmes. As the Memorandum dated 26 September 1997 on the establishment of GCIS (accepted by Cabinet) indicated: "The GCIS will, at the outset, work within the existing budget approved for SACS. It may, however, as operations get underway, find it necessary to request a larger budget or additional funds for specific purposes".
- Our approach will be to establish the needs on an on-going basis and phase in the new structures and operations. What needs further noting is the critical fact that, over the years, as the SACS budget was reduced, the ratio between personnel and operational expenditure shifted as follows:
|% Personnel||% Operational|
- We therefore commend the budget as proposed in the Explanatory Notes, with the proviso that the detail will be amended in accordance with the new mandate. This includes the allocation for personnel that has been recalled: that in consultation with Public Administration and State Expenditure Departments, the amount of R10 685 490 should be availed to GCIS for the expanded staff complement and any new operational costs that will arise. These needs will accordingly be detailed.
- GCIS will be formally launched on the day of the Debate on the "SACS Budget Vote", 18 May 1998.