Setas ‘have supported Nzimande’

Recently a lot has been said about the Sector Education and Training Authorities (Setas), but some of it has served to obfuscate rather than clarify the role of these institutions and what the government’s expectations of them are.

Although some Setas have been doing well, research and analysis commissioned by government and the National Economic Development and Labour Council, and public hearings by the National Skills Authority, have pointed to serious inadequacies in the system. The higher education and training department seeks to address these, in line with our vision to create an integrated postschool training system.

The Skills Development Act and all related legislation, including entities governed by such legislation, were transferred to the stewardship of the minister of higher education and training in November 2009.

The reason for moving the facilitation of workplace learning into the same department as colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning was to help to create a seamless system of post-school education and training that is integrated, efficient and responsive to the needs of the country. A central thrust of such a system is to address the high levels of unemployment and low skills level of especially the youth of our country — black youths in general and African youths in particular.

The minister and the department spent the better part of last year consulting all stakeholders on the challenges facing the system and exploring possible interventions to make the system more efficient and effective. There is overwhelming consensus from most stakeholders that the governance structures of the Setas require substantial transformation.

One of the key interventions we as a department have made is to introduce a model constitution for all the Setas that could be refined for each Seta without departing from the substantive intentions of the model on which it is based. By this means we intend to address the wastage that had been built into the system, with overly large boards often spending more time than necessary dealing with operational issues and turning themselves into another layer of the executive management. This entailed spending huge amounts of money on administration rather than on the core mandate of the Setas, which is facilitating skills development.

The manner in which the boards have been constituted up to now, with equal representation from labour and business, is yet another matter that many people rightly feel is at odds with practices of good governance. Such a composition of boards inadvertently — and sometimes deliberately — turned them into quasi-bargaining councils that struck deals on all manner of issues, thus gradually drifting away from good corporate governance and often becoming a breeding ground for corrupt practices.

Our interventions, therefore, include reducing and standardising the size of boards, limiting the number of board meetings, introducing independent chairpersons, having ministerial appointees drawn from other interested parties and seeking to elevate the appointment of chief executives to the level of Cabinet, in line with the practices of many public entities.

Contrary to the claims that there has not been consultation on these interventions, the department has consulted widely, albeit within the short space of time available between the adoption of NSDS3 (the third phase of the National Skills Development Strategy) and the relicensing of the Setas.

The Human Resources Development Council of South Africa, a high-level council of ministers and senior members of the private sector and civil society organisations chaired by the deputy president, expressed at its last meeting on April 7 support for the measures being taken. The council further suggested, now that we have had just more than a decade of Setas, we needed to review the entire Seta system against our objectives of skills development and human resources development in the country.

There can be no denying the fact that the interventions are positive for the system and most stakeholders welcome them. Some people, however, for reasons known only to them, have sought to undermine and discredit these, claiming all manner of things regarding the motives behind them.

All this is aimed at diverting us away from the intended objective. But we will not be deterred, because to do so would be to give in to agendas that do not have the objective of providing skills to the black child in general and the African child in particular.

It is important to set the record straight about some of the allegations recently in the Mail & Guardian (“Seta overhaul sparks outrage”, April 8). It is untrue that there is unhappiness among staff in the department about the measures being taken to transform the Setas. On the contrary, the transformation is contained in both the NSDS and the department’s strategic plan documents, which were developed with inputs from all staff.

To say there is a purge of staff who were transferred from the department of labour is even more ludicrous. The minister is on record confirming that all the staff are new because it is a new department and that no one should be made to feel like an outsider.

We would also like to advise and caution the media, including the M&G, to ensure that the sources for their stories about this sector are themselves not conflicted or associated with people and institutions that are beneficiaries of the Seta system. The fact is that, since we started with these transformative measures, we have received an enormous amount of support as well as information about some of the things that have plagued the Setas.

The M&G might do itself a favour by building its own investigative capacity instead of uncritically accepting what it is told about Setas. You may well land up with egg on your face. Perhaps the question can no longer be avoided: If indeed “Seta overhaul sparks outrage”, then from whom and why?

Nqaba Nqandela is chief of staff in the office of Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande

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