Ruminating on the Services SETA Saga

I have been watching with great interest and concern the developments around the Services SETA and in particular the wrangle over the new SETA constitution. It is impossible for an outsider to comment on the constitution itself, because I have not seen it. I can only comment based on the principles that have been mentioned as driving the revision of the SETA constitutions over the last year to 18 months. As I recall, these related to the need to standardise constitutions and to tighten up the governance of SETAs. There were also questions about the size (and in number of members) of some of the boards, and how board members are/were remunerated. Fair enough.

I don’t recall anyone suggesting that this type of reform was inappropriate. On the contrary, it was welcome. What seems to be playing itself out around the Services SETA is the undermining of bodies that were established as autonomous, but accountable in terms of the relevant legislation and associated regulations,in this instance, the Skills Development and Skills Development Levies Acts. While I carry no torch for any particular SETA, it strikes me as perverse that one of the SETAs that has, by and large, adequately fulfilled its mandate, is put under administration because it uses the law to challenge the steps being taken by the Ministry of Higher Education and Training (MHET). Is this how things should happen in a democracy?

That the Services SETA CEO has been personally threatened as a consequence of the SETA’s actions is alarming. These bullying tactics that should be nipped in the bud before we leave school. Adults should able to engage in dialogue and debate, able to come to a solution that best suits the needs of the skills development sector and the people of South Africa, even if that debate must be mediated in a court of law.

While the court found in favour of the Services SETA, the MHET intends to appeal this judgement. That is the department’s right. In the same statement announcing this, DHET also makes reference to planned, sweeping legislative changes. We have just spent two years waiting for the amendments to the Skills Development and for the NQF Acts to come into full effect, as well as the full operationalisation of the QCTO. Regardless of how loudly, or how often, we have been told that it was “business as usual” the environment has nevertheless been charactarised by a sense of limbo and a great deal of uncertainty. Can we afford for this type of uncertainty and limbo to carry on?

Not disagreeing that reform is necessary, it can be acknowledge that skills authorities (or councils as they are know in other parts of the world), can make a vital contribution to the development of skills in South Africa. We have had SETAs for more than 10 years and although often misunderstood and maligned, some of them have done good work; riding rough shod over them puts us in danger of losing institutional depth and history (as well as knowledge and skills around technical and vocational education and training).

I hope it is possible for all the various stakeholders to take a step back and look at what needs to be done in a rational way, not tied up in personal agendas, but rather with the interests of South Africa, her people and our economy at it the centre.
Fiona Cameron-Brown

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