Health, Social Development, Education Ministry Briefing
08 Jul 2008
The Social Sector Cluster provided the media with an update on its implementation of government’s 2008/09 Programme of Action. The briefing covered five key strategic areas: social security, national identity and cohesion, healthcare, food security and nutrition and education. Questions were raised about FET colleges, the regulation of food and medicine prices and the zero rating of foodstuffs. The media also probed the fraud and corruption at the South African Social Assistance Agency and the timeframes for the release of certain reports.
The Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, delivered the briefing on behalf of the Social Sector Cluster and was accompanied by Ms Ntombazana Botha (Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture), Mr Thami Mseleku (Director General, Department of Health) and Mr Selwyn Jehoma (Deputy Director-General, Department of Social Development). The briefing focused on the implementation of Government’s 2008/09 Programme of Action (POA), and was delivered against the backdrop of a slowdown in the world economy, rising interest rates and higher fuel and food prices.
Ms Tshabalala-Msimang stated that the Comprehensive Social Security strategy encompassed three broad programme activities: the finalisation of Social Insurance and its different elements, the release of the consolidated position paper on social security and retirement reforms, and exploring the possibility of introducing a wage subsidy for low-wage employees directed mainly at new entrants in the job market.
The Cluster expressed disappointment and embarrassment regarding the recent xenophobic attacks. It hoped that the message for peace, love, tolerance and respect for human life and property would prevail amongst communities and contribute towards the government’s quest for social cohesion.
She noted that the Tobacco Control Amendment Bill had recently been passed by the National Assembly and that the Bill had been referred to the National Council of Provinces for concurrence. Through this Bill, government sought to further control the advertising, promotion and sale of tobacco products in the country in line with its healthy lifestyles campaign. Work was also being done in the area of expanding the number of health promoting schools from 3500 to at least 5000. On HIV and AIDS, the Cluster reported that it was encouraged by the number of adults who voluntarily took HIV tests. Data as at 02 June 2008 indicated that the number of clients tested for HIV (excluding antenatal) stood at 1 474 437.
Regarding measures aimed at ensuring home ownership, an inclusionary housing policy had been implemented across private and publicly driven housing development. Multiple housing projects that were designed as mixed income housing developments served to ensure cross subsidisation and achieve inclusionary housing objectives. The Minister mentioned that the establishment of the Housing Development Agency was at an advanced stage and that the enacting legislation was in its final stages in the NCOP.
Government was continuing with its Household Food Production Programme as part of improving food security among the most vulnerable communities. It continued to develop financing requirements for the farmer support programme focusing mainly on areas of large concentration of farm dwellers and those with high eviction rates.
The Minister stated that the third and final year of the recapitalisation of Further Education and Training (FET) colleges began in April 2008. Detailed plans from all 50 FET colleges for expenditure of R795 million on infrastructure, equipment and human resources had been submitted and approved by Cabinet. She said that 40% of learners (approximately 5 million in over 14 000 schools) were now in no fee schools in terms of the SA Schools Act, which was in line government’s commitment to providing free education for the disadvantaged.
A journalist quoted recent statistics which showed that a third of students who enrolled in FET colleges did not complete their first year of studies and less than half that remained actually passed their first year. As a result, he wondered why the government was spending upwards of a billion rands on a programme that was not working.
Mr Mseleku responded that the recapitalisation of FET colleges partly had to do with infrastructure development as well as ensuring that the success rates were increasing. He countered that even the figures that were being quoted showed that there was an improvement from the past. He emphasised that it was necessary for government to invest in the programme in order to raise the skills profile of the country. Lastly, he maintained that the programme should be reengineered to ensure that the success rates were improved and that the output rates matched the inputs.
The media were curious about the Minister’s revelation that she had been admitted to a
The facilitator retorted that he would not allow those sorts of questions. He motivated that the briefing concerned issues around the work of the social cluster and not the Minister’s health.
The Minister said that her liver was fine and invited everybody to donate organs so that people like her could live longer. Also, she confirmed that she had been admitted to the
The media enquired whether government intended to set up a national food-price regulator or immediately freeze food prices given the concerns about costs.
Mr Mseleku replied that government had no intention to regulate prices at this stage. Instead, it was considering alternative measures, which included the re-evaluation of the social grants to bring them in line with increases in the inflation rate, the possible zero-rating of various foodstuffs and encouraging localised food production in home gardens.
The media noted the Minister’s remarks that she was encouraged by data which showed a decrease in the TB treatment defaulter rate in the country. Consequently, they asked whether the data was new. Also, the Minister was asked what her Department’s plans were about implementing the new test for MDR-TB and when it would be available.
The Minister confirmed that the data was relatively new and expressed pleasure that there had been a substantial reduction in the defaulter rate in the area where the XDR-TB was first detected.
In respect of the second question, Mr Mseleku stated that the National Health Laboratory Service was looking at their capacity and was currently developing an implementation plan for the rollout of the technology.
The media probed whether the Department of Social Development had uncovered fraud and corruption in the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA).
Mr Jehoma stated that he did not have the full details of the extent of fraud in the agency. He related the incident where one official had transferred in excess of R2 million to his own account. The official had been suspended and an enquiry undertaken. The Social Development Minister, Zola Skweyiya, had set up a disciplinary committee at SASSA to gather information about fraud and corruption at the agency.
The media asked when the task team, set up by government to investigate food-prices, would provide some feedback.
The Minister indicated that the task team had submitted a report to Cabinet, and it had been asked to do some additional work on it. She added that the Minister of Agriculture was convening a meeting this week to finalise the report, which would be sent to Cabinet and then later released.
A reporter commented that government’s stance on food prices contradicted their approach to medicine prices where they directly intervened to regulate them.
Mr Mseleku stated that government did not view health as a commodity for the market to determine. He maintained that all governments in the world intervened in one way or another in regulating the market in a particular way. He clarified that government intervention in the health sector did not include the fixing of prices, which was determined by the industry itself.
The media asked the Minister to shed some light on the two drugs that would be used on babies as part of government’s strategy in combating infant mortality.
The Minister indicated that government had taken a definite policy decision to provide the two vaccines. Plans were being finalised and the Department of Health was in discussions with the pharmaceutical companies that produced the vaccines. She mentioned that
The media stated that the discussions in government regarding the zero rating of foodstuffs and extending social grants had been going on for more than a year. The reporter wanted to know when a decision would be made on this.
Mr Mseleku denied that these discussions had been taking place in government for more than a year. He explained that these issues were considered within the context of the recent food crisis. The final report could be released within the next month or so.
The media asked how people living in shacks who did not have any spare ground were expected to grow their own food.
The Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, Ms Botha, asserted that the people living in informal settlements were creative and were not helpless. She cited that many municipalities had taken the initiative to grow their own food.
The Minister agreed with the comments of the Deputy Minister and stated that government wanted to encourage people to be self-sufficient.
The media asked the Department of Social Development to comment on the recent revelations that thousands of people were cashing in their retirements in the mistaken belief that government would nationalise retirement funds.
Mr Jehoma indicated that government had no intention of nationalising savings. He stressed that there had never been a contemplation to do so and that it would be unconstitutional. He added that people could decide what to do with their accumulated savings.
The media briefing was adjourned.
Social Sector Cluster Briefing Document for Media Briefing:
08 July 2008
Union Buildings - 12H00
It is indeed an honour and privilege for me to present to the media this briefing on behalf of the Social Sector Cluster.
The Cluster submitted to Cabinet in mid-June its progress report regarding the implementation of Government Programme of Action (POA) 2008/09. In that report, we also drew the attention of Cabinet to the challenges we encountered in implementing the POA and advanced what we considered to be possible solutions to those challenges. Based on that report therefore, our briefing this afternoon will be pillared on the following key strategic areas:
Comprehensive Social Security
Promotion of National Identity and Social Cohesion
Comprehensive Health Care
Housing and Human Settlements
Food Security and Nutrition Programme
Education – Broadening Access and Improving Quality
Comprehensive Social Security
Three (3) broad programme activities guide our approach as far as Comprehensive Social Security is concerned. As some of you would know, these activities include the finalisation of Social Insurance and its different elements, the release of the consolidated position paper on social security and Retirement Reforms and exploring the possibilities of introducing a wage subsidy for low-wage employees directed mainly at new entrants in the job market.
The Interdepartmental Task Team (IDTT) meets approximately on a monthly basis to discuss reform options and several meetings have been held with stakeholders to review agencies/funds involved in the reform process. A discussion paper on this matter is due to be released for comment during the course of this year, 2008. Some of the key policy options being considered include the design of standard savings/retirement funding arrangements and options for improved unemployment insurance and death or disability benefits.
Regarding disability, the implementation of the common tool to assess disabilities has been put on hold pending the amendment of the Social Assistance Act in the 2009 Parliamentary Cycle. To this end therefore, the training of medical practitioners has had to be postponed in view of the delayed implementation of the new tool. In the meantime, the Department of Social Development has appointed 40 members to panels of Tribunals to deal with appeals submitted for all grants, especially those related to disability benefits.
National Identity and Social Cohesion
National Identity and social cohesion remains key in our quest to build a nation that we all aspire to be. As part of this effort, we continue to utilize our national symbols such as the flag and the Coat of Arms amongst others to foster common identity, unity and cohesion.
The South African National Heritage audit report which includes our official symbols has been produced and published. An education campaign on the significance of the National Flag, which includes production and distribution of leaflets has also been embarked upon.
In line with what has been said by Cabinet before, the cluster was also disappointed and embarrassed by the inter-community attacks directed in particular at men, women and children who may have originally came from elsewhere in the continent. We have no doubt as the cluster that our message for peace, love, tolerance and respect for human life and property will indeed continue to prevail amongst our communities if our quest for social cohesion is to become a reality.
Regarding language and terminology development, the Department of Arts and Culture is in the process of finalizing the English source text of the soccer terminology project as well as development of terminology on concepts such as national reconciliation, national unity and social cohesion. So far, the in-house project team has completed providing definitions for all the terms discussed with the subject field specialist. The completed term list has been forwarded to the subject field specialist for final editing before it is taken to the Language Research Development Centres.
Comprehensive Health Care
Health and the provision of health care in our country remains a very contested terrain in our country. As we indicated in our last briefing, one of our key focus areas is the finalisation and implementation of a government-wide integrated comprehensive programme on health promotion targeted at the youth in particular. In terms of our work schedule, we are expecting that by mid-July, a report on this matter will be tabled before the Cluster by the relevant Department. In the meantime, health promotion activities are taking place all over the country.
Regarding tobacco use, we are proud to report that the Tobacco Control Amendment Bill has just been passed by the National Assembly (two weeks ago) and the Bill is being referred to the National Council of Provinces for concurrence. Through this Bill, we seek to further control the advertising, promotion and sale of tobacco products in the country in line with our healthy lifestyles campaign and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Work is also being performed in the area of expanding the number of health promoting schools from 3500 to at least 5000.
Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, asthma and hypertension continue to place a burden on the country’s health care system. Regarding the completion of a framework for long term care for non-communicable diseases, the framework has been sent to provincial health Departments for comments and the Department is following up with its provincial counterparts to finalise this consultation process.
On the reduction of medicine costs, the dispensing fee for pharmacists was gazetted on 01 December 2006 but was subsequently challenged by the pharmacy association. The Pricing Committee considered all inputs on benchmarking and has compiled a report for Minister’s consideration. The Minister will then announce the final methodology for International Benchmarking after the deliberations on this matter have taken place.
On HIV and AIDS, the cluster is happy to report that implementation of the National Strategic Plan for HIV and AIDS is continuing as planned. The 2007 SADC HIV and AIDS Epidemic Report was compiled and submitted to the SADC Secretariat in April 2008 already. The 2007 Annual National HIV and Syphilis Prevalence Survey data has been analysed and the report-writing is currently underway.
We are generally also encouraged by the number of adults who voluntarily take HIV tests in line with our plans to increase such figures from 25% to 35%. Data as at 02 June 2008 indicates that the number of clients tested for HIV (excluding antenatal) is 1 474 437 and the number of lay counsellors on stipend standing at 6 815.
Closely related to this matter is the management of TB in our country. We are encouraged by data which suggests a decrease in both our infection and defaulter rate in line with what the President tasked us in the State of the Nation Address earlier this year. Just this past week in
On infant mortality and the Millennium Development Goals we recently introduced two drugs to be used in our babies as part of our strategy to combat infant mortality and realize our MDG commitments.
Housing and Human Settlements
We are generally encouraged by improvement and progress that this particular area of our work is continuing to witness. To date the Financial Institutions (Banks) indicate that over R38 Billion has so far been released for financing housing development and ownership. You will recall that in the previous briefing, we were standing at R35 Billion. The upward movement of interest rates along with rising fuel and food prices have had the effect of eroding affordability for housing.
As reported previously, the final steps in the transformation of the NHFC are being implemented within the context of a government-wide review of Development Finance Institutions that is yet to be concluded.
Regarding measures aimed at ensuring home ownership, an inclusionary housing policy has been finalized and implemented across private and publicly driven housing development. In our view multiple housing projects that are designed as mixed income housing developments serve to ensure cross subsidization and achieve inclusionary housing objectives.
We are also happy to report that the establishment of the Housing Development Agency is at an advanced stage and the Bill that establishes the Agency is in its final stages in the NCOP. In the meantime, land assembly and acquisition for human settlements is being undertaken through the housing entity (SERVCON Housing Solutions), bilateral partnership with other entities including the Department of Public Works, municipalities and Intersite.
Food Security and Nutrition
Poverty, hunger and malnutrition continue to present serious challenges which have an impact on the health of our people amongst others. This problem is now lately compounded by steep fuel and food prices which make it increasingly difficult for our people to access even basic food-stuffs.
As we reported previously, government is continuing with its Household Food Production Programme amongst other interventions as part of improving food security amongst the most food insecure and vulnerable communities. On the same breadth, government is also continuing with the developing financing requirements for the farmer support programme (MAFISA) focusing mainly on areas of large concentration of farm dwellers and those with high eviction rates. As at April 2008, a total of 11 clients received MAFISA production loans and the total amount disbursed stands at R255 195, 00. Briefly, the breakdown of the disbursement is as follows: all 11 clients funded through MAFISA loans were involved in broiler production. A total of R24 500 disbursed to two individual clients and R230 695 was disbursed to three groups.
Access to and Quality of Education
The third and final year of recapitalisation of our FET colleges began in April 2008 already. Detailed plans from all 50 FET colleges for expenditure of R795 million on infrastructure, equipment and human resources have been submitted and approved by Cabinet. R397,5 million was transferred to colleges in May 2008.
Regarding doubling the number of matric Maths passes, the monitoring visits to 200 Dinaledi schools was due for completion in June 2008. In brief these visits determine progress in meeting the targets for high level maths passes and resource requirements to achieve this goal. We are also proceeding well with improving cooperation and alignment of programmes between SETAs and FETs as well as institutions of higher learning in the country. To this end, service providers have been appointed and a survey on current relationships between SETAs and public FET/HETs underway.
We are also proceeding well with our efforts to double the output of universities in priority sectors by aligning NSFAS and subsidy funding for scarce skills. To realize this objective, government committed R439 million over the 2007-2009 period largely towards improving teaching and learning infrastructure.
On literacy and numeracy, Grade 3 literacy and numeracy baseline assessment have been conducted in 14 QIDS-UP districts covering 3 500 schools. By November 2008 all the districts will have baseline information for monitoring the quality of learning and teaching in literacy and numeracy based on the national standardized tests that will be administered to all learners in grades 1-6 in November 2008.
We are also happy to report that so far 40% of learners (approximately 5 million in over 14 000 schools) are now in no fee schools in terms of the SA Schools Act and this of course is in line with our vision of ensuring free education especially for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The cluster is generally encouraged by progress that we are continuing to witness in the implementation of Government Programme of Action despite the challenges that we continue to experience along the way.
Presented on Behalf of the Social Cluster by:
Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, MP
Minister of Health
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