Research Unit's Five Year Review: Committee programme

NCOP Women, Children and People with Disabilities

06 August 2009
Chairperson: Ms L Mabe (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Select Committee was briefed by the Parliamentary Research Unit on the Committee's mandate, functions and role. The Research Unit offered recommendations for a broad vision over the next five years. The Unit gave a brief history of the organisational structure which preceded the establishment of a Ministry and Department on Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities, an overview of legislation and international commitments and treaties pertinent to their mandate, set out what it saw as the main challenges for the Committee, as well as giving a more focused overview of the issues that the Committee would have to deal with in relation to, respectively, women, children, and persons with disability. The Researchers pointed out that access to appropriate disaggregated data and information about the budget was crucial to the effective monitoring and evaluation of all of these themes.

The Research Unit then presented recommendations concerning the functioning of the Committee, and concurred that it was vital to have a strategic plan, and to confer with other Committees. The Unit advocated a review of the institutional mechanisms to deal with children and the disabled, in order to establish clarity on what 'mainstreaming' of children’s and disability rights meant. It suggested that 30% of the Committee's time be concerned with the issues pertaining to the Parliamentary cycle, along with urgent matters and reactive issues, and that 70% be devoted to key thematic areas that the Research Unit had identified and that were tabled, with a certain set of themes forming the focus for each successive year.

Members enquired what had happened to the equality report commissioned some time ago by Parliament, requested a breakdown of the proposed Departmental structure, clarity on the budget, and further investigation of the large number of dockets in cases of assaults on women that were “mislaid” by the police. They suggested that timelines be suggested for the Departmental work, that the Committee be briefed on why the country reports had not been submitted timeously in line with international obligations, and that the Department must be clear in presenting its Strategic Goals. Members felt that the number of themes identified for the Committee was too burdensome and highlighted that poverty, economic empowerment, education and skills development should form the focus over the next five years. It was necessary to find a focused and practical method of implementation and adopt realistic objectives.

Meeting report

Parliamentary Research Unit Five Year Review
Ms Joy Watson, Senior Parliamentary Researcher, Parliamentary Research Unit, offered a broad overview of the mandate of the new Committee, highlighting pertinent developments over the last five years, the resolution of issues that stood over from the previous Joint Monitoring Committees (JMCs), and key issues with which this new Committee would need to engage.

Ms Watson noted that  noted that prior to the formation of the fourth Parliament and a dedicated Ministry of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities, two JMCs, one focusing on women and the other on children and persons with disabilities, comprising both National Assembly (NA) and National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Members, were responsible for monitoring relevant legislation and looking at it from the perspective of socially vulnerable groups.

She said the Select and Portfolio Committees replacing the JMCs held an expanded mandate, with a clear role to oversee and engage with the Department of Women, Youth, Children and People with Disabilities’ (the Department) budget, programmes, and policies, from the perspective of socially vulnerable groups.

She further noted that the Department was in the process of drafting a Strategic Plan, which had not yet been tabled in Parliament, on which the Committee would need to engage. A key question was whether the role of the new Ministry was to devise new programmes targeting women, children and people with disabilities, or to oversee the work of all government departments from the perspective of women, children and people with disabilities, or both.

She highlighted the importance of the Select Committee in overseeing the work of the government departments, noting that although the Constitution enshrined the rights of socially vulnerable groups, South Africa still had a social context that presented considerable challenges.

Ms Watson noted that the first challenge facing the Committee was clarity regarding its mandate. There had been some confusion regarding the inclusion of youth and the elderly in the mandate of the Ministry and Portfolio Committee. A further task was for the Committee to engage with the strategic planning department on the issue of the budget. The former Minister of Finance, Hon Trevor Manuel, had not allocated any funds for this new Department, and so up until the present, the budget for its operations had been sourced from the Presidency, drawn primarily from the Office on the Rights of the Child and the Office on the Status of Disabled Persons.

She also addressed challenges regarding the organising of meetings. JMC meetings had been infrequent over the years, and the Joint Committees had sometimes convened only two to three times a term, partially due to Friday clashes with sittings of the NCOP. This new Committee had once again been allocated Friday meetings. The new Committee carried significant responsibility, and so it was imperative that it promptly coordinate a schedule to avoid similar operational problems, particularly as one term had already passed. Other priorities included the drawing of a strategic programme and vision for what the Committee sought to accomplish in the next five years. Whilst the Committee would need to attend to outstanding issues from the old JMC, it would also need to be clear on which issues it wished to address on its own initiative, and how it would seek to monitor progress on issues pertaining to socially vulnerable groups.

Mr H Groenewald (DA, North West) inquired what policies were already in place for the Committee to engage with.

Mr Groenewald questioned, in light of the fact that no budget was yet in place, how the Committee would be expected to pursue the interests of socially vulnerable groups, and lend oversight to existing programmes.

The Chairperson noted that each Committee had been allocated R450,000 until the end of August, and therefore the Committee would not be drawing from the same pool of funds.

Mr Groenewald suggested that, in the interest of efficiency, the Committee deal with separate social groups at separate meetings.

Mr Groenewald noted that most Committee Members also held positions on other committees, and it was unlikely that they would be able to attend meetings every week.

The Chairperson concurred that the needs of different socially vulnerable groups should be addressed at different meetings, but as it would not be possible to meet on a weekly basis, suggested rather that the issues of two groups be dealt with per meeting.

The Chairperson then expressed concern about the confusion surrounding the official mandate of the Committee, in terms of which socially vulnerable groups the Committee would have to address.

Mr L Nzimande (ANC, KZN) suggested that the Committee continue with the presentation in order to gauge more clearly the scale and composition of the work before the Committee.
He then expressed reticence over the suggestion that different social groups be dealt with at different meetings. Instead he suggested that the Committee adopt an activist attitude, and attempt to accomplish as much as possible every Friday. He also suggested that, following the presentation, meetings be arranged with other government departments to clarify their respective mandates.

Mr G Mokgoro (ANC, Northern Cape) said it was not clear exactly what work the Committee would be undertaking and how it would be conducted. He suggested that a sub-committee be established to offer guidance and coordination with other relevant committees.

The Chairperson said the Committee should be meeting every Friday as planned, and that since it cannot operate without a coherent strategy, it should agree on a date to begin planning as soon as possible.

Mr O De Beer (COPE, Western Cape) suggested that government clusters meet to schedule meeting times and avoid clashes.
The Chairperson further explained that the reason the Committee had not previously convened was that its Members were obliged to attend budget voting in other Committees in which they participated, but that this responsibility was not required of this Committee as yet.

Mr Mokgoro suggested that as clashes were likely to occur on a Friday, this Committee should reorganise its meetings around the timetables of other committees.

Ms A Qikani (ANC, Eastern Cape) said the Committee should continue with the presentation before establishing a solid timetable.

Parliamentary Research Unit briefing on Women and Gender
Ms Crystal Levendale, Researcher: Gender, Parliamentary Research Unit, introduced the key challenges facing women and gender issues and their implications for the Committee. She noted that the Committee would have a strong oversight role in monitoring key legislation, and that although South Africa did have progressive gender legislation it nonetheless faced major obstacles in terms of implementation and the allocation of resources.

Ms Levendale noted that the legislative issues would be based on the Ministry's concept paper, and the National Gender Policy Framework, and that it had been proposed that this latter document be elevated to the level of an Act.

She said that in the last Parliamentary term, two key pieces of legislation which required monitoring by the Committee had been passed, namely the Criminal Law: Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act, and the Domestic Violence Act. Although the latter was actually passed in 1998, it had a number of gaps that would required the Committee's attention.

Ms Levendale noted that other legislation pertinent to this Committee was still being processed. The gender analysis on the Traditional Courts Bill was made by the JMC on Women, and submitted to the Portfolio Committee on Justice, but was still being processed. She said that in future these two Committees may have to engage in joint public hearings on the matter. Other legislation under consideration included the Reform of the Customary Law of Succession and Regulation of Related Matters Bill, the draft Domestic Partnerships Bill, and the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill.

Ms Levendale noted that from a policy perspective, talks between civil society institutions and government had been initiated on the National Gender Policy Framework, particularly on the institutional mechanisms to be put in place.

Ms Levendale then highlighted the importance of the international commitments; in particular the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender and Development (the Gender Protocol).  She noted that the commitment to CEDAW obliged South Africa to submit regular country reports, the first of which was published in the 1990s, with subsequent reports expected every four years. However, South Africa only submitted a combined 2nd, 3rd, and 4th country report this year, ten years late. The Committee therefore also had a responsibility to monitor the progress of country reports to assure their punctual submission.

South Africa had signed, but not yet ratified, the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, because it was recommended that it first be reviewed by this Committee.

Other relevant international commitments included the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly Goal 3 of promoting gender equality and Goal 5 of improving maternal health; the Beijing Platform for Action; and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women. In the case of the latter, it was not quite clear if a report was submitted in 2007, or if a report was due this year.

Ms Levendale added that other key issues for consideration by the Committee during this parliamentary term would be focused on the establishment of institutional mechanisms to confront the vital issues affecting women in South Africa. It would be essential to clearly establish what the relationship between the new Ministry, Department and Committees would be, and to ensure coherence in the national gender machinery to guarantee the efficient monitoring of implementation of legislation and evaluation of targeted policies and strategies. Some of the vital issues affecting women, which the Committee would need to engage with, included violence against women, economic empowerment and skills development, access to services, poverty eradication, and health issues covering quality of care, high rates of maternal mortality, and HIV/AIDS.

Parliamentary Research Unit briefing and recommendations on Children and Persons with Disabilities
Ms Kashifa Abrahams, Parliamentary Researcher: Children, Youth and People with Disabilities, Parliamentary Research Unit, reviewed the key issues pertaining to children, youth and people with disabilities. Before elaborating on policy and legislation she indicated the overlap in the categories of 'children' and 'youth', with the former referring to anyone under the age of 18, and the latter, according to the National Youth Policy, referring to anyone between the ages of 14 and 35. Thus, although the 'youth' were not officially part of the Committee's mandate, many of the women and people with disabilities would fall under the 'youth' category, which meant that the Committee would also have to consider the National Youth Policy among its responsibilities.

Other important policies included the National Programme of Action for Children, the Integrated National Disability Strategy (INDS) and its effect on public service Policy. As South Africa had now ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, a particular policy framework had been developed by the Presidency to investigate how it would be effectively implemented.

Ms Abrahams noted that the Committee must urgently review the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill. Other relevant legislation currently being processed included the Film and Publication Bill, particularly the clause dealing with matters around child pornography and images of child abuse, the Social Assistance Amendment Bill, particularly the monitoring of pertinent social security mechanisms such as the Care Dependency Grant (CDG), Foster Care Grant (FCG), Disability Grant (DG), and Child Support Grant (CSG), and the Refugees Amendment Bill.

Other legislation already passed, and over which the Committee must exercise oversight in regard to implementation, included the Children’s Act, the Child Justice Act, Sexual Offences Related Matters Act, and the National Youth Development Agency Act, and to ensure coherence between the actions of the Ministry and national policy.

Turning to international treaties and commitments for children, Ms Abrahams highlighted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the issue of belated country reports. The last submission to the UN was in 2000, and at the moment the second country report has been completed, with the third in a draft form waiting for Cabinet approval. The Committee would need to monitor these submissions, and attend to whatever feedback was received from the UN.
With regard to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, she said she was unable to establish whether South Africa had ever submitted a report, and that this was of great concern.

She then highlighted the international treaties and commitments for people with disabilities, and reiterated the point that South Africa had ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability as well as the Optional Protocol, further noting that South Africa has been nominated as one of the key countries to pilot the implementation of this treaty, and that the Committee had a crucial role in liaising with the relevant Office of the Presidency to track the progress of the initial country report due in 2010.

She also noted that South Africa's other binding commitments included the Millennium Development Goals, all of which have some bearing on children and people with disabilities, and that the target date was 2014.

Ms Abrahams therefore summarised that the main responsibilities of the Committee lay in the overseeing and monitoring of reports and follow up recommendations.

Specifically turning to issues affecting children, she noted that the JMCs had developed several main themes encompassing key challenges. The first theme of child protection included gender-based violence, abuse and neglect, child pornography, Ukuthwala, and access to social services and health care. In relation to the second, interrelated, theme of child survival and maternal mortality, South Africa showed unacceptable rates of mortality of children between one and five years old, and she warned that if this continued, South Africa was unlikely to meet MDG targets. Those children were usually dying from a range of preventable diseases, greatly exacerbated by the scourge of HIV/AIDS. However, it was impossible to monitor these matters without vital registration details and statistics on the extent to which children were able to access social services and health care. It was thus essential to investigate how children, mothers and care-givers were surviving in communities. The third theme of social security revolved largely around monitoring the uptake of social grants such as the CSG, FCG and CDG. The fourth theme related to education, and here highlighted the importance of early childhood development, access to and quality of education, and dropout rates. She briefly noted that the fifth theme of children in conflict with the law revolved largely around the implementation of the new Child Justice Act. The sixth theme that she identified highlighted the provision of basic services, and would require an examination of the extent to which basic services could be rendered to communities and the degree to which children and persons with disabilities had access to them. 

Finally, she was at pains to point out that the last theme of monitoring of MDGs was not a totally separate issue, but part of the monitoring of each of the issues already described.

Ms Abrahams noted that access to appropriate disaggregated data and information about the budget was crucial to the effective monitoring and evaluation of all of the above themes.

Turning to key issues affecting persons with disabilities, she noted that these included healthcare and access to rehabilitative and assistive services. Transport and accessibility were continuing concerns, particularly in relation to public transport, and she suggested that a public participation initiative, such as public hearings, could help in understanding the extent to which people with disabilities were able to access transport. She also emphasised that in relation to social security, the Committee must place priority on monitoring and evaluating social grants such as the Disability Grant and Care Dependency Grant (CDG) and noted that the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) was already involved in a review of the CDG. A further point of concern was a possible gap in the system concerning worker's compensation in the public service. At present, public servants, after having been injured in the workplace, were not receiving compensation for their time spent in hospital. Education issues identified as priorities included access and transition between secondary and tertiary institutions, dropout rates, and early childhood development.
In relation to employment equity, Ms Abrahams noted that the Government had not met its 2% target, as disabled persons still only accounted for between 0.2 and 0.4% of employees across all departments. The Committee would need to investigate why this was so.
In relation to economic empowerment, there were high rates of unemployment among people with disabilities, and she said that an investigation into the relationship between persons with disabilities, Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) and access to finance was necessary. Similar to the case with children, it should be investigated how far access to basic services was extended to people with disabilities. Finally, in relation to accessibility to the media, she noted that the JMC had asked that both the Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB) and South African Broadcasting Corporation must submit status reports. Similar to what she had stated earlier, it would be necessary to have appropriate disaggregated data and information about the budget in order to effectively monitor and evaluate.

Research Unit’s proposals on Functioning of Committee
Ms Abrahams then turned to issues for consideration, and recommendations concerning the functioning of the Committee. She concurred with Members on the importance of strategic planning, noting that last year the JMC had engaged in strategic planning with the aid of an external facilitator, and had achieved 80% of its objectives. She also highlighted the importance of conferring with other Committees to help this Committee accomplish its goals.

Insofar as institutional mechanisms for children and those with disability were concerned, she advocated a review of the machinery, establishing clarity on what 'mainstreaming' of children’s and disability rights meant. She asked the Committee also to consider the question of how best to operate in the sectoral parliament. 

She then turned to recommendations on how the Committee should operate to fulfil its full mandate. She proposed that 30% of the Committee's time be concerned with the issues pertaining to the Parliamentary cycle, along with urgent matters and reactive issues. The Committee should then devote 70% of its time to key thematic areas as outlined by the Research Unit. She pointed out that these proposed themes were structured annually, and each year a different set of thematically related issues would be tackled. She suggested that the remainder 2009 be devoted to violence and socially vulnerable groups, including issues such as abuse and neglect, school based violence, trafficking, access to shelters and healthcare services and enforcement of the Child Justice Act. 2010 would be devoted to survival and development, including issues such as child survival, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, and access to health, social, and basic services. 2011 would be devoted to poverty and economic empowerment, including issues such as investigating the effectiveness of social security and poverty eradication programmes, how well SMMEs were functioning, and unemployment strategies. In 2012 the Committee should address education and skills development, including issues such as access to quality education, special needs, the function of Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) and effectiveness of bursaries. 2013 would be a year of consolidation and review of the effectiveness of the new Ministry, institutional machinery and work done.

She noted that the Parliamentary Researchers were passionate about the issues explored, were very open to responses and suggestions from the Committee and desired to assist the Committee fulfil its mandate.

Mr Nzimande inquired about the status of a completed 'Equality Report' commissioned by, but apparently not further acted upon by Parliament, and suggested that it be resuscitated.

Ms Watson replied that she did not think that the recommendations of the Equality Report had been thoroughly followed through, and agreed that it would be a worthwhile exercise to check the position.

Mr Nzimande also requested that the Department present to the Committee a breakdown of its structure.

Ms Watson said that the Department, like other departments, would have a Director General as the Accounting Officer. The Department would be sub-divided into four units, one each for women, children, disabled persons and the elderly, and each would be headed by a Deputy Director-General. Each unit would be mandated to devise a national plan of action, which would require oversight by the Committee. She suggested that it might be useful for this Committee to join with the Portfolio Committee when the Minister addressed the latter. She added that a draft of the Strategic Plan was now available.

She reiterated that the allocation of R450 000 was a temporary measure, until the Department was granted its own budget.
Ms A Qikani (ANC, Eastern Cape) requested comment on the phenomenon of 'missing dockets', stating that often the dockets relating to women reporting physical or sexual abuse to the police would be “mislaid” and not followed up.

Ms Watson agreed that the issue of missing dockets was of huge concern. Although the South African Police Service (SAPS) was responsible for crime prevention, it was in fact under resourced, inefficient, and generally insufficient. Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that the police were rated according to crime statistics, which provided them with an incentive to alter their statistical records. She added that the fact that crime statistics were rising was not necessarily a sign that crime was on the increase, but could be taken as a positive indication that people were more confident in approaching the police to report crime.

Ms Qikani suggested that the Committee should play an oversight role in this matter.
The Chairperson assured Ms Qikani that her concerns would be incorporated into the draft report and followed through.

Mr Groenewald expressed his concern about the general disarray of the Department. While understanding that this was to a certain degree inevitable when forming a new department, he requested solid deadlines and 'cut-off dates' to spur it into action. 

Ms Watson noted that there was a clear separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government, and whilst it was not within their general power to impose deadlines, one of the purposes of the Parliamentary Committees was to hold the Executive to account, and proactively monitor the fulfilment of the Executive mandates. Now that a draft Strategic Plan was in place, the Committee could therefore monitor the completion of the plans.

The Chairperson expressed her concern about the belated international reports and said that it would be necessary to improve on this. She further enquired who was submitting reports, if South Africa was not doing so. She expected officials who were responsible for submitting reports to respond to the Committee on this matter.

Ms Watson said that anecdotal evidence seemed to suggest that one of the key reasons for late submissions was tied in to the lack of external accountability and monitoring. It was thus essential for this Committee to use its mandate to monitor the progression and punctual completion of these reports.

The Chairperson said that when the Department presented its Strategic Plan, it must ensure that recommendations were made, as it must be recognised that the Committee was not as well-versed in the subject matter as the presenters.

Ms Abrahams said that when the Ministry briefed the Portfolio Committee, the Minister would be accompanied by her personal assistant, a special advisor, the Director-General, and representatives from the Office on the Rights of the Child and the Office on the Status of Disabled Persons. She added that a Strategic Planning Workshop of this Committee had been held in the previous week and the Research Unit was hoping to see a draft plan developed today. She would forward the draft, once received, to this Committee.

The Chairperson proposed alterations to the annual themes that were suggested. She said that the themes for 2009 were already ongoing. The Committee should instead prioritise those listed for 2011 and 2012, being poverty, economic empowerment, education and skills development.

Mr De Beer proposed that access to basic services and health care also be named as a key theme for 2009/10.

The Chairperson cautioned against pursuing too many themes in a single year. If implementation was to be practical, then it must be focused. She reiterated that the four themes mentioned earlier should be pursued over the next five years. There were only four months remaining in 2009 and so complex or numerous issues should not be tackled in this period. There was a need to devise pragmatic strategies to ensure that realistic objectives were adopted.

The Chairperson also noted that the Committee was already behind schedule. For this reason, the timetable between now and 18 September would be altered. Members should submit any concerns that they wished to raise to the Committee Secretary. A new draft timetable would be available on Wednesday.

The meeting was adjourned.


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