The provincial negotiating mandates on the Social Assistance Amendment Bill [B5B-2010] were presented.
Eight provinces indicated that they were in favour of the Bill, with the Western Cape representative advising that he had not yet been informed of his Provincial Legislature’s decision. However, some concerns were noted. Gauteng questioned the capacity of the independent tribunal to handle all appeals, noted that there was already a backlog, and recommended an internal review process that should be completed within 30 days. There were concerns about the delay of the harmonised assessment pool. Gauteng also questioned what would happen to applications older than 90 days, and whether an applicant could apply for interim relief or retrospective payment while grants were processed. Eastern Cape was concerned that offices must be easily located, to accommodate those with limited means, and to ensure that applications could be forwarded within the stipulated time. North West thought that more public participation was required in these processes. KwaZulu Natal had held a public hearing, but had concerns over the lack of time to hold further hearings and the fast-tracking. Another Member pointed out that public hearings were not necessary and that information could be conveyed to the public through local newspapers.
The Department of Social Development confirmed that it had capacity, agreed that decentralisation would be important, and reported that a provincial panel would be formed, would assess the size of the community and assign cases, with more panels in more densely populated areas. Back payments would be made if there were delays, with the possibility also that applicants could ask for interim social relief. Concerns around time frames would be dealt with by the Department’s legal division.
Social Assistance Amendment Bill [B5B-2010]: Presentation of negotiating mandates
The Chairperson asked provinces to present their negotiating mandates.
Mr W. Faber (DA, Northern Cape) presented the negotiating mandate for the Northern Cape province. The Local Legislative Committee supported the amendment.
Ms B Mncube (ANC, Gauteng) presented the negotiating mandate for Gauteng Province. Although the provincial legislature supported the principals and details of the Bill, and thus was in favour of it, there were nonetheless some concerns about the capacity of the independent tribunal to handle all appeals for the entire province. There was a part-time tribunal and the National tribunal functioned without any decentralisation. This had created a backlog in appeals, as the tribunal was not able to handle all of the appeals. An internal review process was recommended, to be completed within no more than 30 days.
There was also concern over applications that were older than 90 days, and the question was posed whether applicants would receive any retrospective payment, or interim payments while their applications were being processed.
Further concerns were expressed about the delay of the harmonised assessment pool, due to the inclusion of people suffering from chronic illnesses.
The Chairperson was unsure if these issues were dealt with at a National or Provincial level, and said that they were supposed to have been explained in the previous meeting.
Ms M Moshodi (ANC; Free State) presented the negotiating mandate and reported that the Free State was in favour of the Bill.
Ms D Rantho (ANC; Eastern Cape) stated that the Eastern Cape Province was in favour of the Bill, but expressed concern for applicants who were unable to forward their applications before or on the closing date, due to the inaccessibility of the appeals offices. Offices should be easily located so as to accommodate applicants with limited means who had to travel from afar.
Mr T Mashamaite (ANC; Limpopo) stated that Limpopo Province was in favour of the Bill, having taken public comments into consideration.
Ms M Makgate (ANC; North West) said that the North West Provincial Legislature’s Portfolio Committee on Health and Social Development felt that greater public participation was needed in these processes.
Ms Yatima Nahara (Chairperson; Committee on Social Development, KZN Legislature) said that after a public hearing was held in KwaZulu Natal, this legislature had agreed that the Bill would be supported. There was, however, concern regarding timeframes, fast-tracking and the lack of time to hold public hearings. Only two public hearings were held thus far, which were not well-attended due to poor communication.
The Chairperson noted these concerns and said that attempts would be made to rectify these areas.
Mr M de Villiers (DA; Western Cape) said that he was awaiting confirmation from the Western Cape legislature as to whether its Committee on Social Development was in support of the Bill.
Ms M Boroto (ANC; Mpumalanga) said that Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature had voted in favour of the Bill.
Department of Social Development (DSD) and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ) feedback
Ms Virginia Petersen, Programme Manager: Appeals Tribunal, Department of Social Development, said that the Department of Social Development (DSD) had the capacity to do the required work with the provincial panels. However, decentralisation was important. Up to 50 new posts for doctors and lawyers would be advertised during the month of September. In order to reduce expenses, members of the local community concerned would be recruited. A provincial panel would be formed, with its members being trained and sent to certain areas. They would look at the size of the community and assign cases accordingly. Numbers would be the deciding factor, and more panels would be assigned to areas that were larger in size. There would be three members per panel for oral hearings, depending on the numbers of cases. If payment was delayed there would be a back issue. In the past three months, cases had increased from 400 cases per month to 3 000.
Mr Thabo Rakoloti, Chief Director: Department of Social Development, stated that the concerns around the time frames would also be dealt with by the legal service division. He was of the view that if these were to be included in the Bill, then a 30-day period should apply. He noted that if a grant was suspended, an applicant should apply for interim social assistance and relief, based on the hardship the applicant was experiencing. Retrospective payments would be made, from the date that the grant was suspended, if the grant was subsequently reapproved.
Mr W. Faber (DA, Northern Cape) said that, according to the Social Assistance Act, it was not essential to have public hearings and public notices could be published in local newspapers to update the public on developments.
Mr Gideon Hoon, State Law Advisor; Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, replied that it could be dangerous to facilitate public involvement at this stage.
The meeting was adjourned.
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