The South African Older Persons Forum (SAOPF) briefed the Committee about the problems and challenges facing older persons in South Africa. SAOPF firstly raised concerns about related to home based care, which was important to keep older persons in their communities as long as possible, and to continue with their role in the family and community. It was noted that many of the services for which DSD was responsible were actually provided by non governmental, community or faith organisations, who were under funded, and that many rural areas did not receive these services. Frail care suffered through lack of any single standards, and a variation of costing models over different provinces. There were shortages of skilled personnel in this area, and payment problems caused problems in service delivery. The Nursing Council had decided to exclude geriatric nursing science from the training curriculum for nurses, and although it had been asked to reconsider this decision, it had failed to respond to letters from the Department of Health to date. Many health professionals also had negative perceptions about this branch of medicine, and many doctors were ill-equipped to deal with the special requirements of geriatric patients. Older persons complained about a variety of health issues, ranging from general lack of respect shown to them, to lack of proper information given, shortages of medication and long waiting times. The SAOPF had discussed whether the means test should still be applied for old-age grants, or for a social pension, and had requested that a committee be formally appointed to look into the issue and cost, as well as try to simplify the current procedures. Older persons were particularly concerned about the situation at paypoints of the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), with problems here ranging from long queuing times, to lack of quite basic facilities, including toilets and shelter and seats, to the fact that they were harassed by loan sharks and vendors and not shown respect by paypoint officials. Although a Memorandum of Agreement had been drafted around these issues, it had not yet been signed. Abuse of elder persons was also problematic in all provinces, and was not, as commonly thought, limited to residential facilities, but occurred in communities, where it was more difficult to detect. Older persons still needed to be education on their rights. Health issues included the prevalence of HIV in the older-50 male age group, but HIV education programmes to the over-50s had generally been shown not effective and there was not a focus on getting this age group under treatment. Housing, although it should be made available to the elderly, tended also to be allocated to younger persons.
Although the Older Persons’ Act was in force, with the regulations now gazetted in April 2010, there were not finalised implementation plans, including time frame commitments, and older persons seemed to be receiving less attention than other issues. If the Act was to be properly implemented, then a substantial budgetary increase would be needed. The recent Free State Court application around the funding of Non Profit Organisations, was discussed, which would have implications nationally because most provinces followed a similar procedure to the one which the Free State Court had declared inadequate.
Members asked about the position of the SAOPF in the provinces and at local government, and about the funding and support it received. Members were interested about any funding given by the Department of Health, asked how this Department and the DSD dealt with multisectoral issues, and what was needed to address the stumbling blocks. Members wondered if the SAOPF had achieved anything since its inception,
how and with what success it dealt with SASSA, and when the Memorandum of Agreement would be signed. Members enquired about the problems at paypoints, suggested that there should be arrangements with banks, stressed the need to education the recipients of the grants and pensions, asked about the usurious loans being offered at paypoints, and asked what was being done about the queues and lack of facilities. Members stressed that it was most important for SAOPF to undertake advocacy and lobbying, asked whether it was encouraging major corporations to shift social programmes to older persons, and what it was doing to ensure that free basic services were granted. Members asked about the recent fires at the old age institutions, and noted that a report would be given, and questioned whether people could be denied access to residential facilities. Members asked about the pilot project around the grants application system, and the turnaround times, when an appointment system would be introduced in all provinces, and noted that SAOPF would be invited to the meeting when the implementation plans were to be presented.
The Chairperson noted an apology from the Deputy Minister of Social Development, who was out of the country.
She welcomed Mr Selwyn Jehoma, Deputy Director General, Department of Social Development (DSD) to the meeting, noting that he had responsibilities in the social security arena.
She said that the South African Older Persons Forum (SAOPF or the Forum) would be presenting on the status of older persons in South Africa, the challenges facing them, the extent to which policies were implemented to meet the needs of older persons in South African society, and the work of the Forum and of Government in meeting the needs of older persons, and the obligations cast by the Older Persons Act (the Act).
Older Persons in South Africa: South African Older Persons’ Forum (SAOPF) briefing:
Problems facing older persons in South Africa
Mr Tom Boya, Chairperson, SAOPF, said due to logistics most of the representatives were from the Western Cape.
Mr Roedolf Kay, National Coordinator, SAOPF, gave a brief overview of older persons in South Africa. He noted that South Africa’s population was ageing, the birth rate was falling, and more people were living to a greater age. The HIV/AIDS pandemic had broadened the gap between youngest and oldest, placing new burdens on the older population and reducing their family support structures. In 2009, it was estimated that 3.7 million, of the total population of 7.5 million, were over 60, and 58% of the over-60s were women. Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal had the highest numbers of older persons, with the Northern Cape having the lowest. African females accounted for the largest spread of older persons.
In August 2005 the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the National Department of Social Development (DSD) held a national convention, which unanimously approved the establishment of the SAOPF. An interim Committee was elected there to establish the SAOPF as a legal entity, and the then-Minister of Social Development, Dr Zola Skweyiya, committed the DSD to establishing the National Forum. Sectoral representation included individuals over 60 years of age, non government organisations (NGOs) and community based organisations (CBOs), Faith based organisations (FBOs), academics, the private sector, stakeholders promoting the interests of older persons, rural community representatives and representatives of war veterans.
The vision of SAOPF was to have a society for all ages, in which the contribution of older persons was acknowledged, where older persons could experience security and personal fulfilment, where the right and dignity of older persons was respected, and where older persons had a role to play in development. Its mission was to identify and articulate the concerns and needs of older persons, as voiced by them, and, in consultation with government and other role players, to ensure that those needs were addressed in legislation, services and programmes. Forums had been established at provincial, regional and district levels in South Africa.
SAOPF was an umbrella organisation to which most NGOs, FBOs and CBOs that had an interest and worked directly with older persons belonged, with provincial representation. The Forum was a Section 21 company and a non-profit organisation. Provincial forums were mostly registered as non-profit organisations, but they functioned independently of the SAOPF, and had separate NPO numbers, in order that they could apply for funding from their own provincial governments.
Mr Kay then touched on issues affecting older persons. Firstly, home based care was important to keep older persons in their communities as long as possible, which would enable them to continue with their role of advising, educating and transferring skills, history, cultural values and religious beliefs to their children and grandchildren. Although responsibility for caring for older persons rested on many, these services were mostly provided by NGOs, FBOs and CBOs. They were under-funded. In many rural areas, the services were either under-funded, or were non existent. DSD acknowledged the need for funding but said that none was likely to be available and that donor funding was needed.
Frail care was another important area. There was currently no single standard, resulting in substantial differences in the costing models in the different provinces. He recommended that costing models should be universally applied, in line with norms and standards. The biggest line item for frail care was salaries of care staff. NGOs were losing personnel, who opted for careers offering better remuneration. Although frail care comprised health care, the Department of Health (DoH) did not fund, and DSD subsidised it. An SAOPF Task Team had recommended that DoH and DSD should jointly subsidise nursing personnel. Payments of subsidies were often delayed, with adverse effects on service delivery and facilities and staff. Suitable turnaround times for payment should be standardised and streamlined. DoH, at the request of SAOPF, had requested the Nursing Council, in October 2009, to revisit its decision to exclude Geriatric Nursing Science from the training curriculum of nurses, but to date there had been no response.
Mr Kay turned to the issues of health care and geriatric medicine. In 2004, a survey showed high levels of disinterest and negativity by most medical personnel to geriatric medicine, although younger doctors were more positive about it. Because little emphasis was placed on geriatric medicine in their undergraduate training, many doctors were ill equipped to manage older patients at a primary care facility. As already stated, an appeal had been made to the Nursing Council to re-introduce courses in gerontological nursing science or gerontology (including geriatrics). Older persons expressed extreme dissatisfaction with geriatric services, during public hearings conducted by the SAHRC into the public health care system in 2007. Complaints related to inefficient appointment systems, long waiting times, client overload, understaffed facilities, shortages of medication, unavailability of assistive devices, and perceived lack of proper examinations, failure to explain health problems to older persons, and lack of respect. SAOPF conducted workshops in all provinces, and all raised healthcare issues as concerns, in particular lack of respect shown to older persons by healthcare professionals.
In respect of social security, Mr Kay said that in 2007 then-Minister Dr Skweyiya, had recommended that the means test for old age pensions should be removed as soon as possible, so that all those qualifying under the age requirement should receive the old age pension. To ensure sustainability of the pension system, all employed South Africans must save for retirement. The new pension system must reflect the system of solidarity. This would ensure that the cost of saving for retirement would be reduced significantly. SAOPF, at its 3rd Annual General Meeting, had resolved to negotiate with the DSD on the abolition of the means test for a social pension, as applied to old age grants. SAOPF formally requested that a committee be appointed to investigate the cost of implementing the means test properly, rather than simply abolishing it, and using the savings to extend the grant to older persons. SAOPF thought that the means test application was expensive, and had recommended that if older persons did not qualify on the current means test, money could be recovered through tax. It also pointed out that the currently-difficult application process should be eased so older persons could apply for an old age grant at the age of 60.
The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) paypoints were also problematic, with some elderly people standing in queues from the very early hours of the morning, for up to thirteen hours. The SASSA had contracted with three major service providers. However, the unions had alleged that SASSA had paid R1 billion to outside contractors for “poor and inexcusable service”, which amounted to gross misuse of public money, there were allegations of blatant violations of service level agreements and human rights in regard to the payment of pensions, and some service providers were apparently persuading the elderly to take loans, with usurious interest rates.
The SAOPF and SASSA conducted quarterly meetings at which problems affecting older persons were discussed and a Memorandum of Agreement had been drafted, and was currently awaiting signature. Problems that were raised included the lack of water, toilets, seating, shelter and fences at pay points, the long queues, especially in some provinces, the long distance and high cost of getting to a pay point, the lack of helpdesks, and lack of medical assistance to those standing in queues. In some areas, pensions were paid through shops, which then forced grant recipients to buy that shop’s goods. Abusive behaviour by staff and harassment by loan sharks and hawkers at pay points were frequently experienced by the elderly.
Mr Kay noted that abuse of older persons was rife in all provinces. There was an increase in reported cases of abuse due to the international World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD. It was not true that elder abuse only occurred in care or residential facilities, but abuse was more difficult to expose and investigate in communities, especially in the remoter rural areas. The Older Persons’ Act (the Act) aimed at protecting older persons living in communities as well as in care and residential facilities. However, proper implementation required intersectoral collaboration, involving government departments and civil society partners. Increased budgets for services to older persons would be required if the Act were to be properly implemented.
Mr Kay reported that the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) report of 2009, on HIV prevalence rates, found that men over the age of 50 were an HIV priority risk group. This study also showed that programmes aimed at educating older persons about the pandemic failed, with 37.8% of people over 50 not getting the message. The Muthande Society for the Aged in KwaZulu Natal claimed that older persons faced discrimination around HIV services, because of wrongly held assumptions around their sexuality and the age group affected by the disease. Older women were often the primary care givers of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
Mr Kay then turned to housing issues. A study done by Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE) and DSD on the Status of Older Persons in South Africa in 2009 showed that only about 17% of this group received municipal, Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) or government subsidised houses, despite the fact that policy stipulated that recipients of the old age grant were eligible for the housing subsidy scheme.
Implementation of the Older Person’s Act, No 13 of 2006
Mr Kay reminded Members that the first draft of the Bill appeared over ten years, but it was finally signed in December 2006, whilst draft regulations were finalised and gazetted on 1 April 2010. A draft implementation plan for the Act was finalised, but no time frames were attached to implementation. The implementation of the Act and Regulations by provinces was of crucial importance. These provided for the services older persons could expect, and set out how the rights and dignity of vulnerable older persons, especially in rural areas, would be observed and protected.
The SAOPF requested an update from all provincial departments regarding the progress of implementation plans for the Act, but several responses were delayed. Very little information was available on the time frames for the provincial implementation of the Act, and the responses from all provincial DSD offices on the implementation of the Act were still awaited. Older persons seemed not to receive the same attention as children and people with disabilities. The combining of portfolios meant that provincial officials could not cope with their workload, with the result that older persons’ forums were not getting off the ground, service delivery was negatively affected and older persons felt they were being sidelined and neglected by DSD.
If the Act was to be effectively implemented by DSD, a substantial increase in the budget for the Directorate for Care and Services to Older Persons was required. Although partnerships between government and civil society were formed for the provision of services to older persons, the budget allocated to Care and Services to older persons, both at national and provincial levels, was inadequate to ensure the implementation of the Act, the rollout of services and effective advocacy.
NGOs offered a range of services to older persons, including social support groups, training and education, income generating projects, frail care services, transport to health facilities, luncheon clubs and Home Based Care. DSD delegated its responsibilities for delivery of services to older persons to NGOs, but these were mostly under funded. NGOs were frustrated by delays in payment of subsidies, delays in transfers of funding that had already been allocated, and the lack of consultation on DSD’s part, which in turn caused disruptions in service delivery. Services to older persons in formerly disadvantaged areas and more affluent areas must be brought in line.
Mr Kay noted that three NPOs had recently brought a Court application against the DSD, after years of frustration about the way in which the DSD dealt with transfers or subsidies. The Free State High Court had this year instructed the Free State Provincial Government to come up with a better policy in respect of NPOs in that province, but this impacted upon others because the national policy for funding of NPOs was almost identical. The judgment noted that 1400 NPOs were currently funded by the Free State Provincial DSD, which relied on the NOPS to deliver services on behalf of the DSD, in particular under the Children’s Act and the Older Persons Act. It was found that the Provincial Department had failed even to pay the already allocated subsidies, and lacked leadership and/or capacity, and it was ordered to revise its policy, and the implementation of that Court order was to be supervised by the Court.
Mr Kay finally noted that the DSD only funded the Western Cape SAOPF, whilst that in KwaZulu Natal was part of the Premier’s services to older persons. Many other provincial forums were either struggling, or had never been founded.
Ms J Masilo (ANC) pointed out that the Freedom Charter said that the people shall govern. She asked for clarity as to whether all the provinces had coordinators.
Mr Boya responded that only the Western Cape had coordinators, and it was the only funded Forum. KwaZulu Natal and Limpopo Forums were assisted by their Premier’s Office, but only some Premiers had offices to deal with the status of older persons.
Ms Mary Turok, Board Member, SAOPF, said that Mr Kay was the national coordinator. Each province had a coordinator for older persons, but often that coordinator had multiple tasks. Western Cape received funding from the Provincial Department, which enabled it to appoint its own coordinator, who was in the process of setting up district forums.
Ms Masilo asked if the Department of Health subsidised health care facilities for older persons.
Mr Boya responded that this depended on the officials, but did not happen in most cases. There were often problems with transporting people to meetings, which hindered the work of the SAOPF.
Ms Masilo also asked whether the Forum assisted in getting subsidies for local authority services.
Mr Boya responded that the SAOPF was currently tackling that issue. Some provinces were not well organised in moving down to district and local levels. People were informed at country-wide workshops, but still needed to hold discussions with the municipalities. He was meeting with the District Mayors in Limpopo, and the same should be done in all provinces. Policies were in place in all municipalities but were simply not being implemented, with the biggest problem being lack of funding.
Ms P Tshwete (ANC) asked for clarity on the term of office of the SAOPF officials.
Mr Boya clarified that the term of office was one year.
Ms Tshwete asked where SAOPF received its funding, noting that it was a Section 21 company. There was no mention of finances in the report.
Mr Kay responded that the SAOPF was a registered non-profit organisation and a Section 21 company registered with the Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (CIPRO). The reason that the Forum registered as both was in order to obtain international funding, which it was currently trying to obtain. He said that the Forum would provide audit reports. SAOPF was funded by the DSD; the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund; and ABSA Bank. It was also in the process of negotiating funding with the European Delegation to South Africa. He noted that SAOPF, as a non-profit organisation, remained separate from the Provincial Forums. It had its own board of directors, elected at district level. The SAOPF could provide guidelines for district levels, but could not interfere in their running. Provincial forums were established by coordinators who had taken an interest in older persons in provinces. In some provinces, such as KwaZulu Natal, the Office of the Premier funded that Forum, and it was very active, extending to every district.
Ms Tshwete noted the problems facing older persons in health and housing. She said that DSD did not deal with these issues, and therefore wondered if the Forum had a multisectoral committee across other departments.
Mr Boya responded that the question of a multisectoral committee had been discussed with the Minister and Deputy Minister of Social Development, and would also be discussed shortly at MinMEC. There was much overlapping, especially on housing, health and social development.
Mr Kay added that the SAOPF had established a round table, which hopefully would include all government departments, especially Health and Human Settlements (who had not yet responded) and Justice, to discuss issues relating to older persons. Participation really depended on the willingness of individuals.
Ms W Nelson (ANC) asked whether the Forum believed it had made any differences since its inception.
Mr Boya replied that there had been a huge difference since the Forum’s inception in 2005. One of the most important developments was the passing of the Older Persons Act, with its regulations, and the Forum welcomed DSD’s rollout of implementation.
Ms Nelson also asked what stumbling blocks could prevent things being done.
Ms Thuli Mohley, Director, DSD, responded that perhaps a report-back mechanism to a collaborative structure at Parliamentary level would assist in assessing how far the departments mandated under the Act were meeting the needs of older persons. Currently, DoH and DSD were the key role players, but they were not aligning their funding. For example, if an old age home struggled to obtain nappies, each department tended to try to pass the responsibility to the other. The Act was currently silent on how the structure established by the Act must be funded, and to whom reports must be made.
Ms Nelson noted that the SAOPF dealt with SASSA. She asked if this included dealings at municipal and provincial levels, and she asked if it took part in the Integrated Development Planning (IDP) at local government level.
Mr Boya confirmed that there was recognition of SAOPF in the provinces where it functioned and regular meetings were held with district and local municipalities. SAOPF agreed that governance should apply at local level, and it had a local, provincial and national forum.
Ms Nelson asked when the Memorandum of Agreement with SASSA would be signed, and asked when it had been drafted.
Mr Kay responded that this was drafted last year, but the delay in signature probably was attributable to the changes in staffing. It was currently with the Acting Chief Executive Officer of SASSA.
Ms P Kopane (DA) said she was ashamed to hear how government was failing to look after older people. She thought that frail care was a serious issue, and DoH should be on board and assisting in funding home-based carers.
Ms Kopane, who was trained as a nurse, was also surprised to hear that geriatric nursing sciences were now excluded. Community nursing science could not be done without geriatric training, and she asked when this exclusion was announced, saying that she had met students who were still studying this aspect.
Mr Kay said the Nursing Council announced the exclusion in 2009.
Ms Tshwete raised concern that, during a workshop in the Northern Cape, it had been alleged that Cash Paymaster Services (a company contracted by SASSA) provided loans at 50% interest. She asked whether there was a policy as to whether loans should be given to older persons, and the interest rate was far too high.
Mr Jehoma responded that there was no provision in the service level agreement with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) permitting them to render such services. In the Eastern Cape SASSA had successfully challenged CPS on that point, and if the loans were still being taken, then the Court order could be used to challenge them.
The Chairperson referred to the disturbing reports of queues for payment of old age pensions. One way of eliminating or shortening queues would be to use banks, and to allow people to be paid at the beginning of the month, not the 15th, which would mean that they were not tempted to take out loans. She asked whether the SAOPF had encouraged people to use banks, and had explained their choices not to take out loans, or buy groceries from the paypoints or on credit.
Mr Boya responded that he agreed on the issue of banks, but older persons tended to want to receive and be able to count their money. The Forum did encourage older persons to use banks, and had suggested that this be implemented firstly for the Child Grant, as young people tended to be better in using electronic systems and could educate the older people. The congestion at pay points was even worse than shown on the slides, and older persons faced the danger of also being mugged by their own grandchildren, relatives or neighbours, once they had the cash.
Ms Myrtle Christian, Board member, SAOPF, added that older persons were often reluctant to have their money in banks because they were charged for withdrawals. She agreed that loan sharks were a menace and something had to be done about it.
Mr Jehoma said that it was up to beneficiaries to choose their preferred payment method, and SASSA could not impose a system. However, SASSA interacted with older persons on this point and some had said that they preferred to visit a paypoint because it provided them with the opportunity to socialise and discuss issues of common interest with other people of their own age.
Mr Kay added that in many places people did not have access to ATMs. Some people had migrated to using Post Bank, but Post Bank did not have the capacity to deal with all payments. The reality was that most older persons still received their money through pension pay points.
Mr Jehoma added that SASSA had looked at the challenges of moving people to banks. The SAOPF had requested SASSA not to compromise the dignity of the older persons. SASSA engaged with the banks, and it was agreed to stagger payments, with the first two days being dedicated to old age grant beneficiaries and war veterans, and payments being made on the first day to those born between January and June, and on the second day to those born between July and December. The third and fourth payments days would be for disability grants for children and older persons, and the date of birth arrangement would also be applied. The fifth day would be open to all who were paid through the banks. However, if an older person was also receiving a child grant, then he or she could get both payments on the first day, and not have to return twice. He agreed that there were still challenges in regard to bank charges. SASSA was in discussions with the Banking Council, to try to subsidise beneficiaries for these charges.
The Chairperson asked whether SAOPF encouraged people to save, budget, or offered general awareness of financial management.
Mr Boya replied that the Forum did endeavour to educate older persons about budgeting and saving
The Chairperson said that Government provided a basket of services but not all were always up to date. Health services presented many challenges. Government did offer some free basic services for the indigent. She wondered if SAOPF lobbied businesses to procuring benefits for older people, and pointed out that advocacy and, in particular, lobbying were important tools. Most corporate businesses seemed to focus on the youth and food security corporate social programmes. She wondered if SAOPF had lobbied any major corporations, such as Distell or Nestle, to shift their focus and direct funding to restoring the dignity of older people.
Mr Boya emphasised that it was the Forum’s duty to ensure that all municipalities were informed of their obligations towards older persons in terms of free basic services. He agreed that the major focus lay with the youth. SAOPF had sent out many letters to try to shift that but so far had only achieved sponsorship from Lotto and ABSA Bank.
The Chairperson asked the Forum’s opinion on the two recent fires at welfare institutions. It seemed that insufficient attention had been paid to Occupational Health and Safety issues, with inadequate access to fire exits and lack of emergency evacuation plans for older persons. The institutions, since they derived a benefit from their residents, had a responsibility to keep them safe. There were surely weaknesses in the system.
Mr Boya responded that there were actually three fires, and that 23 people had died. He had managed to get donations in respect of the East Rand incident. SAOPF worked closely with DSD and the Mayor’s Office in Gauteng, and the DSD had promised that a proper investigation would be done, which would include SAOPF input. Since the fires, SAOPF had produced a document raising issues such as environmental matters, which he would provide to the Committee.
Ms Myrtle Christian added that she was in frail care, in an old age home, and although the fire equipment was checked every quarter, there had not recently been any up-to-date evacuation plans. People from frail care were likely to be evacuated, in the event of an incident, to a sister-institution for more able people across the road.
Mr Kay added that the media had reported that evacuation procedures were in place. However, the report on the 2005 fire that occurred in KwaZulu Natal had still not been released, so families of the victims had no answers. In reality, many fire escapes at these institutions were locked, for security reasons, to keep intruders out or for the safety of older people who might otherwise wander out. The Forum recommended to the Deputy Minister that there should be an investigation into the fire safety of all homes. Fire detection equipment was important but was also very expensive, and the less affluent and rural homes could not always afford to install it. In addition, old electrical equipment such as stoves and fridges could also cause fires.
The Chairperson noted that several interesting points were raised, including the lack of access to medication, the lack of focus on older persons in HIV/AIDS counselling, and the high HIV infection rate for over-50s, which posed a danger of increasing that group’s mortality rates. AntiRetroViral medication should be made available to all, but the challenge was to ensure that ARVs were given timeously.
Mr Boya said that SAOPF should be included in the South African National Aids Council (SANAC) committee, where decisions were taken, and where older persons were currently not represented.
The Chairperson referred to the time frames for implementation of the regulations, and asked the DSD to report on the costing of the regulations.
Ms H Lamoela (DA) asked for the response of SASSA to problems raised at the quarterly meetings around the paypoints, and asked if there was any improvement in addressing those challenges.
Mr Kay emphasised that the relationship with SASSA was quite cordial, and many of the challenges were related to capacity or budget, the inheritance of staff from the previous provincial departments, and other real issues with which SASSA must deal.
Mr Jehoma responded that the SAOPF had given SASSA a list of concerns, including that some citizens would sleep over at the SASSA offices so as to be first in the queue, or arrive at the offices from 1am, or would queue for long hours. SASSA and SAOPF had worked on addressing those challenges. “Queue walking” was introduced, involving senior personnel going down the line and checking that those waiting were attending the office for the correct purpose, and had all the required documentation. SASSA capacity at the service points was assessed, and if there was insufficient capacity to deal with the numbers on that day, then people would be given appointments for specific times the following day.
Ms Lamoela asked whether SASSA was aware of the 50% interest being charged on loans, and what it was doing about this. She also asked why some applicants were having to wait so long. She reminded SASSA that it had told the Committee that there was a one-day turnaround for applications, especially for the elderly, who were seen immediately if they were seen at paypoints.
Mr Jehoma responded that SASSA had introduced an integrated and automated grants application system (IGAP). This was currently only being implemented in Free State, as a pilot, due to budget constraints. The one-day turnaround was only applicable in the Free State. All endeavours were being made to ensure that applications for grants were finalised within 21 days, although the Regulations required finalisation within 90 days. Where mobile offices were utilised, SASSA was able to achieve the one-day turnaround in villages in the deep rural areas. Officially, however, this would only apply in Free State in the current financial year.
Ms Christian said that older persons suffered a variety of poor treatment, including medications removed, or medication given without explaining what was wrong, or being demeaned and devalued and robbed of their basic right to dignity. They had to be nurtured and properly cared for.
Mr Jehoma concluded that a two-day workshop had been held with older persons, who had asked that they be consulted before any decisions were made that affected them. A possible path to resolve all the challenges, working together, was agreed upon.
Mr V Magagula (ANC) referred to SASSA’s negotiation with the banks, and pointed out that the bank charges applied not to SASSA but to individuals. He suggested that perhaps the transfer of a lump sum to banks might resolve the problem.
Mr Jehoma responded that that would be problematic because it was not only a question of SASSA asking banks to pay money, but they were expected to give SASSA management information on a regular basis, in order to minimise fraud, and prevent SASSA from transferring money to their private accounts. Banks were also required to inform SASSA of dormant accounts. There was an arrangement that social grant beneficiaries could open bank accounts without a deposit and did not have to hold a minimum balance to keep the account active. SASSA had an agreement with the banks. SASSA must also account for all funds.
Ms Nelson asked when the draft Memorandum of Agreement with SAOPF would be signed. She asked why there were no time frames on the implementation plan for the IGAP.
Mr Jehoma clarified that the content of the MOA was agreed with the SAOPF, but SASSA protocol required that it must be legally vetted, which was under way at the moment. He expected that it would be signed by the end of the month. He noted, in terms of the time frames, that IGAP would be phased in over three years.
Ms Tshwete commented that her mother and others, who received a pension, believed that if they did not collect their money on the first day, the banks would take their money. She indicated that a great deal of education was needed so that the older people understood the process.
Ms Tshwete noted that during its study tour, the Committee had noticed that Brazil had dedicated banks and ATMs for this work. However, South Africa had provinces that covered vast distances.
Mr Jehoma agreed with the need for education. SASSA had put aside two months for a comprehensive education and marketing campaign, especially around electronic payments.. A business plan was drawn up and approved by the CEO. SASSA would be interacting with all the relevant stakeholders.
Ms Masilo asked whether the card system and appointments for pensions would be implemented in all areas and all provinces. This had worked well in a district of Mpumalanga, where queues were short.
Mr Jehoma responded that SASSA had requested provinces to identify the areas which either had the worst challenges, or where there was a problem of accounting. Those areas were being targeted first. However, the booking system would be rolled out throughout all provinces. SASSA wanted people to get services under decent conditions, and did not want to compromise their dignity. He would appreciate feedback from Older Persons Forums.
Ms Kopane asked about advocacy for old age homes, pointing out that there were many old age homes in her area that were not being funded, with many people being denied access to accommodation there.
A Departmental representative said that it was only acceptable for a person to be denied access to a care facility if that facility could not meet the older person’s needs, or if there were no vacancies. If an application for admission to a facility was rejected, then the older person had the right to ask for reasons. If there were no vacancies the person should be put onto a waiting list.
Ms Kopane asked about the finance model now fixed for the Free State.
A DSD representative responded that the Free State government still had to come up with an approved manner for paying the grants, had to inform organisations as to how they arrived at the unit cost for frail care.
Mr Kay added that no standard currently existed. Part of the reason for the difficulty was that unit costs differed across provinces, and there had to be some cohesion as to how each province would fund frail care facilities.
The Chairperson asked that Mr Jehoma must get a response on the time frames around the regulations from his colleagues and revert to the Committee.
Ms Turok said that the issue of time frames for implementation of the Act and regulations was of great concern to the Forum. The provinces had been asked to prepare implementation plans. Western Cape was suggesting that this would apply from 2011, but this was still vague, and no priorities appeared to have been formulated yet. The regulations were 130 pages long. It would be very valuable to the Forum and to the Department if the Portfolio Committee could consider the issue in greater detail, and help the Forum to drive the process. The major problem was funding. All the provinces had a cut in the budget for older persons in the current financial year, with a consequent cut in services, and subsidies were frozen. The question of budget had to be interrogated very carefully.
The Chairperson thanked the SAOPF for its presentation, which had clearly highlighted the challenges facing older persons in the country. The SAOPF would be invited to the meeting when the relevant departments were asked to report on the implementation plan for the regulations. She noted that there were some delays with National Treasury around the costing, and this area would require special focus.
The meeting was adjourned.
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