South African Social Security Agency service delivery model: briefing in Minister and Deputy Minister of Social Development's presence

Committee: Social Development

Chairperson: Ms P Tshwete (ANC)

Date of Meeting: 24 Oct 2011

Summary

The South African Social Security Agency briefed the Committee on its Service Delivery Model. The Agency asserted the need for better infrastructure, more standardized processes, and reduction of over-crowding in service units. The Agency also introduced the idea of a rapid response task force that would be able to report to service points where assistance was needed. Biometric enrolment of each beneficiary at the time of enrolment was a key project. The concept of flexi hours, which would require certain employees at certain service points to report to the service point earlier than the usual time of starting work, to cater to the demands of the beneficiaries, was presented. Long-term projects were also discussed and included the adoption of a new payment model.

The Minister of Social Development provided her comments on the Agency Delivery Model stating that she was pleased that the South African Social Security Agency had catered its services to the individual so willingly. She also affirmed that the adoption of a new payment model was important.

The Deputy Minister of the Department of Social Development welcomed the idea of biometric enrolment. She also voiced concern over the cross-border issue in which residents from neighbouring countries inhabited Rural Development Project housing for a limited amount of time simply to acquire the rent money.

The Committee welcomed the ideas put forth by the South African Social Security Agency. Committee Members expressed concern over the lack of office space that the Agency currently faced. It was suggested that a partnership between the South African Social Security Agency and the Department of Public Works be created because this Department currently had office space that could be utilized. The Committee also welcomed the idea of biometric enrolment, stating that it would significantly reduce internal risk. While there were questions regarding the budget of the biometric enrolment project, the Agency asserted that there was enough money in the budget. The idea of flexi hours was widely welcomed and the Committee praised the South African Social Security Agency for catering its services to the individual.



Minutes

Ms Y Botha (ANC), Chairperson, was not present, so Ms P Tshwete (ANC) was elected as Acting Chairperson.

South African Social Security Agency on its service delivery model: briefing
Ms Virginia Petersen, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SASSA stated that the aim of the briefing was to provide an understanding of the newly developed Service Delivery Model (SDM). The key strategic priorities of SASSA were: to provide a  customer care centred benefits administration and management system, to improve organisational capacity, and to increase access to social security services. SASSA had experienced a number of challenges that included lack of uniformity, lack of standardization, and overcrowding at service points. The SDM (please see slide 13) aimed to address these challenges.

SASSA must progress in its management framework. The goal  was to have a framework that covers people, processes, and materials. The focus should be on effective strategic planning, optimal organisational design, and good corporate governance. There should be more need-based research and development and SASSA should be more invested in trend analysis.

The two major components of the Social Assistance Administration were benefits administration (application management, beneficiary maintenance, internal decision reviews and enrolment) and benefits transfer (payment). (Please see chart, slide 20). 

Ms Petersen spoke about the changes in benefits administration. There was a need to reduce risk and a need to increase screening. SASSA should aim to reduce the number of paper forms that it used. There should be a seamless integration of applications, reviews, customer support and payments.

She asserted the importance of benefits transfer stating that there was a need to educate the people of South Africa about the value of the SASSA grant card. A beneficiary issued with a SASSA grant card could use it to access benefits through multiple payment channels including: automated teller machines (ATMs), Point of Sale Devices, retail outlets, banks, pre-paid cards and other accredited service providers. There were staggered payments throughout the month, regardless of the payment channel used - without creating hardship for existing beneficiaries.  Lately, people had been paying too early in the morning and complaining that their demands were not being met. SASSA must do what was important for the people at all times.

There were several key areas of focus for the SDM and these key areas should be implemented by March. Under Service Delivery Improvement, the primary focus would be on local offices and other areas of client interface.  Other key areas of focus included infrastructure improvement that must be improved so that staff and beneficiaries could talk. The infrastructure was so bad right now that it was quite hard to talk about confidential issues.  Standardization of processes must also be addressed. Currently, every office had a different work-flow. When individuals came into SASSA, it should not matter to which office the individual went. Disability management also needed to be standardised. Other key focus areas included filling critical posts at local offices, reduction of over-crowding at service points through improved use of the mobile units, amongst other initiatives, and the establishment of rapid response teams of staff who could intervene at service points where challenges were experienced.

Under the automation of key business processes a key area of focus was an end-to-end solution - covering application, payment, and beneficiary maintenance. This was the most critical issue. There was a need to switch systems. This needed to be accomplished through “stress testing” that should be done on more than just an office, but an entire province. This process should begin in November. SASSA was looking to switch over to Oracle, which was one system that SASSA could use for its grants and its administration. There was a need for experts to come into SASSA and address the current system. Another key area was the introduction of a biometric enrolment of beneficiaries at point of application. This would reduce the internal risk. Every worker that worked with a customer would need to have a biometric enrolment; this system would be more secure than having a password.

Other key areas of focus were Payment Tender, which would run for the next five years, and working towards a clean audit. Working towards a clean audit would require an improved filing system, assistance in sorting filing challenges such as loose correspondence, and improved financial management and governance within SASSA.

Ms Petersen referenced the short-term projects for 2011/12. The first of these was the standardisation of administration processes. There needed to be a review of application and review forms, implementation of a four step process for manual applications - screening, attesting, quality assurance and verification; front and back-ended by customer care, improvement of quality and compliance, biometric access by staff to mission critical systems, document warehouses to address backlogs, and flexi hours to respond to needs of communities. flexi hours would require certain staff members to come in early and go home earlier. In farming towns, individuals tended to want to come into the office earlier, and it was the responsibility of SASSA to meet these demands. The office might also have to be open on Saturdays depending on the community.

She discussed the second short-term project that was the provision of efficient and effective services. SASSA needed to finalise its model for document management, which required moving from medium term warehouses to virtual storage, to strengthen customer care involvement in process: meet and greet, direct accordingly and evaluate quality and satisfaction on conclusion of service, the implementation of a virtual training centre, and the improvement of identified local offices and pay points. Training of staff members was something that needed to place in house. Virtual training was more efficient. Staff members need to be taught how to use the toolkit for the SDM; this should be done through the centre.

Of the medium-term projects for 2012/14, the overarching project was the development of an automated end to end solution which included: direct single capture information, biometric access for applicants and beneficiaries to process: improve validation of identity and facilitate enrolment for payment, scanning in supporting documents, electronic (virtual) registry, on-line interfaces to external databases for validation of information, and to create multiple access points for take on, maintenance functions and payments.

Among the long-term projects for 2014/16, SASSA was committed to the implementation of its new payment model. SASSA also aimed for the full implementation of an end-to-end solution. SASSA owned all businesses from take on, through payment and maintenance for the complete life cycle of the grant.

(Please see presentation document.)

Discussion
The Acting Chairperson thanked SASSA for a comprehensive report. She expressed her concern with the cost of the biometric enrolment. It would be expensive. How did the budget cover this? Were the rapid response teams ready to be deployed? Was there a contract amongst the people that would be part of the rapid response team? The Chairperson asked for questions from other Members of the Committee.

Ms J Masilo (ANC) noted that the standardisation of officials within SASSA was important. They should all have the same name-tags. The Departments of Health and Home Affairs had already more standardised processes. The Department of Social Development (DSD) needed to take their example more seriously. There was also a large problem with the amount of office space. In the Department of Public Works, a lot of the buildings were empty. Public Works and DSD should aim to work together to resolve the issue of office space.

Ms S Kopane (DA) was happy with the plan of action by SASSA. This was the first time that SASSA had had such a concrete vision. There was a greater need for cross-border investigation. There was also concern over the high turnover rate of staff within SASSA. How would this be addressed? She complimented SASSA on improving cross-checking with other departments and was also pleased that SASSA was realizing that it should be more focused on the costumer.

Ms P Xaba (ANC) referenced a specific case of an elderly couple being robbed in KwaZulu-Natal relating to an ATM. She noted that there should be a mechanism in the banking system to deal with this.

The Acting Chairperson agreed with Ms Xaba.

Ms H Makhuba (IFP) stated that she just had comments. She welcomed the presentation and the service delivery model that SASSA was trying to put into place. She stated that SASSA had become an agency of social development that was truly people-oriented. She praised the flexi hours concept, as well as the idea of home visits. SASSA should be concerned about the office space currently available as well as with the challenge of inadequate staffing.

Ms T Kenye (ANC) noted her concern with the flexi hours project. If staff members and beneficiaries were going to at the office at six in the morning, this was of concern because it would be dark outside and this was a potentially dangerous situation. How long was the time frame for the flexi hours?

The Chairperson stated that she would like to give the Minister of Social Development and her Deputy the opportunity to make comments.

The Hon Bathabile Dlamini, Minister of Social Development, welcomed the comments and the compliments of the Committee. The issues that had been raised here had been talked about for quite some time. She noted the progress made, but mentioned that one of the key challenges was that some of the clients did not have proper documentation – identity documents (IDs). There was need to work on this and stress the importance of documentation to our people. There was need to work harder and move toward working with Non-profit Organizations (NPOs). She stressed the importance of the new payment model stating that it would be a large money saver. Currently, DSD was using service providers from various providers. There was a need to specify the exact demands of the Department and to do this, experts must be hired. Models should be borrowed from other countries.

The Minister referenced the issue of reviews, stating that last week she was in KwaZulu-Natal, visiting people who were mentally deranged and did not apply for their pensions. However, if a home visit were made by a social worker, the situation became easier. That way, these people did not have to go to the offices. If the social worker went to the client, he or she was at least able to assess the conditions of where the people were living.

The Minister stated that her predecessor had found out that there was legislation guiding credit companies and what needed to be done was to ensure that there were regulations that guided people about pensions - that was the priority. People got paid and then went straight to the loan shop. Some of the interest rates were extremely high and needed to be addressed. One must work on this issue with the police. There was at least one case like this in KwaZulu Natal, and the Department was not prepared to handle it. Backlogs needed to be dealt with.

The Minister welcomed the idea of working with the Department of Public Works, but mentioned that many of the buildings that were overcrowded were in rural areas, such as in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

The Minister referenced the issue of cross-border points, stating that there were various issues. There was disagreement with the Department of Home Affairs over documentation issues. She referenced a specific problem with the Rural Development Project (RDP) houses. People came in for two days, collected the money, and left. There were many small children, especially in farming areas that needed to be registered.

Ms Maria Ntuli, the Deputy Minister of Social Development, was glad that the issue of the budget had been brought up. There would never be enough money, but it should be used as well as it could be. She referred to incidents of African residents getting grants from overseas. There should be an investigation on this. It was also important that the people of South Africa understood the difference between the SASSA and DSD and the services that each provided. When people complained, they need to understand what exactly they were talking about, and how to best address it. She welcomed the idea of partnering with the Department of Public Works. To get the buildings ready was a huge problem and there was not enough data on buildings that was available. The Department should also focus on the improvement of offices. The time frame for improving offices should be improved.

The Deputy Minister stated there must be an oath to be signed by the people working for SASSA. People could not just be hired, engage in acts of corruption, and leave. Something strong must be done. She welcomed the idea of electronic fingerprints. It would be good to know who was using a specific system at a specific time.

The Deputy Minister stressed that the cross-border issue was a huge problem that must be addressed. For example, people crossed the border from Swaziland, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe. These individuals came over for a couple of days, stayed in RDP houses, collected the rent, and leave. There was still a lot that needed to be done. She was happy that the CEO and acting chief financial officer (CEO) had done much to get started on that.

The Acting Chairperson thanked the Deputy Minister and asked what the budget for the implementation of biometric enrolment was.

Ms Petersen stated that there was R113 million in this financial year. Enrolment would start for the beneficiaries for next year, and the staff the year following that. There would be a business case that would be prepared and presented to the National Treasury next year.

For the rapid response team, there would be 1 100 posts that would be filled by 01 December 2011 across all provinces. The needs of each office would have to be taken into consideration. The rapid deployment team would be on staff and available whenever there was a problem.

The problem with name tags was that frequently workers lost the tag or left it on their clothes. The rule would  change so now staff members would be required to wear a name tags as they entered. There would be a picture, name, and a number that would be required to enter.

Currently there were 40 trucks deployed. For example, there were seven trucks in KwaZulu-Natal. In Free State, there were both small and large trucks. There was a need for smaller, four-by-four trucks. All of these trucks needed to be serviced in order to be safe on the road and have access to the rural areas.

As to flexi hours and clients coming when it was still dark outside, people would still come to the offices  regardless of the time of year or day. Ms Petersen was worried that she did not have sufficient coverage for them, and realised that it was the responsibility of SASSA to provide for its clients.

The Acting Chairperson asked what the difference between refugees and illegal immigrants based on countries was. When did they get money in South Africa?

Mr Vusi Madonsela, Director General (DG), Department of Social Development, stated that there were strict categories. Firstly, there was a permanent resident. These were people that were not citizens, but had been in South Africa for at least five years and met the requirements including the fact that they were employed and able to take care of themselves. Secondly, there were refugees. When such a person entered the country, he or she was not a refugee, but an asylum seeker. He or she must show that he or she was  running away from political persecution or civil war. Then it was necessary to wait for the application to be approved so in order to enter into refugee status. Refugees did not stay in refugee camps, but had integrated themselves into South African society. That was why there were many of them trying to find jobs. When a person had been granted refugee status, for all intents and purposes they enjoyed the exact same rights as a citizen. Some refugees received disability grants. Refugees could also apply for child support grants, although not many did this. Thirdly, there were people who were in the country illegally. The State did not have the responsibility to provide certain services to them, only to children who were in the country illegally.

The Acting Chairperson thanked Mr Madonsela for a very thorough answer.

Mr Madonsela added that the new model was about transforming the entire programme. Internally, SASSA was looking at the optimal organisational structure and the acquisition of new equipment that dealt with issues of fraud prevention. The model was intended to turn SASSA into an organisation that served the people. More and more people would deal with SASSA through giving an electronic payment.

The meeting was adjourned.