SASSA re-registration process: SASSA briefing; Zero Hunger Campaign: DSD briefing

NCOP Health and Social Services

06 June 2012
Chairperson: Ms B V Mncube(ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) briefed Members on the newly issued SASSA social grant card by outlining, firstly, its re-registration process for all beneficiaries. The main focus of the process was the biometric registration of all users over three stages of implementation. Phase one included the enrolment of all new applications in all the provinces during March when simultaneously Sekulula beneficiaries could also begin registration.  820 330 beneficiaries were listed as re-registered by the end of March. Phase two witnessed payments issued to all beneficiaries and the swapping of old cards for cash beneficiaries. Phase three would occur from June to December during which time the full enrolment of all existing beneficiaries would be completed, SASSA would conduct home visits for old age beneficiaries over the age of 75 who have restricted movement, and all beneficiaries would be issued with a SASSA branded smart card.

Challenges were deductions made from social grants by service providers and micro lenders prior to beneficiaries receiving their grant, and issues revolving around the malfunctioning of equipment and during the re-registration processing period; specifically, it was thought that overcrowding at pay points would occur. Late payments were also included in this list.

Benefits of the re-registration were the identification of fraudulent beneficiaries, eradication of duplication, creation of an electronic centralised database, enhanced educational awareness for beneficiaries regarding deductions, and a risk plan.

The new smart cards would include an embedded chip that contains the beneficiaries’ biometric data and would enable SASSA to ensure ‘proof of life’ prior to processing social assistance grants. This new system would allow beneficiaries to access their money nationwide.

SASSA recommended to the Committee that it support planned activities for the next phase of the project and assist in communication with beneficiaries to encourage them re-register.

Secondly, the Department of Social Development briefed Members on the Zero Hunger Campaign. Hunger continued to be one of the greatest challenges in the new South Africa; a challenge that linked directly with issues of wealth distribution in the country. As was the case in most of the southern African states, South Africa’s biggest food security challenge was ‘access to food’. The country exported food, yet according to the 2009 General Household survey, about 20.1 per cent of South African households had inadequate or severely inadequate access to food,

It was emphasised that hunger and malnutrition were closely linked with poverty, in a “malnutrition-poverty trap” where cause and effect were difficult to disentangle. Malnutrition, if experienced early in the human life, could lead to a reduction in one’s life time earnings of more than 10 per cent per affected individual and, at the national level, to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) losses of two to three per cent. Stunting in early years was associated with inadequate growth and sub-optimal educational achievements. Sub-optimal education achievement in turn contributed to a reduction in life-time earnings, and hence poverty prevailed. Therefore, multi-sectoral approaches were urgently needed to reduce under-nutrition in South Africa. Mainstreaming nutrition for improved development outcomes would need the acceleration of actions on determinants of under-nutrition, like inadequate income and agricultural production or by improving gender equality and female education, which were known to have a powerful impact over time in preventing under-nutrition. Access to proper nutrition had implications on educational achievement, cognition, mental health, productivity, stress, adult obesity, household expenditure and food allocation, and economic growth.

The strategic objectives of the Zero-Hunger framework were to:

Ensure access to food for the poor and vulnerable members of our society

Improve the food production capacity of households and poor resource farmers.

Improve nutrition security of the citizens.

Develop market channels through bulk Government procurement of food linked to the emerging agricultural sector.

Fostering partnerships with relevant stakeholders within the food supply chain.

The Department noted that Brazil used social policy to deal with malnutrition, and a universal nutrition programme was in place at schools in Brazil - something it wished to copy in the South African system. Feeding people and making sure they were not malnourished was totally different. South Africa was one of the few countries in the world that had the right to food expressed in its Constitution. Children made up the majority of poor households in South Africa, which was one of the most unequal societies in the world and faced gross challenges in food security. The North West Province faced the highest levels of malnutrition at a rate of 33.3 per cent.

It was argued that a strategy for attacking poverty in conjunction with policies to ensure food security offered the best hope of swiftly reducing mass poverty and hunger. However, recent studies showed that economic growth alone would not take care of the problem of food security. What was needed was a combination of: income growth; supported by direct nutrition interventions; and investment in health, water and education.

Members were generally impressed with the information dispersed in both presentations but said there was a need for consolidation and evaluation of existing programme interventions in South Africa and ensuring that a better coordinated and integrated approach was applied when addressing hunger and poverty across all spheres of Government and delivery agencies.

Meeting report

As Chairperson Ms  R Rasmeni (North West, ANC) was ill, Ms B Mncube (Gauteng, ANC) was elected Acting Chairperson.

The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) briefed Members on the newly issued SASSA social grant card. Thereafter the Department of Social Development (DSD) briefed Members on the Zero Hunger Campaign.

SASSA re-registration process briefing
Ms Virginia Petersen, SASSA CEO, addressed the Committee on the re-registration process which involved the biometric registration of all beneficiaries. The process would involve a three phase implementation. Phase one incorporated preparatory processes, including the enrolment of 35 431 new applicants for social grants in all nine provinces. From 01 March registration of Sekulula beneficiaries was commenced. The Agency currently provided social grants to about 15.3 million South Africans, 10.3 million of whom were children.

Phase two lasted from 01 April  to 31 May. Phase one and two faced the following challenges; deductions on social grants especially for seniors, malfunctioning of equipment with issues related to connectivity, overcrowding at pay points, and late payments. Attention was paid to deductions at a workshop between SASSA, micro lenders and service providers on 15 May.

Phase three began on 01 June and would continue to 31 December. It consisted of the Bulk Enrolment Phase when existing beneficiaries, including bank beneficiaries, would be enrolled on the new biometric-based payment system at SASSA pay points, local offices and designated sites. Every beneficiary would then receive the SASSA branded Smart Card, with the benefit of using the card anywhere in the country. The new system would allow monthly life certification and would minimise fraud and corruption, not to mention saving R800 million annually as compared to previous contracts. SASSA would also conduct home visits for beneficiaries over the age of 75 who were frail or bedridden.

The new payment system required all beneficiaries to be biometrically registered through all ten finger prints, voice prints and a photograph. A person’s funds would only be available after a voice activated telephone call to confirm identity was conducted.

Benefits of the re-registration programme included the identification of fraudulent beneficiaries, the eradication of duplications, updating latest personal data of a beneficiary, the creation of an electronic national database, and the integrity of the payment system.

The SASSA biometric smart payment card comprises an embedded chip that contains beneficiaries’ biometric information. The technology delivered ‘proof of life’ certification to ensure recipients were indeed alive when grants were made. The smart card would include a Unique Electronic Payment System (UEPS) application module which would ensure accessibility with all mobile and fixed pay points and the identification of cardholders.

The benefits of the new smart card included the ability of beneficiaries to access their grants anywhere in the country at fixed or mobile pay points or at over 1 400 merchant outlets at no cost to the user and that they would not be required to purchase any goods from the merchants.

Reregistration would commence from 01 June until 15 December for cash beneficiaries. Beneficiaries using banking would commence after cash beneficiaries had been registered.

In order to receive benefits, formal identification in the form of a valid Republic of South Africa (RSA) Identity Document (ID), a birth certificate, a Court Order, and old pension card (to be surrendered upon submission), or an alternate identity document (letter or award for 7777 numbers) must be shown.

Recommendations included a desire that Members note and support the planned activities for the next phase and assist SASSA in communicating with beneficiaries to encourage them to present themselves for the re-registration process.

Ms M Makgate (North West, ANC) asked if it was only recently that SASSA noticed problems on the ground. She wondered how it would be ensured that the provinces properly rolled out the programme and that beneficiaries were correctly educated on the new system.

Mr S Plaatjie (North West, COPE) wished to know if there were any other benefits included in the system to alleviate other problems pensioners were currently facing. He proceeded to ask if there were no other means for SASSA to ensure that beneficiaries did not violate or endanger the original intention of the grant, which was to ensure that they were able to feed themselves, by asking them to pay out too many deductions.

Mr M de Villiers (Western Cape, DA) stated unequivocally that the information presented by SASSA was excellent as the Members were very aware of what was happening to the average person on the street. He asked for clarification on unpaid funds. He also wished to know more about micro lenders and what could be done to prevent misappropriation of monies. Regarding allocation of grants to children he wished to know if adequate time was given for children to collect grants and to ensure that there was no manipulation of minors.

The Acting Chairperson wished to know more about voice recognition and how that system would work.

Ms Petersen discussed a need to lock the percentage of money available to service providers to 25 per cent per month so that people were able to walk away with as much of their money as possible. Many older people had been targeted by telephone sales and, more specifically, funeral services had been known to cheat people out of their money by encouraging people to pay for more elaborate services.

Last month 12 000 people were unable to receive payment, a number that was under investigation. She would meet with the Reserve Bank and National Treasury to ensure better payment practices. She expressed unhappiness with slight procedural errors and said that delays had been experienced in the process. She had sent back paperwork until it was perfected, to avoid unnecessary costs, as it was an expensive tender.

Mr Wiseman Magasela, DSD Acting Director-General, noted that most poor people had no choice but to go to micro lenders at some stage in their life and were forced into lifelong loans that they could not afford to pay off. The Department was considering funeral cover provision as a possibility so that it would be able to insure against negative and predictable outcomes in the life of a person.

Ms Petersen said that she could not disclose the action plan at present, but said that SASSA planned to appoint more staff members to the fraud unit.

The Acting Chairperson thanked SASSA for its presentation and released the delegation from the meeting.

Zero Hunger Campaign Department of Social Development (DSD) briefing
Mr Magasela noted that Brazil (which had provided a significant model for similar programming across the developing world) provided loans that were guaranteed by the state at low interest rates to prevent predatory lending.

Mr Zane Dangor, Special Adviser to the Minister of Social Development, started by saying that the Zero Hunger Campaign derived its mandate from various legislation. He noted that Brazil had the largest social development policy in the world and that South Africa was second. It was the policy in Brazil to use social policy to deal with malnutrition, and a universal nutrition programme was in place at schools in Brazil - something he wished to copy in the South African system. He emphasised that feeding people and making sure they were not malnourished was totally different. South Africa was one of the few countries in the world that had the right to food expressed in its Constitution, something Brazil had added in the last five years.

Children made up the majority of poor households in South Africa and formed the largest group of South Africa’s poor. It was stated unequivocally that South Africa was one of the most unequal societies in the world and faces gross challenges regarding food security. The Department of Health had compiled data on the provinces detailing levels of malnutrition, which noted that the North West Province faced the highest levels at a rate of 33.3 per cent.

Food security was noted as being a multifaceted and multidimensional concept which would never be attained through primary agriculture production alone but required the inter-sectoral co-ordination of existing policies / programmes such as health, education, and environmental / ecological protection, food for work programme, agrarian and agricultural development.

Food security interventions would ensure that the food insecure population gained access to productive resources and would always be linked to protected markets. Where the food insecure population was unable to gain access to productive resources, then food security interventions should ensure that some segments at a minimum gained access to income and job opportunities to enhance their power to purchase food. Where the food insecure population did not have control over any means of production and were in a destitute situation due to disability, or extreme conditions, food security interventions should ensure that the state provided relief measures that might be short-term to medium-term on a sustained basis in the form of food and cash transfers.

Better household food security, through strengthened agricultural and social protection programmes, was essential to sustain efforts to improve nutrition. There was a need to incorporate nutrition interventions into agricultural and rural livelihoods programmes, through encouraging home production of foods like fruits and vegetables and animal products that were rich in nutrients. Research should be intensified on bio-fortification as well as on increasing yields of nutrient-rich foods and of staple foods of the poor. The packages of nutrition interventions needed to be implemented in conjunction with relevant health and water/sanitation interventions – particularly those addressing treatment and prevention of the major childhood illnesses closely associated with under-nutrition. Food availability and access by themselves did not translate into a well-nourished population, hence nutrition awareness and education coupled with socio-economic programmes were integral to the improved health status of the South African population. Awareness moved the individual from lack of interest and ignorance to an increased appreciation and finally to action.

The pillars of the campaign, which included food availability, food access, and food use, were set out. Systemic issues were of vital importance in this regard. From the Brazilian example it was noted that all investment in schools could be completely negated if levels of sanitation at home were so low that children were falling victim to diarrhoea and thus universal nutrition programmes failed.

It was said that by and large people used the bulk of their money to purchase food. Social assistance was still at this moment the most effective way to help people. When people went into supermarkets they tended to buy the cheapest food as they needed money for other purposes and thus they were not deriving as much benefit

People had the perception for example that pap was healthy, but in fact it was only starch and largely unhealthy. There was a dire need to inform people of what healthy food was and what constituted a good balanced diet. This also meant engaging with the food industry to make sure food was adequately fortified. The special needs of children and expecting mothers and people with chronic health concerns must be met and was linked to early childhood development. There was a need to have universal nutrition programmes, not just at a few schools but across the board. It was not true that poor children simply attended school in poor areas or at Low Fee Paying schools. There was detailed data that parents use their money to actually send some of their children to schools outside of the area in which they lived in to improve their lives.

In terms of progress to date, 65 per cent of children under the age of three were registered within the system. 4 776 food gardens had been established. 8.5 million children in quintiles 1, 2 and 3 in primary and secondary schools were provided with daily meals. It was emphasised that the focus needed to be on the quality of food and how the food was procured. 2.7 million new people accessed social grants while 6 038 households accessed food through DSD programmes. In the past year 8 700 households accessed food baskets and food assistance and, between January and March, food banks distributed to 3.8 million people - 320 000 people per month meals at a cost per meal of R1.70.

Critical success factors required the involvement of civil society organisations and the private sector along with strong inter-governmental cooperation particularly with local government. This also meant a resource mobilisation by Government with a review of the procurement system. This needed to be followed by strong social mobilisation of local communities. Finally the appropriate monitoring and evaluation framework must be provided. From the Brazilian model it was clear there was a need to leverage social policy to create a demand in production. The Brazilian Government supported small and medium-sized producers to produce 30 per cent of all food to be purchased by the state for local schools from local areas. These measures had revolutionised the procurement system in Brazil and could provide a model moving forward for South Africa.

The Acting Chairperson raised the example of food gardens where people grew too much food but although they were near local schools they were not supposed to go and sell their produce and the food was wasted.

Mr W Faber (Northern Cape, DA) wished to know who was going to control and regulate food programmes at schools. He said there was a need to ensure there was a specific model to work from. He noted that there were a high number of poor children being sent by parents to better schools that they could barely afford to attend. He said that at some of the wealthier schools students left food in classrooms for poorer pupils to consume but that this type of programme needed to be implemented across the board.

Mr Plaatjie appreciated the report by DSD but he felt that levels of malnutrition in the North West were much higher than actually documented and encouraged the Department to make more in depth investigations. He remarked on selective distribution of food in rural areas to those in need. This situation must be remedied.

Mr De Villiers concurred with Mr Plaatjie in regards to selective food drops. In relation to food gardens he wanted to know how many were actually active and sustainable and providing food to those who were hungry. He said from his experience as a teacher that teachers were responsible for deciding which time of day children would receive their meal but he was aware that children had not necessarily had a meal the day before; therefore, he asked if the amount of food supplied by Government to schools was enough. He issued a call to increase food supplements to schools to make sure that children had at least two meals a day which would create a better environment for learning with children retaining more knowledge. He also requested more up to date data as some of the data in the presentation was two years old.

Ms Makgate mentioned that some schools had open spaces that were not utilised or under-utilised. She suggested that DSD should expand its relationship with other departments so that these areas could be turned into food gardens or put to better more effective use.

Mr Dangor responded by saying that all children were reached, thus it was necessary that a universal programme be implemented. Then he noted it was essential to provide high quality food, but the investment made at this stage would be critical to saving money in the long term. He focused on the fact that the basket of services to children from the time they were expected to their third birthday had a huge impact on childhood development. Research showed that without proper nutrition three to five per cent in future GDP outcomes were affected in terms of human capital. He said it was important to engage with communities to understand what they actually needed instead of providing transitory resources that were only there until the money dried up.

Ms Sadi Luka, DSD Chief Director: Community Development, said that some projects were being rolled out where people did not have a strong interest. DSD was engaging with communities to determine what their needs were but was also looking at what resources they had to work with. The desire was to come up with collective programmes which would see more ownership for the average person rather than just seeing it as a Departmental project only to collapse once the Department moved on. She called for an intensified effort in those areas of greatest need. She said if DSD was putting R1.2 billion into assistance it was important to leverage from that and where people spent that money becomes quite important.

The way DSD reached the poorest children was influenced by the child school grant where there was currently an administrative barrier which SASSA was dealing with. The means test excluded many children and as such there was a dire need to remove unreasonable barriers for children. A huge percentage of people who were poor could be seen as a direct result of the means test. Lastly, with reference to the linkages between the national level and the provinces, real implementation of policy happened at the local level and therefore there was a need to ensure level delivery and discretion across the board.

Mr Selwyn Jehoma, DSD Deputy Director-General: Social Security, commented that people over the age of 60 did not seem to be able to get into the grant system because of these formal barriers. DSD had emphasised to Cabinet that the very poorest of the poor would come into the system as a result of universalisation if it could be implemented.

Mr Magasela made reference to the active search being conducted by DSD through the war on poverty community development workers who were now going directly to households. It was a fact that DSD could pay a social grant but if the quality of the education and health services in the area was not good then what happened was that when a child was sick the parent would take the child to the doctor and the money from the grant would be used for unintended yet necessary requirements. Thus there was a need for strong coordination from Government to work together in order to achieve success in these matters.

The meeting was adjourned.


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