Special Pensions Board: progress report

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Finance Standing Committee

20 August 2002
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Meeting report

FINANCE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE & SELECT COMMITTEE: JOINT MEETING
21 August 2002
SPECIAL PENSIONS BOARD: PROGRESS REPORT

Chairperson:
Ms Hogan (ANC)

Relevant Documents:
Special Pensions Amendment Bill [B35 - 2002] (.pdf file)
Special Pensions: PowerPoint Presentation by National Treasury

SUMMARY

The Special Pensions Act, 1996 (Act No. 69 of 1996) provides for the payment of a special pension to persons or their eligible dependents who made sacrifices or served the public interest in the fight against apartheid. The Bill was not dealt with today. The purpose of the meeting was to provide a progress report since the visit of the Committees to Special Pensions in July 2001. The presentation indicated that much progress had been made since the July 2001 visit. The backlog of applications to be reviewed has decreased substantially and the measures have been put in place to deliver a better quality of service. The Committee emphasised the urgent need for the completion of the review of the Special Pension dispensation.

MINUTES
Mr T Magwaza (CEO) made the presentation to the committee. Members of the Special Pensions Board and Mr M Lesufi (Assistant to the CEO) were also present. The Board which was appointed on 1 January 2001 comprises of:

Mr I Makopo (Chairperson)
Mr ZI Mthimunye
Ms WR Ncame
Mr CSA Setsubi
Mr SE Thokoane

The content of the presentation includes a look at the structure of the board and the administration, the status on processing applications and appeals, the areas of concern and the action taken thus far (see document).

During the visit in July 2001 the Committee emphasised the need for research into who qualifies for a special pension. The CEO reported that the research unit is in progress and is due for full implementation on 2 September 2002. A Board member has been given permission by the Minister to head the Research Unit. He will be replaced by another board member. Two admin assistants and two staff members seconded from the Government Employees Pension Fund make up the rest of the unit. The aims of the unit is to gather information on applicants so as to facilitate processing of applications and appeals and to reach out to prospective beneficiaries of Special Pensions but who as yet have not applied.

The CEO in conclusion quickly listed the aims of the Special Pensions Amendment Bill. It aims to:
- grant the board discretion to condone late applications. This approach was preferred over extending the cut off date for applications,
- Accommodate possible beneficiaries of Special Pensions who have not applied, and
- to grant the CEO authority to refer certain cases to the Review Board after the Board had declined the application but even before the applicant requests a review.

Discussion
Mr Ralane (ANC) referred to the statement in the presentation that one of the causes of the high number of rejected applications is because people misunderstood the requirements. The member wanted to know if there was no proper communication about the criteria for qualification.

Secondly, the said that there was huge outcry from people who should receive pensions but are not. At the same time there are persons who do not qualify not have received pensions. He asked how is the issue of repayment going to be approached.

Thirdly, he commented that in his constituency dependents were not receiving the special pension. Welkom was cited as an example.

The CEO replied that communication was not done properly at the beginning. He said that the current board took control after the deadline. This is the reason that people who are eligible are now being looked for through the road-shows and the research.

Ms Joemat (ANC) was also interested in how dependents were determined and cited the example of Ashley Kriel whose Mother had passed away but his sisters were unsuccessful in their applications for a special pension.

Ms Hogan appreciated the hard work and the reduction of the backlog but was concerned about the seeking of eligible applicants. The chair did not want the research unit to raise the expectations of people when the criteria is still not clear. It was no good advertising in the media and doing road-shows to find the eligible persons. The chair felt that it was necessary to go into the history of political organisations and identify the people that are eligible. She was concerned that the road-shows would result in flood of applications. She added that road-shows was important for going into regions and as explanatory vehicle but that it must be separated from the research component. The chair asked if a pamphlet has been produced setting out who is eligible or not.

The CEO advised that the pamphlet was considered but Special Pensions were advised not to go ahead until the amendments are in place.

Ms Hogan said that the regional offices are important and spot checks must be carried out. she knows of many complaints that state the regional offices are not accessible. Also what role are they playing. Under 35's do not qualify for the pension but yet these are not screened at the regional offices.

The CEO replied that the regional offices play a more enquiry role and were very small offices. Cape Town only has two staff members. Only recently have they been screening the applications. Most applications went straight to Pretoria.

Secondly, he said that the road-shows were separated from the research.

Ms Hogan asked if the intention was to get organograms of the structures that operated within the political organisation because at the moment jut one person verified all the applicants for a political organisation.

Mr Setsubi, the board member who will head up the research unit, said that an operational plan has been drawn up. All the relevant NGO's, researchers and persons that were present at the time and place of the incident would add into the process of establishing verified names.

Mr Mphalwa, Deputy Minister, said that a lot of thinking went into the Special Pensions dispensation going forward. The one advantage is that the current board has now been in place for the past 18 months. Last year when the committee visited the board was new but subsequently a lot of work has been done and the experience that the board has gained puts Special Pensions in a strong position going forward. He advised that the research programme was delayed because of a misunderstanding of how it would be implemented but it is now ready to be rolled out. He further advised that Special Pensions has been asked to do a comprehensive review of the entire special pensions dispensation to further strengthen it. This is considered as very urgent. The Deputy Minister had recently met with the East London Special Pensions Crisis Committee who suggested that there should be a provincial verification system. This the deputy minister thought made sense and had raised it with the board and agreed that it was not sufficient that one persons verifies for a whole political organisation.

Ms Hogan commented that it was unfortunate that the research process was delayed and hoped that it would now move full steam ahead. She emphasised the frustration experienced by people who communicate with her. One example is a person who was on trial but cannot get a special pension because the trial record cannot be produced.

Mr Ralane thought that verifying underground operative would be complicated as well as tracing the beneficiaries of eligible persons who are already deceased.

Ms Hogan commented that we owe it to history to set up a record of everyone that was part of the struggle.

Mr Makopo (Chair of the Board) responded to the issue of dependants. He said that it was a sensitive matter but at the end of the day it is determined in terms of the Act. the first question is if the deceased was in full service of a political organisation at the time of death. If not the application is turned down. If the applicant was above the age of 21 at the time of death then the person is not a dependant unless it can be proven that such person is a student or was dependent as a result of a disability. As far as relatives of a deceased is concerned, he said that not all relatives are dependants. It depends if at the time of death the applicant was actually dependent on the deceased. If there is no such proof the application is declined.

Ms Hogan referred to Mr Ralane's outstanding question on the recovery of pensions paid but that were not due and said that these issues would be dealt with when the Bill comes before the Committee and should be held in abeyance.

Dr Koornhof (UDM) asked if Special Pensions is happy with the amendment Bill and if it would solve the problems.

The Deputy Minister replied that the Bill would not solve all the problems because many issues are one of policy. He used an example. A person was wounded in the head with shrapnel and the condition of the person was well known to the board members. Because a doctor could not say that he was 100% disabled the board cannot approve the application. The under 35 years of age policy is another issues. The review of the legislation will address policy issues such as these.

Ms Hogan commented that the review is needed soon and that political parties must get serious about the role they have to play. Feedback from the TRC would be of value. Another area highlighted by the chair was the overlooking of the UDF who was also a banned political party.

Ms Taljaard (DP) identified the need to deal with the issues in an expedited manner and reach closure because delays ahs cost implications for the fund and for the administration of Special Pensions. She did not intend this to be a callous statement but saw the need to balance delivery with the need for closure.

Ms Hogan replied that she identified with the need for closure but warned that premature closure is more dangerous.

Mr Lekgoro (ANC) asked what percentage of the rejected claims is made up of under 35's.

The CEO replied that 34% of the rejected claims is due to the applicant being under 35 as at December 1996 and the rest would be because of misunderstanding the requirements to qualify.

The Deputy Minister did not regard the statement as callous and the review will try and make a realistic projection into the future.

Ms Hogan used the Goldberg Example to illustrate the unfairness of the age categories. Goldberg was a Rivonia trialist but because he was the youngest he does not receive the same level of compensation as the older persons who were on trial.

The deputy minister said that this was also important and the Vietnamese experience will be looked at who only considered the service record and contribution of the applicant.

Ms Hogan concluded by saying that buy in by political organisations is very important. She also felt that it was important to unearth all the archives in the possession of these organisations and set up a mechanisms whereby Special Pensions can get all the information that is required to establish a complete list.

There were no further questions and the meeting was adjourned.

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