The Department of Social Development was supposed to brief the Committee on its Annual Performance Plan.
However, the meeting was postponed due to the Minister and Deputy Minister’s absence. Minister Dlamini had extended an apology for her absence but no apology had been received from Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu. Members had mixed feelings as to whether the briefing should go ahead without the political heads of the Department of Social Development being present. Either the Minister or her Deputy Minister should have been present. The Committee excused the Department for a short while in order to deliberate behind closed doors on whether the briefing should continue as planned in the absence of the Department’s political heads. The idea behind the briefing was for the Minister also to shed light on the matter of the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) not appointing a service provider for the payment of social grants by 1 April 2017 as was planned. After the deliberation the Committee decided not to go ahead with the briefing thereby sending a message to the Minister and the Deputy Minister that the Committee’s work should be taken seriously. The Committee decided to postpone the briefing to a date to be determined. The Department would be informed of the date and Minister Dlamini would have to make herself available to attend the meeting.
The Chairperson informed the Committee that the Minister of Social Development had extended an apology for not being able to attend the meeting. She added that it was important that political heads of the Department needed to attend meetings.
Ms T Mampuru (ANC, Limpopo) remarked that the Minister or the Deputy Minister should be present when the Department briefed the Committee. The absence of the Minister was becoming a trend. The excuse given by Ministers for not attending meetings in Parliament on a Wednesday was that they had cabinet meetings on that day. If that was the case then what was the Ministers’ excuse for not attending meetings on Tuesdays or Thursdays? The bottom line was that the Committee expected the political heads of the Department to attend the Committee’s meetings when it was briefed. Political heads had to be present in order to give Department staff direction. She did however feel that for the sake of progress the briefing should continue. She proposed that the Chairperson write a letter to the Minister expressing the sentiments of the Committee on the matter.
Mr M Khawula (IFP, KwaZulu-Natal) said that the Committee was singing the same song and repeating itself for the past three years. He added he would leave it in the hands of the Chairperson to decide whether the meeting should go ahead or not.
Ms L Zwane (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) emphasised that the political heads of the Department needed to be present when the Department presented its Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan to the Committee. The Committee was aware that on a Wednesday the Minister attended cabinet meetings. This however did not prevent the Deputy Minister from attending meetings when the Minister could not. The Minister had for the most only attended one or two meetings of the Committee. If the Minister could not attend then the Deputy Minister should attend. The matter was of huge concern to the Committee. The Committee had a packed programme as it was responsible for nine departments. She agreed that perhaps the briefing should continue.
Mr C Hattingh (DA, North West) agreed that the absence of political heads from meetings was a real concern to the Committee. The Department of Social Development was after all a critical department. The Department had not too long ago made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Without the presence of the Minister or the Deputy Minister how could the Committee discuss the APP of the Department and its way forward? The situation was totally unacceptable.
The Chairperson asked the Acting Director General of the Department. Ms Nelisiwe Vilakazi. what the reasons were for the political heads being absent from the meeting.
Ms Vilakazi stated that it was best that the Department’s Parliamentary Liaison Officer (PLO) shed light on the matter. She added that as at Friday 28 April 2017 Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu was in Algeria.
The Chairperson once again asked why the Minister or Deputy Minister of Social Development were not present in the meeting. She did not have a written apology from the Minister.
The PLO firstly apologised for being late for the meeting due to having an early flight and experiencing heavy traffic from Cape Town International Airport. She explained that Minister Dlamini was attending a meeting at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. She was unable to shed light on the whereabouts of Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu.
The Chairperson stated that it seemed as if the meeting in Pretoria was more important than the Committee’s meeting.
Ms Mampuru said that budgetary constraints had to be taken into consideration. She asked whether the Department did not care about the Auditor General of SA’s findings. If the Minister was in Pretoria she suggested that the Committee cancel the briefing and end the meeting. The reason given for the Minister’s absence was not good enough.
Ms T Mpambo-Sibhukwana (DA, Western Cape) agreed with Ms Mampuru that the meeting should be cancelled. If the meeting was to continue then the Committee would be setting a precedent that it was acceptable for political heads not to attend meetings. There was in any case no apology from Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu. She suggested that the Department could cover the cost of the Committee to fly up to Pretoria where the briefing could take place.
Ms Zwane felt that the briefing should continue as the Committee had programme limitations and time constraints. However if the majority of members felt that it should be called off then she would support the decision.
The Chairperson felt that the excuses given by the PLO for being late was not good enough. She regularly took early flights and everyone was well aware of traffic from Cape Town International Airport being heavy. There was no need to have given the Minister’s apology in person. The apology could have been emailed or messaged by cellphone to the Committee the day before the meeting. Members felt the way they did because of the negative publicity that the Department had in the media not so long ago. The Committee had taken a back stage position and expected the Department to shed light on the matter. The Committee had expected the Department to provide it with an explanation why there had been confusion. The Department had in the past assured the Committee that by 1 April 2017 it would have appointed a service provider for the payment of grants. Members wished for the Department to lay out its plans on what it expected to do. If the Department could answer questions pertaining to the confusion around the grant issue and it knew the political direction of Minister Dlamini then the briefing could continue. If the Department could not then what was the point of the meeting. Non attendance of meetings by political heads was common when departments were supposed to brief members. The Committee had in the past sent departments back to Pretoria when political heads were not part of delegations. Departments need to account to the Committee. The Minister and Deputy Minister of Social Development were expected to be part of meetings. She shared the sentiments of Ms Zwane that Minister Dlamini had only attended one Committee meeting. Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu had also just attended one meeting. The Committee did not simply rubber stamp. The Department was asked whether it could respond to the issues raised.
Ms Vilakazi responded that the Department understood the political direction of Minister Dlamini. The Department had prepared to brief the Committee on its Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan for 2017/18. The briefing would also speak to conditional grants and to critical issues of the Department’s work. There was alignment with the National Development Plan (NDP) and the State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2017. She pointed out that members had referred to the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) matter. The Department transferred funds to the SASSA. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SASSA, Mr Thokozani Magwazi, was part of the delegation and could shed light on the issue. SASSA was an entity of the Department.
The Chairperson said that she did not wish to hear from the SASSA but that the Department should respond to the issue. What happened? How could the issue have arisen? Could SASSA meet the dates as planned? The Department did have a plan in place but it was not honoured. She observed that the Department did not seem too sure of things.
Ms Mampuru noted that before one became a Minister one had to be a Member of Parliament. Hence Ministers were not superior to Members of Parliament. Ministers and Members of Parliament needed to respect one another. None of the officials could speak on behalf of the Minister. Even if officials knew the Minister’s take on things it did not mean that the Minister could not change her stance. She felt that the Committee needed to cancel the meeting.
The Chairperson said if the meeting was to be cancelled then another date besides a Tuesday had to be chosen to hold the briefing. The Committee was willing to compromise its own time to clear up issues. Minister Dlamini did not take the Committee seriously. The Department could not be expected to pay for the Committee’s travelling expenses to Pretoria as it would be classified as an unauthorised expenditure. Perhaps the briefing could take place in Johannesburg near OR Tambo International Airport. The Department could pay for the venue but the Committee would cover its own travelling expenses.
Ms Zwane on the matter of expenditure asked how the Department intended to account for today’s wasted travelling cost to Parliament. It could be seen as a fruitless expenditure. Even if Minister Dlamini was in a meeting where was Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu?
Mr Khawula suggested that the Department be excused for a short while in order for members to deliberate on whether the meeting should be cancelled or not.
The Committee agreed to the suggestion and Members deliberated amongst themselves.
The Chairperson at the recommencement of the meeting said that the Committee had reached a decision. The Department was considered an important department since it dealt with vulnerable groups and with poverty issues. Members represented provinces and hence wished to raise issues. If the briefing went ahead without Minister Dlamini the Minister would miss the gist of the meeting. The briefing meeting was important as it would shed light on the SASSA/grant issue. How could things have reached the point where it had? Was Minister Dlamini aware of the Department’s plan to appoint a service provider by 1 April 2017? The plan was not implemented and hence the matter went to court. The Committee did not tolerate political heads not attending its meetings. It was unacceptable for the Minister and Deputy Minister not to have pitched up for the meeting. There were nine other departments that the Committee was responsible for. Other departments ensured that their political heads were present in meetings. The Committee would set aside a day for the briefing to take place. The date of the meeting would be communicated to the Department. She informed the Department that the Committee had decided to cancel the meeting. In the three years of the Committee’s existence Minister Dlamini and Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu had each only attended one meeting of the Committee. The briefing would take place at another time and place where the Minister would have to be present.
Ms Vilakazi wished to inform the Committee that during the break she had managed to contact Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu. The Deputy Minister was not well and was at her doctor’s rooms.
The Chairperson along with members stated that the Committee was already well acquainted with the excuse by political heads that they could not make meetings due to illness.
The meeting was adjourned.
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