Appropriation Bill 2017: public hearing

Standing Committee on Appropriations

24 May 2017
Chairperson: Ms Y Phosa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Standing Committee on Appropriations went to meet the residents of Khayelitsha to hear them voice their comments, concerns and questions regarding the 2017 Appropriations Bill. The Committee also called upon public stakeholders to come forth and present their submissions and recommendations relating to specific issues around how the appropriations for 2017 should be distributed. In response to this, the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Social Action (PACSA), the Khulumani Support Group and Equal Education took the opportunity to speak on issues relating to social development, education and safety, security and policing, as well as drawing attention to the reparations not yet paid out to the victims of human rights abuses under the apartheid government.

PACSA advocated an increase in the social grants for children and old people, and said the Department of Social Development (DSD) should consider providing a 13th cheque for old age grant pensioners and caregivers receiving a child support grant. The rationale behind the suggestion stemmed from the fact that around the December holidays, children spend more time at home so nutritional needs increase, and not all social grant beneficiaries were able to sustain this demand during that period. PACSA submitted that the old age grant must be doubled to R3 200 per month, and the child support grant to R1 000, and also proposed the introduction of a pregnancy grant to cover the first 1 000 days of a child’s life, as this was the critical period for the baby child and the mother. PACSA made these submissions in response to the growing unemployment rate which had extended to the majority of black South Africans, and the fact that employment for black South Africans had been stagnant over the past several years. Government had failed to address this problem through employment opportunities, or had at least been slow in its response, so this intervention was necessary to alleviate poverty and help reduce non-communicable diseases born out of poverty.

The Khulumani Support Group’s submissions were focused mainly on the reparations that were still outstanding for the 80 000 verified victims under the apartheid government, whose human rights had been violated, and who had sustained injuries during that era. The organisation had been established in 1995, and when the Trujth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) had been abolished, it had dedicated itself to continue working towards resolving and assisting the victims. Khulumani appealed that this matter be re-visited by government so that adequate budget would be allocated to cater for its members (who were the victims), because the pool of beneficiaries had been severely and unjustly excluded, and only just over 16 000 individuals had been paid reparations due to the capacity limitations of the TRC. To fulfil the purposes of the TRC and compensate the outstanding victims and their communities, an investment of R2.118 billion was required per year over five years. The establishment of a struggle veterans’ pension of R1 500 per month for 60 months would require a total of R90 000 for every verified victim. Victims should be given an allocation for further university studies of the dependants of the victims, and the amounts should be equal, which would require a budget allocation of R7 billion. The total amount required by the state to fulfil these reparations therefore amounted to R12.4 billion.

Equal Education focused more on education in its submissions, particularly regarding school infrastructure and scholar transport. There had been significant decreases in the past years in the allocations for the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG) and Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI),and these constant decreases in allocations limited the gains which could be made around issues many learners in townships and rural schools continued to face. These included conditions that were unsafe, impinging upon their dignity, which did not foster quality teaching and learning. Referring to scholar transport, it said the recent horrific bus crashes in KZN and Gauteng clearly highlighted the pressing need for the National Learner Transport policy to be adequately funded and properly implemented.

Members of the public expressed various concerns about service delivery in their communities, and how government had consistently ignored their needs, particularly in terms of the increase in social grants, police complaints, housing issues, the provision of water and sanitation within the communities, as well as the educational needs in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges. They expressed their discontent regarding the unlawful SASSA deductions; suggested the social grant for elderly people should be increased in order to assist in the taking care of their families as they struggled to find employment due to ageing; child support grants should be increased because the current grant per child was insufficient to cater for a child’s school needs; RDP houses were too small for large families, and when government allocated houses to families it should take this into account; the provision of sanitation in informal settlements was highly sub-standard and needed to be improved; local police stations were under-funded in the townships, where they were most needed; police officers in the townships were not effective; and government encouraged high school leavers to enrol in TVET colleges, but did not intervene in assisting students to secure experiential training, which was mandatory for the completion of their qualifications. 

Meeting report

Opening remarks

The Chairperson welcomed the members of the public and the stakeholders, and alluded to the purpose of the public hearing. She said that today’s meeting was important as the Committee’s presence in the public space reflected the importance of the public’s views, comments and concerns pertaining to the 2017 Appropriations Bill. The 2017 Appropriations Bill spoke to the appropriations of the fiscus to government departments, as they were tasked with service delivery to the public. The inclusiveness of the general public was to enhance participation and hear what the public’s views were, as government would be disbursing appropriations to the departments, and the Committee would be able to express these concerns and views and play its part in influencing which matters of urgency and importance needed to be prioritised by government.

She said that the stakeholders would make their submissions, and then members of the public would register their concerns, comments and views, and could ask any questions in relation to the relevant subject.

Submissions on 2017 Appropriations Bill

Pietermaritzburg Agency for Social Action (PACSA)

Mr Mervyn Abrahams, Director: PACSA, said that the unemployment rate had expanded and low-baseline wages paid to the majority of black South Africans had stagnated over the past several years. Statistics South Africa’s (StatsSA’s) latest data on expanded unemployment showed that 40.1% of black South Africans did not have a job. For most black South Africans, this meant that in a household, only one person was employed and this wage had to support an average of 3.8 persons, and the level of the wage sometimes needed to be even more if the household was in a precarious position. In this context, therefore, the level of the wage became important. For most black South Africans, the median wage was R2 900 a month, dispersed through a family of four persons. This wage became a poverty wage, being R725 a month for each person.

PACSA proposed the following suggestions as a start to a rethinking of the economic framework and social security framework:

  • Double the old age grant to R3 200.
  • Increase the child support grant to R1 000. This increase was based on ensuring that children received a grant which covered a basic but proper nutritious diet, including dealing with the gap which widened as children grew and their nutritional requirements increased.
  • Provide a 13th cheque for all old age grant pensioners and caregivers receiving child support grants in December. This was important, because children spend more time at home during this period so nutritional needs increase. This would also ensure that children remained closer to home, and so would address issues of improved security.
  • Introduce a pregnancy grant to cover the first 1 000 days of a child’s life, because this was a critical period in the life of a mother and a child. If a mother and her child did not receive proper nutrition and support during this period, the negative health and development implications were very difficult to reverse.

In conclusion, he said that by implementing these suggestions the Committee would send a clear signal that Parliament and the State had a sense of the crisis that the majority of South Africa’s people were facing.

Khulumani Support Group on Safety, Justice and Policing

Ms Nomarussia Bonase, Deputy Chairperson:Khulumani Support Group, said that Khulumani’s submissions on the amendments to the 2017/18 budget reflected that a once-off contribution of R800 million had been made from the National Treasury in 2005 to establish the President’s Fund, from which all reparations funding was provided. The organisation represented a group of people that had suffered severely and sustained injuries during the era of the apartheid government, and their concerns included death as a result of human rights violations. The organisation had reached 104 000 members since its establishment in 1995 to work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and continued resolving issues that had not been resolved by the TRC.

The organisation appealed that this matter be looked into and given adequate budget allocations that would be distributed to the above-mentioned victims to enable them to be active citizens that participate in the democracy and the economy. The TRC had recommended an initial founding allocation from the National Treasury of R3 billion to fund a comprehensive programme of individual, symbolic and community reparations. While the recommendations were both comprehensive and excellent, the pool of beneficiaries had been severely and unjustly limited to only just over 16 000 individuals because of the capacity limitations of the TRC. There was still an exclusion of 80 000 individuals and families members who should have benefited from the TRC processes and proposals. To fulfil the purposes of the TRC to provide reparation to the victims and their communities required an investment from the national budget of R2.118 bn per year over five years.

Equal Education

Ms Sibabalwe Gcilitshane, Equal Education (EE) Parliamentary Officer, said that EE’s two major and on-going concerns were school infrastructure and scholar transport. With regard to school infrastructure, there were two national school infrastructure grants allocated towards fixing South Africa’s schools. The first was the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG), which was a grant allocated to provinces to assist in the accelerated construction, maintenance, upgrading and rehabilitation of new and existing education infrastructure. The grant was also intended to help enhance the provinces’ capacity, to address damage to infrastructure and to help achieve the targets set out in the minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure.

The second was the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI), funded by the School Infrastructure Backlogs Grant (SIBG), which was an indirect infrastructure grant administered by the national Department of Basic Education (DBE), introduced as a temporary high impact grant in 2011. The grant had been established as a means to eradicate the worst and inappropriate school structures, and to provide water, sanitation and electricity to schools. The grant was used by the DBE to build and upgrade schools on behalf of provinces to address inappropriate structures and provide access to basic services.

In the past years, there had been significant decreases in the allocations for both grants from initial allocations for a specific year in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), to the actual allocation made in that budget year. These constant decreases in allocations limited the gains which could be made around this issue. Learners in many township and rural schools would continue to suffer conditions that were unsafe, impinge upon their dignity, and did not foster quality teaching and learning. EE had on several occasions raised its concerns over the decreasing allocations to national school infrastructure grants, particularly in the light of the published regulations relating to the minimum uniform norms and standards for public school infrastructure.

And with regards to the scholar transport, much had been said about this in the media and in Parliament, particularly in light of the recent horrific KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng bus crashes. This highlighted the pressing need for the National Learner Transport policy to be adequately funded and properly implemented. EE and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) had welcomed the publication of the policy in 2015. However, it had continued to sit idly in the hands of the Department of Transport and the Department of Basic Education. There had been previous commitments by the departments to publish the Learner Transport Safety norms and standards, and operational guidelines, but this had still not happened.

In its submissions before the Committee, EE called for a conditional grant for scholar transport, along with the rationale for this much needed additional and ring-fenced funding. EE had been engaged in the struggle for access to scholar transport since 2014. The crisis of scholar transport was one that was prevalent across South Africa and affected those learners in rural areas the most. According to a Statistics South Africa’s 2016 Educational Enrolment and Achievement publication, it was reported that 12.3 million (64.07%) of South African learners walked to school, with KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) as the province with the highest proportion of learners in the country who walked to school. Of the learners who walked to school, just over 80% indicated that it took them at most 30 minutes, 15.4% indicated that it took them between 30 minutes to an hour, and almost 4% indicated that it took them more than an hour to get to school.

The scholar transport crisis was currently prominent in the public discourse. But when the memory of the tragedy of young lives so horribly cut short faded, scholar transport would return to the periphery. It was therefore imperative that the National Inter-Departmental Committee, whose establishment EE had recognised, should take more effective steps toward ensuring effective coordination between departments at the provincial and national level, particularly on funding.

Members of the public

Khayelitsha residents expressed their comments, questions and concerns in relation to social development issues. The following were some of the pertinent ones:

  • The South African Social Security Agency’s (SASSA’s) unlawful deductions, and those monies never being reimbursed by SASSA or the Department of Social Development.
  • In concurrence with PASCA’s submissions, the support grant for the elderly should increase due to the fact that for elderly people, employment opportunities were scarce and they had a responsibility to support their families. Thnerefore the current grant was not sufficient and should be increased to R2 500 per month.
  • The eligibility age for an old pension – there were members of the public that were not eligible to get a pension grant, yet were not employable;
  • The ineffectiveness of members of the staff in the local Social Development offices. The public were not taken seriously, and were often chased away without their issues being attended to.
  • The Department of Social Development (DSD) should consider social entrepreneurship as part of its mandate to empower communities, particularly young people who were no longer within the age group to be eligible for a child support grant.

With regard to safety, security and policing, members of the public expressed the following comments and concerns:

  • Efforts had been made to engage with all government stakeholders to ask for assistance in relation to the reparations due to the victims of human rights violations by the apartheid government, but to no avail.
  • The TRC had been long gone, yet its mandate had not been fulfilled, and people were still suffering from the brutal scars of the apartheid government.
  • Currently, the South African Police Service (SAPS) was employing more young people who then turned and colluded with the criminals in the townships. This continued to affect and compromise the safety of the public in the communities. In turn, this increased crime in the communities, so SAPS could consider employing middle-aged people and do a comparison analysis of its crime statistics. There was confidence that if this would be case, crime rates would decline in the communities.
  • Members of the public that reside in suburban areas get a bigger allocation to build local police stations, yet police stations in the Khayelitsha area were sub-standard. It seemed that government continued to allocate more funds for service delivery in those areas instead of allocating more funds in places that need those services the most.
  • Police officers in local police stations did not take local residents seriously, to the extent that some policemen/woman unashamedly made it grossly apparent.
  • The Community Street Watchers were more effective than police, but they were not compensated enough.
  • Since the abolishment of the TRC, the remainder of the victims of human rights violations during the apartheid government continued to suffer.

With regard to education, human settlement and water and sanitation, the following comments and concerns were expressed:

  • The child support grant was not enough to cater for children’s school needs, which affected the children’s performance at school.
  • Students in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges were experiencing significant financial challenges, and the government was not doing enough to assist them, even though it advocated and encouraged school leavers to apply to TVET colleges.
  • One of the major problems with TVET colleges was that government departments did not assist college students to secure experiential training, which was part of the completion of the course work.
  • There was a lot of nepotism in government departments, which left the majority of the students coming from poor backgrounds sidelined from getting employment opportunities.
  • There were too many informal settlements in Khayelitsha, and government builds reconstruction and development programme (RDP) houses in remote areas, which in turn creates transport issues and raises transport costs.
  • If people were going to be left to live in informal settlements, at least service delivery regarding sanitation and water should be satisfactory, because the living conditions were already non-sanitary.

The Chairperson thanked the members of the public for coming forward to be part of the hearings. Parliament had heard their comments and concerns, and would forward the relevant issues to the relevant departments. The consideration of these issues would influence the 2017 Appropriations Bill.

The meeting was adjourned. 

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