SASSA Progress Report: briefing postponed; Social Development BRRR

Social Development

18 October 2017
Chairperson: Ms R Capa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee on Social Development met to first adopt its Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report. The Report was adopted by the Committee with no further amendments.

The Committee was then due to receive a progress report by the SA Social Security Agency (SASSA) and the Department of Social Development (DSD). The Agency failed to attend the meeting because it said it had no progress to report. A letter was written to the Committee apologising for the absence and rescheduling of the meeting. Members were furious and vehemently objected to the apology. Members found it embarrassing and disappointing. The Committee suggested it summon the Agency and other relevant persons before the Committee. The Committee noted the absence of the Minister of Social Development but was not pleased by the absence of the Deputy Minister who had only attended one meeting of the Committee this year. 

Members agreed to meet with the SA Post Office, panel of experts and Auditor-General of SA. There would also be a joint meeting with the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
 

Meeting report

Apologies

Apologies were received from Ms K Jooste (DA), who was sick, Ms C Dudley (ACDP), who was attending a public hearing with the Department of Cooperaive Governance and Traditional Affairs, Ms C Madlopha (ANC), who was also sick and Minister Bathabile Dlamini who was attending a Cabinet meeting.

The Committee was quorate.

Ms V Mogotsi (ANC) asked if any apology was received from the Department of Social Development (DSD).

The Chairperson responded that only Minster Dlamini tendered an apology. Deputy Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu participated through apologies - reading her apology seemed redundant.

Ms Mogotsi asked if the Deputy Minister could be subpoenaed because she was always attending an event whenever the Committee met. She also asked if the DSD and the SA Social Security Agency (SASSA) will be coming for the meeting since they were not present.

The Chairperson urged Members to allow the meeting to continue until it reached the point where the Agency was needed.

Ms S Tsoleli (ANC) agreed to the proposal of the Chairperson. She also highlighted the Deputy Minister had not attended any meetings of the Committee this year apart from the day of the budget reading.

It was therefore important that the Chairperson notify the relevant structures, processes or political party. Parliament had to be prioritised because it exercised the function of oversight and accountability.  The apology of the Deputy Minister should not be accepted.

The Chairperson said SASSA’s apology will be engaged with when it was time. She was advised by the Secretary that the DSD was not always present during adoption of the Committee’s Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR).

Ms Tsoleli found it understandable that when the Committee was doing its work, DSD was not supposed to be there. However, DSD was supposed to be present since SASSA was expected to be present. SASSA cannot be taken away from the DSD - DSD was the mother and SASSA the child. The DSD should be here led by the Minister and DG in order to clarify most of the questions that will be asked.

Ms E Wilson (DA) asked whether the DSD will come after the adoption of the BRRR. SASSA must be here to present the report as per the agenda of the Committee.

The Chairperson noted the concerns of Members which would be dealt with when that agenda item was discussed. DSD was supposed to be present to clarify matters.

Draft Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report of the Portfolio Committee on Social Development

The Chairperson highlighted the BRRR was dealt with in the Committee’s previous meeting where spefici attention was paid to recommendations. There was a notion that the Department, when dealing with the BRRR, should provide alignment by ensuring that the recommendation of the previous BRRR were actually brought for reference purposes.  This was to avoid the Committee making the same recommendation repeatedly. This was communicated to the Department yesterday and the Department had given a summary as requested by the Committee. The summary will be distributed to Members but not for engagement. The summary covered responses of what the Minister was recommended to do.

Ms Mogotsi moved for adoption of the Draft Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report of the Portfolio Committee on Social Development

Ms Tsoleli seconded the motion.

Progress report by the South African Social Security Agency on implementation plan of the Constitutional Court judgement

The Chairperson received a letter of apology from SASSA and the Minister. The Minister and CEO of SASSA were key in accounting to the Committee especially on the court judgement. She asked for the letter to be distributed to Members in order for them to know its content.

Ms Wilson raised a serious objection emphasising the apology was unaccpetable.

The Chairperson urged Ms Wilson to read the letter before raising the objection. The letter of apology will be accompanied by the response of the Chairperson upon receiving the letter of apology. In the last meeting of the Committee, Ms B Masango (DA), and other Members, were concerned that there was no provision of the item on SASSA’s continuous report. The response from the Chairperson was that the meeting was organised to specifically deal with the issue of accountability of the experts in the name of monitors. The issue raised was that the experts were doing the same work as the Committee. The Committee also intended that the experts take on board the report of what was happening in the Department. The Committee also learnt that the Auditor-General of SA (AGSA) was appointed by the Judge to monitor progress and activities carried out by the experts. On engagement, the Chairperson gave Members a letter written by the AGSA to the Chairperson when he was asked to take the Committee on board at meeting-level. The AGSA replied that he could not and did not have the mandate to account to the Committee but to the Judge. He also stated that he could not brief the Committee until he received a full report from the experts. The report will be submitted by the AGSA and experts to the Judge - only after pronunciation of the court can the Committee be briefed. The Minister, before 15 September 2017, took the Committee on board when she was to sign off her affidavit to the court. It was expected that today the Committee will get the report.

The Chairperson tried to communicate with the Acting DG since DSD was important as the mother in dealing with the child, SASSA. This was after the Committee Secretary raised concerns that she had not received any document for today’s meeting. The Chairperson also tried to get hold of SASSA’s Acting CEO but she responded that the Agency was not ready with the report. The Chairperson instructed the Secretary to write again to SASSA stating the importance of their presence – this gave rise to the Agency sending the letter which was distributed to Members. The Chairperson also read out an SMS that read ‘Given our mandate, the matter remains on our agenda and will be dealt with when that item comes’.

Ms Tsoleli said it was very sad and unacceptable. The programme of Parliament was adopted by the House - nobody has to change the programme of Parliament. The Committee also adopted its internal programme which was believed to have been circulated to the Agency. The Committee cannot change its programme based on the request of the letter. The letter should be rejected. The latter part of the letter ‘we therefore request that the meeting be rescheduled...’ was very disrespectful.

The Committee is in a critical moment when it comes to its oversight role over SASSA – this was because of the Constitutional Court judgement. The Agency cannot tell the Committee how to hold it accountable - that was not acceptable. Upon rejection of the letter, the Committee should align itself to provisions of the Constitution on how to go about the issue. The Committee has only four months before it decides if the Department was delivering on its 10- point plan. The Committee cannot be seen to be failing in holding the Department accountable on the 10-point plan which it presented to the Committee.

A clause in the Constitution talks about the power of the National Assembly and it should be followed by the Committee. The clause talks about summoning the Minister, the Department and everybody concerned - the summoning should start now.  The Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) also affirmed this. Another disaster was looming.

The integrity of the Committee was at stake. The presentation by the experts two days ago on ENCA was very frightening. The AGSA should also be invite - SASSA did raise that there was fruitless expenditure. The fact that the Agency was not ready was very embarrassing.

Ms Masango said that on the 17 March 2017, people were asking where the Committee was in this matter. Hence, the Committee agreed to receive a weekly report from SASSA in order to protect its integrity.

The report of the experts on ENCA was shuddering, as it showed that SASSA and DSD have not done anything they said they will do. It was embarrassing to hear from the panel of experts that SASSA had not provided them with 90% of what it asked from the Agency. The number one thing that had not been provided was the RFP for the SA Post Office (SAPO). Why was there no report when nothing had been done? Members of the Committee have tried to avail themselves whenever SASSA was presenting. The report was frightening as none of the timelines were met. How can SASSA be asking for a date at the end of November for something that must be done in March 2018? If it would help, the Committee should summon whoever was concerned. The Committee was now under the bus.

Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) thanked the Chairperson for the letter she wrote on behalf of the Committee and the effort made to secure the meeting. The Minister and the Deputy Minister should be summoned as soon as possible. The report of the AGSA and the report tabled to the Court, in one sentences said, ‘they will not meet the Constitutional court deadline’, ‘they have requested SASSA to supply information to the AG and the task team to be able to do their work on the 21st June, 29th June, 4th July, 14th July, 17th July, 19th July, 25th July, 14th August, and 31st August’. Regrettably, SASSA repeatedly failed to provide access to any of the documentation.

It was important to also invite the AGSA. It was of great concern for SASSA to say it had nothing to report. By 31 August, SASSA should have awarded the contract for infrastructural rollout to start 10 October. SASSA missed all the deadlines - the next deadline was 1 November when the system should be tested. No contract was signed with SAPO yet. The report by the AGSA and experts points out that calls were unreturned and emails mot replied to. The report showed that deadlines were not met and will possibly not be met. This was a looming disaster.

Ms Wilson said that to receive a letter stating there was no progress report four months before the roll out was due was seriously alarming. Fingers were being pointed at the Committee and this was embarrassing. There was disaster looming. The Committee must invite the experts and SASSA. The Committee needs to know if there were people interfering with the processes. Will there be another CEO or DG ducking or resigning because they were backed into a corner? This letter was unacceptable.

Ms Mogotsi said the Minister should have tabled the report before the Committee because it conducted oversight and not the Court. The Committee cannot be reading about the report from the media. What was happening with the Department? Where did DSD put the Committee and country? Foster care grants were looming. Members of the Committee may be arrested one day on the issue of human rights.

Ms N Sonti (EFF) raised her concerns.

The Chairperson said that point raised by Ms Sonti was in alignment with that of other Members. The issue of who received the report first was resolved. The report will be in affidavit form thus it should go to the Judge because it was an instruction to the Judge as opposed to the Committee.

A representative from Parliament’s legal unit said the Committee, in terms of Section 56 of the Constitution, was empowered to summon anyone. Where there was undue or unreasonable refusal to appear before the Committee, the Committee had the right to use the law. Section 14 of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliaments and Provincial Legislatures Act provided for a procedure that the Committee could use to issue a summons to concerned parties within a period of seven days. Section 17 of same Act provided that non-compliance to the summons carried imprisonment of 12 months or a fine. The procedure was for the Chairperson to write to the Secretary instructing her to follow Section 14 to issue a summons.

Ms H Malgas (ANC) said it was important to have the steps listed by the legal expert in writing. It was important to the report of the AGSA instead of getting it on the ‘net. She thanked the Chairperson for her response to SASSA. She agreed with the input of other Members. It was however important not to cause the public panic.

The Chairperson said there was no need to get the report from the media – it must be tabled before the Committee by the relevant bodies. The Committee reached a cul de sac – it used all relevant instruments and corporate principles to engage with the Department and SASSA to give it this report. She apologised to Members for the disappointment. The letter was embarrassing and disappointing. It had, on one side, an apology to the Committee and, on the other side, apology to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA). On the matter of SCOPA, the Committee will organise a joint meeting. It will be co-chaired for full participation of both Committees. The Committee will write to the AGSA about the report. The Committee did not invite SAPO because it was a potential service provider – it was now public knowledge thus SAPO will be invited for accountability. The CEO should have come to account whether there was a report or not.

Ms Malgas moved for adoption of the SCOPA meeting proposal, invitation of the AGSA and panel of experts.

The Chairperson said the AGSA will be asked to bring the experts since they accounted through him.

Ms Masango highlighted the Committee had different mandate to SCOPA and, as such, it should seek legal advice before organising the meeting.

Ms Tsoleli responded that the Constitution allowed the Committee to call anybody.

Ms Mogotsi said the Committee must ensure proper governance - the PFMA affirmed this.

The meeting was adjourned.

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