The Committee was briefed by the Department of Social Development on its Household food and Nutrition Security Programme. However the Committee saw fit to first deal with a story that involved SASSA that was recently in the news. This matter was adopted as an item in the agenda for the meeting.
Members of the Committee were concerned when they saw that people from different political parties were issuing out different statements regarding the SASSA debacle. The Committee had decided collectively to issue a statement. Political parties issuing out different statements were then in direct contravention of this collective decision.
Members were cautioned to make sure that they exercised the right oversight directives. If they made a point to go on site to see how the process of card issuing is going then they would have a better understanding of what was happening on the ground. Members responded by saying that they had been doing their oversight duties and they all gave examples of such activities. It was also suggested that when there were urgent matters, Members should contact the Chairperson as she had a direct line to the Minister where appropriate measures could be taken to make sure that beneficiaries were not left vulnerable. Members also said that empowering information should be relayed to beneficiaries so that that they understood how the process of card migration actually worked. It was also agreed that the Committee would issue another statement regarding the recent story about the SASSA debacle.
Members heard that the rationale behind the programme was that it had a strategic focus on investing significant funds in raising the micro-nutrient intake of beneficiaries to combat the growing challenge of malnutrition and hunger. The programme could be accessed by poor and vulnerable households and individuals especially those between the ages of 19 and 59 years. This initiative fell under the National Development Plan which identified food security and nutrition as a consequence of both poverty and hunger and ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. The programme itself was started as means of moving away from food banks to a state where there was an encouragement of food acquisition from local emerging farmers.
Many of the questions were about the practicalities of the programme like what qualified the distribution centres; what was the criteria used for deciding whether centres met the standard for food holding; and whether enough was being done to make sure that food especially fresh produce was delivered on time; and the geographic location of these distribution centres in relation to the communities that they served. There were concerns that some of these centres were too far from the communities that they were meant to cater for and this could lead to food poisoning.
The Chairperson noted apologies from Minister Suzanne Shabangu and Deputy Minister Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu.
Prior to the start of the presentations by the Department the Chairperson proposed that the Committee first commented on what has been happening in the news regarding the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), and the possible end of contract between CPS and the government. The Chairperson proposed that this matter be added as an item on the agenda of the day. Members of the Committee agreed with the proposal from the Chairperson.
Ms P Tsoleli (ANC) commented that she was quite surprised by the different statements coming from the different political parties and unions. She expressed that when a decision has been taken collectively then everyone should follow that statement. The statement by the Public Servants Association of South Africa (PSA) should be corrected by the statement that said ‘issues by the Committee’. She said that Members should do their oversight work, this was said as she was explaining how she went to one of the SASSA pay points. People were in the process of moving from the old SASSA card to the new one. She recently visited the Post Office to see the progress of the issuing of the new card. There she saw an elderly lady who had an issue where the card was stuck in an ATM. She directly contacted SASSA officials where she was assured that the money of the elderly lady was in fact still in her account. She said that if those Members did not do this then they would not know what was actually happening on the ground. Members should not rely on the media for information.
Ms Masango expressed that she had not attended the meeting when the matter regarding SASSA was clarified, but agreed that Members should be active in the exercise of their oversight. Although she agreed with the sentiments expressed by Ms Tsoleli she said that the Committee meetings were not always a correct representation of what happens on the ground. In Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) there was an overarching issue of biometrics, which was not reflected in the Committee meetings. Speaking for herself she said she has never been one to spread information that was incorrect. Meetings should relay information that could be used to empower communities with for example information on how the migration from the old card to the new card actually worked. In this way there was not any unnecessary panic from beneficiaries.
Ms V Mogotsi (ANC) expressed that it was a pity that SASSA was not present in the meeting to account for the grievances that have been expressed by Members. She aligned herself with the sentiments expressed by Ms Tsoleli. She said that she was from Soweto, where there were SASSA points which were working well. On the matter of home visits which was expressed in a previous meeting: the elderly were not able to go to these points for the change of cards and SASSA has visited those homes. She also expressed that the Committee agreed that whenever Members saw concerns with SASSA service, they should personally call them so that they could account for the grievances that needed to be tended to. Members got progress reports from SASSA every month. Parliamentarians knew that there were systems assisting them like ward councillors and community development. The Committee was working with these state organs to get a better picture of what was actually happening. On the matter regarding the PSA, SASSA should be called to the Committee to present on what was actually going on.
Ms B Abrahams (ANC) said she would also like to align herself with the sentiments shared by her colleagues. She agreed that SASSA has been working tirelessly in ensuring a smooth transition. SASSA employees were always available to answer whenever there was a problem, they were available 24/7 even though they might be expected to not be there at awkward times of the day, and they were in fact always available. If everyone worked and did their job, then current problems could be ironed out. The South African Post Office (SAPO) and SASSA have done their best to handle the situation. This was especially the case for SAPO that was new on the job and was making ways to better understand how to deliver in a better way.
The Chairperson also said that there could not be an expectation for SAPO to do very well on its delivery when it has never dealt with matters of this nature before. They have never had an opportunity to work on delivering for the poor. There was also the matter of working hours, they have never been at a stage where they had to work longer hours for the sake of service delivery. Labour laws allowed workers to leave when they finish their normal working hours, these kinds of problems hindered them from being able to do as much as they wanted. It was unnatural for this to be an expectation, the Chairperson expressed. This was an ongoing predicament which was also a bread and butter issue for beneficiaries. This was why people forgot about the processes and often get agitated by the matter. On the whole the government has done a good job in transforming the problems currently faced by SASSA. The Chairperson also expressed that she looked forward to not having to deal with CPS anymore because a number of important issues like the Children’s Act had been side-lined because SASSA has always been seen as an emergency that could override everything.
Ms C Madlopha (ANC) made a request that because the Committee had access to information that the general public did not have it should raise questions where they saw gaps. This was important because when coming to meetings Members could ask the right questions. Ms Madlopha also said that Members should remind the community that September was the last month for the issuing of the new SASSA cards.
The Chairperson suggested that Mr Danisile Sambamba, Parliamentary Liaison Officer make a small contribution towards the conversation. The Chairperson clarified that Mr Sambamba was not making a presentation but rather informing the Committee on matters that it did not have information on. He was to give an update on SASSA on behalf of the Minister.
Ms Mogotsi chaired the meeting while Ms Capa went out for a short while.
Mr Sambamba reported that the ministry had a target of 2.5 million card payments, 1.6 million cards have been delivered already and there was another 600 000 thousand yet to be delivered. He also noted that the Minister would be answering questions in parliament later that day. Most of the information that the Committee wanted would be made clear in that answer session.
The Chairperson also noted that it would be better if the Committee just waited for SASSA to present because she herself was confused about the meaning behind the numbers that were being said by Mr Sambamba.
Ms A Khanyile (DA) also commented on the matter of oversight. She said she did oversight in Mpumalanga. The biometrics system was offline throughout the province and people found themselves sitting outside SASSA offices with some even staying overnight because they could not afford to come to the offices every day. They were vulnerable and were not protected because they had to stay and wait for SASSA to be functional. There was a whole rural area where they did not get social grants because SASSA has not finalised a contract with G4S Company for the transportation of money to these areas.
The Chairperson said she understood where Ms Khanyile was coming from but grievances of this nature should wait for the presence of SASSA so that they could account for themselves in that area.
Ms Tsoleli also highlighted that should there be matters like the one that was voiced by Ms Khanyile then Members should ask the Chairperson to handle that kind of situation as she had a direct line to the Minister where such issues could be addressed quickly and directly.
Ms Capa returned to the meeting and resumed her role as the Chairperson. She expressed that when she was contacted especially in the case of an emergency she would make sure that within her powers she did everything that could be done to neutralise the situation, and made sure that everyone was looked after.
The Committee decided to put the matter of SASSA on hold for the moment and allowed the Department to do its presentation so that the meeting could move to other items on the agenda.
DSD briefing on the Household food and Nutrition Security Programme
Mr Mzolisi Toni, Acting Director-General at the Department of Social Development (DSD) greeted the Chairperson and thanked Members for the opportunity to brief them. The purpose of the presentation was to brief and clarify to the Committee the operation of the Household food and Nutrition Security Programme. He reported that in 2013 the cabinet approved the national policy on food and nutrition security together with the Household Food and Nutrition Strategy. This strategy called on the DSD to establish robust food distribution centres backed by a substantially larger commitment from the fiscus. Initially a network of food distribution centres was established through the Food Bank, an American company that was responsible for the creation of food banks across the country to facilitate the programme.
A household food and nutrition model was developed to focus on shifting the Department’s focus from the food banking model. The food banking model had food rescue as a main source of food which resulted in an unbalanced nutritious basket. Household Food (HF) & Nutrition Program (NP) strategy models focussed on nutrition and development through Provincial Distribution Centres and Community Development Centres.
This policy fell through the National Development Plan which identified food security and nutrition as a consequence of both poverty and hunger to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Under this model there were 17 directives by the cabinet – essentially they aimed for an integrated and comprehensive National Plan for South Africa that should be developed: a plan that holistically addressed matters of nutrition, one that had a focus on the preconception period of life, the first 1000 days, early childhood development and grade R. It was also directed that the national plan should address all matters of nutrition pertinent to children in various environments including households, communities, schools and primary health care settings. More than this the HF & ND for South Africa should reflect a common vision across government Departments which entailed a unified a unified set of national goals and objectives, indicators and targets for monitoring progress as well as a common budget for the implementation of activities. It should also enable the country to address problems such as hunger, malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies especially among children as directed by the National Development Plan 2030.
Ms Abrahams asked whether the Department had any monitoring and evaluation strategies at work. She asked this question because sometimes fridges or other items of a similar nature were not working. Was there a way of monitoring the warehouses to make sure everything was functioning? She then directed her questions towards the challenges that the Department was facing; she asked whether co-operatives had received any form of guidance on how to operate the programme as there should be a degree of mentorship happening to make sure that everyone was on par with what ought to be done. Were they getting guidance? She also asked how often the Department monitored the spaces where food was stored. Were there any health inspections that took place, and if yes, what were the consequences should it be found that these spaces were below health standards? What made these centres suitable for this job? What were the requirements for a space to be a dropping centre? She also asked how involved the Department was in verifying social media stories. She asked this question because she was concerned about stories she saw online that did not paint a good picture regarding the safety and standard of these centres. She also asked for a clarification on the story that there was imported food in these centres. She also asked if the Department could provide the Committee with a comprehensive list of the co-operatives involved in the programme for oversight and accountability purposes. She asked about the time it took these centres to distribute food to communities especially fresh produce. She asked this question in context of the time she went to one of these centres where she found food that was supposed to have been delivered on a Friday but was still in the centre the following Monday.
Ms Mogotsi wanted clarifications about the assets that were in the programme and if they were insured. If they were insured, under which insurance company were they insured? She also noted one of the challenges presented by the Department was a lack of capacity in governance. She asked what was meant by this exactly. She also asked about the implementing agents involved in Gauteng, how many co-operative Small, Medium and Micro-Sized Enterprises (SMME) were under the programme.
Ms Madlopha asked for a list of co-operatives so that when Parliament went on recess, she could go to these areas. With regards to insufficient coverage of the poor, Ms Madlopha highlighted the fact that municipalities were neglecting the poor. She noted that in communities there were ward councillors, ward committees and traditional councils that could be used to deliver this service. She suggested that these stake holders could be approached and negotiated with to see how they could deliver better services for communities. This was especially important and relevant because the Department had noted how the programme was suffering because of the lack of infrastructure. Churches could be used and ward councillors could make way for the use of community halls during weekdays to ensure that service was delivered to the people irrespective of the lack of infrastructure. She commented on the capacity of emerging producers and stated that the Department should rather have said that there was a lack of capacity from emerging producers instead of just saying that capacity was an issue for the programme. She asked for clarity on the eight organisations that were funded nationally and asked further what set these eight organisations apart from the rest of the 44 that were funded provincially. She also wanted clarity on the interferences that the Department highlighted as problems.
Ms Masango noted an oversight visit that was done previously in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and asked if the problems that were identified there been fixed yet. She also wanted to know what the exiting criterion for the programme was. She also expressed that even though the programme was not at optimum level yet, there were a couple things that she was generally not satisfied with. She made an example of a time she want to Graaf Reinet in the Eastern Cape (EC) where she was told that the food was not available yet because it was in a truck coming from KZN. Why was the food coming from KZN? She also commented on whether there is a possibility for the Department to work with other stake holders like SASSA to bridge the gap on coverage as they had vested interests in the running of the project.
The Chairperson highlighted that there was a little bit of unfairness in the DSD/Committee relations in the meeting. She highlighted that the Committee was not involved in the implementation of this programme but it was now expected to be fully operational in their oversight roles. She stated that the Committee was not able to question why certain decisions that it otherwise would not have endorsed because things were already decided by the Cabinet. She asked rhetorically how they were really supposed to exercise oversight when they did not have the option of expelling certain decisions. How were they expected to ask the right questions if they did not even understand the reasoning behind certain decisions being taken in the implementation of programmes? She also stated that the NGO’s that had been tasked with delivering some of the services should be called to the Committee to answer on what they had been doing, like how they had been functioning so that they could account for some of the decisions that they had taken. The Chairperson also highlighted something that she thought was very important in the implementation of the programme. She wanted the Department to consider the context in which this programme was occurring because South Africa was a developing nation. She highlighted an earlier decision by the DSD to allow policies that gave people an opportunity to train themselves. She said its earlier policies allowed people to cook food on their own, but now with this new programme people were not being empowered because they were brought cooked food when there could have been a policy that allowed them to exercise their agency to cook for themselves. She also asked how far communities had to be to be from these centres in which cooked food was being distributed. She asked who was the policy targeting, was it families, the poor, or just the malnourished? She also stated that the exiting strategy did not account for people with capable land. She asked what about people who had capable gardens, people who could sell their food stuffs to the programme? She noted that there were women who worked tirelessly in their gardens who could be empowered through this programme. She also noted how the Department was always changing its programmes.
Mr Toni Mzolisi, Acting Director General: The Department of Social Development (DSD) replied that people should understand that the reason for the beginning of the programme was because the National Treasury wanted to give R31 million to the food bank. The Department said that the money should be used instead to create a programme that would be beneficial for South Africa in many aspects. He emphasised that this programme was not the only feeding programme available in the country as there were are Early Childhood Centres and school nutrition programmes that were also there to fulfil the outcomes of the programme.
He noted that the Department was in tune contextually and knew what needed to be done. The plan was to empower people. It also should be understood that the Department only had R59 million out of the R150 billion budgets, so in this case it was not easy task to fulfil all its tasks with its budget. Even though there were these challenges the Department should not be deterred in fulfilling its obligations. The approach when it came to CNDC’s (Community Nutrition Development Centres) was that they had to be within the vicinity of the communities that they served. He said that there were areas in rural EC and KZN that where far from people. This was not the norm as it was not how the programme was run. In terms of how the Department got a hold of provincial implementing agents, the Departments advertised for those interested in being part of the programme. In this way a number of NGO’s got involved in the programme as distributors. He also clarified that the CNDC’s were funded nationally but were still part of the provincial structures that distributed food for the programme. When it came to Social Relief of Stress (SRD), he noted that the Department went through SASSA which had a criterion that allowed for the delivery of SRD’s. He also noted that this programme had a better menu for people and it provided nutritious food where there was a full meal that people received. He also stated that there was a list of all the co-operatives and NGO’s that the Committee wanted which would be sent to Members.
The Department met with the co-operatives every quarter. He agreed with the Chairperson that the programmes should be coming from a development perspective. The Department was not avoiding answering questions with regard to the programme; the problem was that it was implemented by the national government. The Department was there for the execution of the programme. He also commented on the matter raised regarding cooked food being transported from other locations and said that it was not a model of a programme for that to be done. The food was expected to be cooked in the communities that they would be serving. The national plan did not have duplications; the plan was to use Agrihubs that already existed in these areas especially in the rural areas. In this way the programme empowered the people at these centres. He said that in Gauteng there were local affairs affecting the progress of the programme.
Ms Mogotsi said there were issues in Gauteng notably the case of a young woman who was abducted. The Department had not assisted in that matter. The Department was expected to report on that but it still had not done so. In Kagiso, where these implementation agents were, there was a lot of corruption happening. She was wary of that site to the point where she felt that they might even get killed if they went there themselves.
The Chairperson said that this was why she had said that they should be invited to Parliament to present and account for the decisions that they had taken. Thereafter the Committee could then decide on which was best and which was not when it came to visitations.
Mr Toni clarified that the ECD’s were not part of this programme, they were funded provincially. The R59 million was not part of the ECD programmes or other programmes for that matter as it was only for the Household food and Nutrition Security Programme.
Mr Mondli Mbhele, Director of Food and Nutrition Security Coordination, National Department of Social Development replied that on the question of fleet management the Department had a fleet management system that allowed it to track cars through a tracking device. All these cars had a maintenance plan and could be tracked by the Department geographically and at the speed that they were traveling. All these cars were owned by the Department and were placed on the relevant sites. The Department had all the information about the vehicles, and it would even know if one of them incurred a ticket. He was confident that the Department could fully account for all the vehicles. The Department had recently invested in refrigerated trucks to ensure that food was transported fresh and of good standard. He then went on to say that Provincial Distribution Centres and Community Development Centres had to be certified for the acceptability for food handling premises. There were however, problems on the CNDC level, where there were problems regarding the infrastructure. Sometimes in informal settlements had no facilities and for standards to be met there needed to be running water for example. There often had to be a relationship with these communities where there was a gradual improvement of spaces so that they could meet these standards.
With regard to food quality assurance, Mr Mbhele said that this was the reason why the Department moved from the food banking model because it did not ensure food safety. The Department was moving towards food procurement: bulk buying and sourcing from local suppliers. There were structural problems that were associated with food procurement. People needed to understand the manner in which food supply worked before they could hope to be involved in projects of this nature. Usually the problem that faced the Department was that of capacity. Local farmers tended to not meet the capacity standards that the Department had and this was the reason why they needed to work with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to make sure that they had these capabilities. He also stated that beneficiaries should not stay in the programme perpetually. Once they had been profiled by circumstances there was consideration about building their capacities and exploring livelihood options for them to exit the programme.
The DSD did not currently have the budget to have sustainable livelihood programmes. They exit equipped some for an example exit through income generation projects that allow them to sustain themselves. The Department had learned that when it empowered communities to produce food for CNDC’s the next harvest from these communities was likely to increase because they had gained money from selling to CNDC’s as this was a reliable market for them. To emphasise this point he made an example of eMqanduli where that community produced maize meal for CNDC’s. The Department was beginning to see local people being involved in the food supply chain.
Mr Muzi Nkala, National Project Manager for National Department of Social Development, noted a problem that the Department often had to deal with. There was a DA led municipality in De Doorns that did not want an ANC led ward to have access to the community hall where food was being handed out. So no food has been distributed to the people because of this political fight. He used this situation to show how multiple stake holders could hinder the functioning of a programme. He also noted that although the Department had favoured Cooperatives in the past, currently there were multiple stake holders that were assisting in making sure that the Department sources its food from emerging farmers.
All the assets were insured since they belonged to the Department. To give context to the visit to Umbumbulu, when it came to the provinces they had the discretion to hire the CNDC’s that they deemed appropriate, KZN hired an additional 44 to the eight that was funded nationally. What used happen was that CNDC’s would get funding directly and they would buy stock on their own. This was changed to make use of provincial implementing agents. What this meant was that instead CNDC’s making these purchases on their own, food was now delivered to them. He also wanted to clarify that what was seen in Umbumbulu was a CNDC in action, everything worked well as it was supposed to.
The Chairperson interjected and said that although things were working very well at the moment, this was not always the case. When the Committee went for a visit nothing was working. All the cooking materials were not there, and there were even issues with electricity. On the day of the visit the food supplies were arriving from another centre. She also wanted to know why food security had to be bureaucratised. The consequence was that food travelled long distances because it was not sourced locally. If the money that funded this project was a grant, then it should not be manipulated by being used for matters other than what the purpose was. This affected the efficiency of these programmes and provinces had other matters that they saw as priorities. Money being sent to them held the risk of being used on these other emergencies.
Mr Nkala also commented on Radical Agrarian Socio-Economic Transformation (RASET) in KZN which included all buying Departments. Provinces had consolidated all their buying power to make sure that it was a provincial cabinet directive to make sure that when they bought material it was bought from black owned businesses. There were producing Departments that had also been handed directives: they were supposed to set aside a budget to make sure that they assisted local emerging farmers so that they had the capacity and input necessary to be in the food and supply chain industry. This programme was not fully operational but it would be soon.
The Chairperson asked who got the benefit of who was allowed to be a supplier in the programme. She said this to the delegation from the DSD. She did say however that she was not necessarily looking for answers to this question immediately but it was something that the Department had to consider for the next meeting. One of the other matters she wanted to be addressed was the impact of the programme like the ways in which it showed prioritisation of the development of locals. She wanted everyone to be aware that the Committee was writing its legacy report for the incoming Portfolio Committee. They should not be confused and should see grey areas with matters the Committee was currently tasked to deal with. This was why the Department had to make sure that they could answer all the questions that the Department was tasked with.
The meeting was adjourned.