The Department of Social Development (DSD) appeared before the Committee to discuss the Department’s adjusted estimates for provincial expenditure.
According to the CFO, the Department had received R5 128 000 as an adjustment increase. Of that, R1.5 million was revenue retention from the previous year that the Department could also utilize in the adjustment budget.
Members had several clarity seeking questions on a number of adjustments to programs, these include the allocation for vehicles for children with disability, the Drought Relief Reserve, payment for financial assets, the retirement and resignations in the substance abuse program and the location of the additional youth cafes.
The Chairperson said that the purpose of the meeting was to deliberate on vote 7, the adjustment appropriation. She gave Mr Albert Fritz, Provincial Minister of Social Development, and Dr Robert Macdonald, Head of Department, an opportunity to give some overview remarks.
Mr Fritz responded that the he would rather wait for the engagement session and that the Department was looking forward to it.
The Chairperson indicated that the discussion would be based on contents from page 155-167. She asked the members to indicate the page numbers related to their questions.
Ms P Makeleni (ANC) said she would not allow the Minister to just say he was happy to answer the questions. Her thinking was that the Minister would take the Committee through the process of the adjustments to the Bill and the thinking behind it. So that when Members asked any questions, they understood where the adjustments came from.
The Chairperson clarified that the Minister would deliberate on the questions after they were posed by the Members.
Ms D Gopie (ANC) noticed a decrease of R888 000 on social welfare, on page 155. She asked how the decrease was going to affect the services for that program.
Ms M Wenger (DA) noticed that on page 167, under program 2 for the social welfare service, there was R3 318 000 allocated to provide for vehicles for children with disabilities. She asked how many vehicles could be adopted with that budget. She also noted that on page 167, there was R1 million allocated for the Drought Relief Reserve. She asked for clarification on which areas would be served by that amount.
The Chairperson added to Ms Wenger’s comment regarding the vehicles; she asked what centers were attached to these vehicles and where were these centers located?
Ms Makeleni mentioned that the Minister of Finance had referred to a R86 billion that was coming from the Department of Education, Social Development and other Departments. She asked for an understanding of what the contribution of the Department of Social Development (DSD) was, and what the money was going to be used for. She also commented that on page 155, there was an increase or adjustment of R300 000 allocated to the administration. Was this increase related to a new post in the administration? Furthermore, she inquired about the R2 307 000 for machinery and equipment, as mentioned on page 156. She said that it seems as though money might be moving from one item to another; she asked for an explanation of this in simple terms. Ms Makeleni also noticed that on page 157, there was R441 000, that was going to be used for payment for financial assets, as a provision for thefts and losses due accidents. She asked for a brief explanation on that.
Dr Macdonald explained the adjusted budget comprised of some shifts internally and some extra money from Treasury. He asked the CFO and the Finance Director to explain the numbers for the net increase and also provide details on the questions asked.
Mr Juan Smith, Chief Financial Officer, DSD, said that the Department had received R5 128 000 as an adjustment increase. Of that, R1.5 million was revenue retention from the previous year that the Department could also utilize in the adjustment budget. The rest of it was new funding. The R300 000 was allocated for the youth outreach. And R2.3 million was allocated for the disability court case and the vehicles that will be procured based on the court case for intellectually disabled children. This funding will probably go to NGOs. He added that the Department was currently looking at two vehicles that must be specially adapted for the need of the children with disabilities. He then explained that the R1 million for the Drought Relief Reserve for food aid was allocated for Agrifarm workers and their families. He said that the R888 000 adjustment was due to the Department's compensation in terms of the filling of posts and retirements that had occurred. Mr Smith explained that the R300 000 administration was the youth outreach, which was in the Ministry program one. This was an executive priority for the Department. He further mentioned that the R441 000 is what the Department had made provision for in terms of write-offs, especially with government vehicles. The state attorney had indicated these vehicles were uneconomical, so the Department could not pursue it any further. The staff that use these vehicles do not forfeit their cover. Therefore, the Department also needed to write those off.
Dr Macdonald said that, in terms of the Drought Relief Reserve and the determination of the areas, the Department was already servicing a number of areas. He said he would provide more details at later stage. He added that the Department was looking at procuring vehicles and then handing them over to NGOs that are able to manage them. This would be determined through a selection process as there were quite a few NGOs that were potentially suitable for that. This was stemming from the right to education court case which demanded by court order the that the Department provides more services for children with severe intellectual disabilities. There were aspects of the case regarding transportation, which had the most difficulties across the board, from accommodation to education. The transportation was about getting these kids to educational activities. Dr Macdonald then explained that, regarding the reduction in the welfare services, it was a big budget because it encompasses all regional staff. However, it had an impact on service delivery as the Department was struggling to fill vacancies. There were unexpected resignations of social work supervisors, social work managers, and the posts have to be filled. That was quite a challenge for the Department because people resigned with a months’ notice and then it took up to five or six months to find someone else to replace them. That puts pressure on the regional offices.
The Chairperson wanted further clarification with regard to the money allocated for the purchase of two vehicles. She asked if the funding allocated to that also included repairs and maintenance pertaining to those vehicles. She also asked if once NGOs that will benefit had been identified by the Department, will the service providers for repairs and maintenance of these vehicles, and would be located in the area of the NGO. The worry was that once the vehicles go for repair in a completely different region, it would take a long time for it to come back from being serviced.
Ms Gopie asked to follow up on her previous question on page 159, under program 3.2, there was R183 000 allocated for retirement and resignations. She asked for a breakdown of how many retirements and how many resignations made up the R183 000.
Mr D Holley, Director: Finance, DSD, said that the Department had 95 new appointments,10 promotions, and 104 staff exited the Department.
Dr Macdonald said that the retirement payments was related to leave gratuities. He added that, according to the Department's submission to Treasury, it was looking at getting a Toyota Quantum 14-seater which would be R472 000 and a VW Crafter 23-seater, which will be R589 000. The adaptation of the two vehicles will approximately cost R300 000 per vehicle, making it R600 000 in total. Seating devices for 20 seats on the two vehicles is R144 000. The capital cost amounts to R1.8 million. He explained that the operational costs that the Department was making provision for in that additional budget are driver salaries which will be given the NGO to pay the drivers, which will be R168 000. The Maintenance, insurance and contingency is allocated R100 000, and petrol will be allocated R244 000. The total operational costs for the year amounts to R512 000. That adds up to the R2 318 000. The Department is hoping to expand that to R3 million in the next year and maintain it through the other years.
Ms Gopie said that, on page 161 under the sub-program 3.3, the report spoke about provision for two additional youth cafes and the youth awards ceremony. She asked if these youth cafes the same which had received shifts from sub-program 2.1.
Mr Smith said that funds for sub-program 3.3 were re-prioritized due to decrease in payments to safety parents. This funding was re-prioritized it to youth development for sub program 5.6, to make provision for the setup of two additional youth cafes and the youth awards ceremony that was to take place.
Ms Gopie asked if the youth cafes were the same youth cafes on program 2.1.
Mr Smith responded that they were additional youth cafes that the Department wanted to set up.
Ms P Lekker (ANC) said that regarding safety parents, the money was under-spent, or it was re-channeled. She asked for an explanation of why the money was shifted somewhere else. She also wanted to know where these safety kiosks were going to be located. Furthermore, how much of the money was intended to go to the youth awards. What was the total amount of the awards? She asked how much was going to be spent on the new cafes. She asked for a break-down of that money that had been shifted from elsewhere to this other side.
Ms Makeleni corrected her earlier question regarding the R86 billion for youth and improved learner outcomes was actually going into the four Departments. She wanted to know how much the Department was getting and what the money was going to be used for.
Dr Macdonald responded to the question regarding the money under-spent on safety parents, the amount was allocated based on the trends of expenditure in the previous year. The money that was given to safety parents was allocated for times when a child was placed for temporary safety care with those parents. That was somewhat unpredictable. Some years and months had more children being placed into temporary safety care and sometimes there would be less. It fluctuates up and down depending on a range of factors beyond the Department's control. This was related to how long it took to finalize court cases. The longer the child stays with the temporary safety parent, the longer the Department would be paying temporary safety fee. So, if the court processes are sped up and the child is placed into foster care sooner, or alternatively return to the family sooner. Then the temporary safety care period is shorter and the temporary safety fees required will be less. The Department tries to make projections based on trends. Last year, there was a spike on temporary safety fees. Dr Macdonald added that the safety kiosks were located in Saldanha and Agulhas.
Mr Fritz said that the children's court processes had now been sped up. Those inefficiencies had been sorted out, which meant that there will not be as many safety parents required. However, since there was a spike in the previous year, it is was budgeted for this year and therefore there are savings around that.
Mr Smith said that the budget for youth awards was about R300 000 - 400 000, and R1.4 million for the youth cafes to help with the setup and operationalization.
Dr Macdonald replied to Ms Makeleni regarding the 86 billion for learner outcomes, he did not know how Treasury had split that. However, the Department had its own youth budget, and a budget for Early Childhood Development. The Department also has its special project for school readiness. So, there is a lot of money in the Department that goes there, but it was not clear what they had decided they would use in that definition. Potentially quite a substantial portion of the Department’s budget goes that way.
Ms Gopie asked, regarding the 104 staff that exited the Department, whether there was a plan to fill those vacancies or if the Department was going to freeze or cut the posts.
Dr Macdonald responded that the Department was not planning to freeze them as there was a need to fill the posts. The Department had been operating on essential posts for quite some time, so where there had been exits, there was need to fill those post.
Ms Lekker asked if it was just the provincial Department that is contributing to the youth cafes in Saldanha and Agulhas, or if there was a partnership with the municipalities. She asked what the cost of a youth center in a specific area was.
Dr Macdonald replied that the municipality had contributed the youth cafe in Saldanha. Generally, in most areas where the Department had set up youth cafes, municipalities had assisted with the infrastructure. So, the Department covers the operations, and the municipalities covers the venue and the infrastructure. He added that the cost of establishing a youth cafe upfront is R700 000 to set up all the IT systems and other necessary equipment. There is an operating cost per annum of about R1 million depending on the size of the youth cafes.
Ms Makeleni said that on page 172, regarding the substance abuse program, there was R3 628 000 taken from the substance abuse program. Besides cannabis, there was still a drug problem in the province. Therefore, it did not make sense to take money away from the restorative services. Rather, money was supposed to be pumped into that program instead of taking it away. She asked for an explanation on what was going on.
Mr Holley said that, regarding the substance abuse allocation, the Department had its own centers which include De Novo and Kensington. There was an administrative cost. The Department had generated savings from operational leases that it had within those facilities. The new contracts for photocopy machines are now half of what the Department had previously paid. The Department had implemented VoIP, which is the communication system, so the telephone accounts had decreased from a number of millions to zero. He added that the adjustment in allocation did not affect the program that the Department was providing through the NGO sector.
Dr Macdonald added that De Novo was primarily a treatment center for adults. The Department had divided it in half because of the huge need for services to children at risk. So, space had been created for a reception of observation, assessment and a referral center for children at risk with substance abuse problems. So there has been a shift towards children, which is in a different program.
Ms Makeleni asked for clarification on whether the money is taken from the substance abuse program to the childrens program?
Dr Macdonald replied that it is moved to social crime prevention program not the children’s care program.
Ms Makeleni asked for an explanation for the R3.9 million taken from the compensation of employees for the restorative services program.
Mr Holley replied that there had been a lot of resignations and retirements. These employees had come out of the program of restorative services. There was an aging group of staff in the sector; they are either very close to retirement or early retirement. `
Dr Macdonald said that the highest turnover of staff was with child and youth care workers. The Department was also having a lot of trouble retaining educators. The educators in the secure facilities were not being paid as much as the school teachers get paid. So, it was difficult to attract and retain educators in that environment. Currently the Department was looking into a contract with Education Department such that they appoint people and send them across to DSD. The situation is similar with nurses.
Ms Makeleni asked what measure was available to assist in retaining staff, especially the educators. The worry was that the children may end up not doing anything in these protection centers and not learn anything if we do not have those educators. What is the plan there?
Mr Fritz replied that most of the staff were retiring in the next year or two. These are natural attrition, people going through the system. The good thing was that it creates space for young, new innovative people to come in. He added that he was in discussion with the Department of Education to see whether they can have the same level of treatment for DSD educators as those in schools. He mentioned that the DSD educators do not get the same number of holidays as school teachers and the environment is more stressful in the protection centres. This is unfair as they have the same qualifications.
Dr Macdonald said that the Department currently had teachers; the problem was that once they left; there were vacancies for up to a month before someone else was found. In such cases, the Department ended up saving on vacancies. The day programmes are also run by the child and youth care workers and not only the educators but they are an important part of it. The Department needs to make sure the children are getting a good education and ensure that their right is protected. But it was clear that the system was not working, it had been the Department's battle for a couple of years.
Ms Makeleni expressed her confusion as to what the problem is; the Department mentioned the aging staff as well as the staff retention problem.
Mr Fritz clarified that the child and youth care workers are the ones who were aging, and that there was a retention problem with the educators. These are two separate categories.
Dr Macdonald further mentioned that there are a number of reasons for staff turnover. There is the aging of child and youth care workers, and there was high turnover among educators because the environment is very stressful. A few had resigned because they could not handle it. Some staff members are also fired. Unfortunately, the Department had some cases where child and youth care workers assault the children, which calls for their dismissal.
The Chairperson thanked the Department and the Committee for the engagement.
The meeting was adjourned.