Social Assistance Bill: briefing

Social Development

26 August 2003
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Meeting report

SOCIAL ASSISTANCE COMMITTEE MEETING

PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
27 August 2003
BRIEFING: SOCIAL ASSISTANCE BILL

Chairperson: Mr E Saloojee

Documents
Social Assistance Bill

SUMMARY
The Committee discussed the Social Assistance Bill and the schedule for other Bills. The Department briefing team consisted of Mr Fedzile Makiwane, Deputy Director-General of Social Security, Mr Selwyn Jahoma, Director of Grants Assistance and Administration, and Ms Patricia Maloka, Chief Director of Social Security Policy.

MINUTES
Mr Mzolisi Fukula, the Committee Secretary, explained that it was not possible to prepare a Committee programme and hearings schedule because he was not sure when the bills would be tabled. For the same reason, he was not able to apply for funding for public hearings on these bills.
The four bills relating to social security, social assistance, social security agency, older persons and children were being developed by the state law advisors. They were supposed to be presented to Parliament by 1 August and Cabinet had requested that they be tabled as soon as possible. The Social Security Agency Bill was likely to be tabled later that day.

Mr Selwyn Jahoma, Director of Grants Assistance and Administration, provided an overview of the Social Assistance Bill, focussing on three issues:
Centralisation of the social assistance function
The inspectorate function to combat fraud
Arranging for the agency to be established

The Cabinet was currently conducting a policy review so the Social Assistance Bill had left out several significant matters pending that review.

The social assistance competence was assigned to provinces in 1997 and therefore anomalies could arise.

In Chapter 1, there were no major changes to definitions but defining the administrator and inspectorate had been added.

Chapter 2 was a restatement of previous legislation except for the provision of social assistance to non-South Africans. Section 8(b) on the foster child grant would be reworked if the Children's Bill was introduced. Section 10 on the age criteria was going before court.

Chapters 3 and 4 had been difficult to draw up as they had to cover the transition period of social assistance being centralised from the nine provinces. Section 17 made provision for the Minister to write off debts. This power was assigned to the accounting officer in the Public Finance Management Act but in practice, accounting officers were reluctant to do so because their books would not balance. Sections 20-23 made a fine distinction between the right and the amount of social assistance. Section 22 was a new direction which provided for an obligation on the part of financial institutions to provide information regarding a beneficiary or applicant for social assistance.

Many concepts in the Inspectorate in Chapter 5 had been lifted from the ICD. The Executive Director of the Inspectorate would report directly to the minister to ensure his independence (section 26).

Discussion
Some members had difficulty in understanding how centralisation would work in practice. Department staff explained that Chapter 4 spelt out government's duties which would have to be devolved to provinces. Policy determination and monitoring for example, would be the national department's responsibility. The intention was to equalise social assistance between provinces but provinces would deal with issues peculiar to that area. They would also have a say in policy determination at a central forum.

Mr M Masutha said that there should be a statutory body to deal with the financing of social assistance and there should be differentiation between grants to organisations in the field and social assistance. The Bill problematically used the terms "social assistance" and "grant" interchangeably.

Social distress relief was a provincial function according to a Cabinet decision. It was covered in the old Act and policy would be designed with provinces.

Mr Masutha said that the capitation grant needed to clarified further. Some grants were being taken from the Directors-general and their functions split between an administrator/agency and an inspectorate. In terms of the Public Finance Management Act, to what extent was the DG responsible? Would the offices of the inspectorate, DG, administrator and agency each have their own accounting officer? How would accountability be managed? Did the payment of grants originate in the agency or did the DG generate it? These issues were not addressed in the current draft of the Bill. In retracting the assignment to pay grants from the provinces, no interim provision of financial arrangements had been made. There should be transitional arrangements for a systematic transfer of power and function, followed by the transfer of capacity and resources and legalities.

The Department responded that the agency would be a public entity that would report to the Minister. Its CEO would have a performance contract. The DG would also report to the Minister and ensure that services were delivered. He would be responsible for transferring funds to pay grants and would not do so if the agency was ineffective.

Concern was expressed about the independence of the inspectorate if it reported to the Minister via the DG. The inspectorate should investigate independently but still be accountable.

A spokesperson for the department acknowledged that the arrangements for the transitional period were inadequate.

Members of the committee said that the DG appeared to have no function and that responsibility seemed to lie between the agency and the DG.

A spokesperson for the department said that the agency was a private sector organisation, therefore outside government and was dealt with in the PFMA. Between the Minister and the agency, there would be a well-understood compact but the government had to transfer funds in order for grants to be paid. Therefore a relationship between the department and the agency was unavoidable.

The Committee agreed that the concept was well captured but not constructed well in terms of the relationships between parties. Clearer delineations of the duties of the minister, DG, administrator, inspector and agency were needed. There should be a section devoted to administrator's powers and functions relative to the DG. The revised role of the DG should be defined. The Minister's role should include setting norms and standards, making regulations and setting policy. There should be a code of conduct for agency staff.

The Committee then went through the Bill clause by clause. In definitions 1 (i), administrator seemed to be used interchangeably with administrator, which would lead to accountability problems. In 1 (iii) "in terms of sections 6 to 11" should be deleted. 1(xx) on page 5 duplicated Chapter 5 (5) (b). The latter should be deleted.

The new Child Care Act would impact on the definitions of "foster parent" and "foster child".

The Department would reconsider the age limit in the definition of "primary care giver" in 1 (xvii) to cater for child-headed households.

The Department had considered catering for political liberation struggle veterans in Chapter 2 but had decided that policymaking was not their role.

The Chair regretted that the meeting had to adjourned although the Committee had not concluded going through the Bill.


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