High Level Panel recommendations: Department of Social Development response

Social Development

27 February 2019
Chairperson: Ms R Capa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Social Development (DSD) presented their response to the findings and recommendations of the High Level Panel (HLP), providing insight into their intermediate and long-term action plans to achieve the acceleration of fundamental change to meet the goals of the Panel. The focus of the presentation was broken up into administration, comprehensive social security welfare, and community development issues.

The Department referred to five key areas within their mandated operations. These were the Official Languages Act, the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), refugees and migrants, sexual offences data, and comprehensive social security.

The Chairperson was of the opinion that the Department’s recommendations given did not have sufficient short-term remedies and relied heavily on the amendment of legislation, which could not help the people who were currently in need. The Committee’s main discussions therefore focused on the immediate actions to be taken to ensure people could access their rights in the interim, ahead of legislation being amended. Members highlighted the importance of the implementation of the Official Languages Act, as it would allow the Department to communicate effectively with all South Africans.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson said the purpose of the meeting as to respond to the recommendations included in the High Level Panel (HLP) report. Mr Peter Netshipale, Deputy Director-General, DSD introduced Ms Nelisiwe Vilakazi, Deputy Director-General: Strategy and Organisational Transformation, as the presenter of the response. He said the structure of the presentation would be first to first evaluate the HLP issues concerning the DSD, and later in the presentation to describe the areas where work was being carried out.

DSD response on HLP report
Ms Vilakazi introduced an overview of the presentation (Slide 2) and expanded on the proposed recommendations with a broad focus on administration, comprehensive social security welfare services and community development. The purpose of the report was to give the Portfolio Community the Department’s response to the HLP on the assessment of key legislation and acceleration of fundamental change. The HLP had been commissioned by the  Speaker’s Forum in November 2017.

The Chairperson requested more information on the Panel to ensure that the Committee responded adequately to the report.

Ms Vilakazi explained it was a panel chaired by former President Mogatle and other experts, with a 601 page report, which would be referenced as the meeting proceeded for more context on certain issues.

The first issue was on the finding regarding the use of the Official Languages Act, No 12 of 2012.

The recommendations were that Parliament must ensure implementation of the use of official Languages Act. No 12 of 2012, such as departments setting up languages units.  The Department had come up with a language policy based on this act alongside the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) to ensure the Act was properly enforced. The intermediate actions were quarterly reporting to PanSALB on the implementation of the Act; to translate, transcribe and edit DSD documents in a phased approach (20% of documents generated translated, transcribed, and edited); and to provide interpreting services during DSD outreach programmes. The long-term actions were to establish language units; translate, transcribe and edit DSD documents in line with the use of official languages policy; and the mainstream the use of languages in DSD frameworks and policies

The next findings were the poor implementation of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). 

The recommendations were that Parliament should use its powers to introduce the legislative changes to the PAIA. Currently, the Department had reviewed the PAIA manual and established a departmental manual.
In the short term, it aimed to translate, publish and print the PAIA manual in 11 official languages, including Braille; hold an annual information awareness session with DSD officials on 29 September 2019; and report compliance of PAIA to relevant institutions having oversight on PAIA. The Department’s long-term plans were to hold awareness sessions with DSD stakeholders on PAIA and the Protection of Personal Information Act (PPIA) and embed the PAIA principles in the DSD governance frameworks. The Department aimed to improve access to information and PAIA obligations.

The third finding was on refugees and migrants, with recommendations on 4.11, on page 350. The Department already has a short training programme developed on population migration, sustainable development and human rights which has been piloted In KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), the Free State and Gauteng. The long-term strategy is to roll-out this programme to the rest of the provinces.

The findings on sexual offences data and recommendations indicated there was a lack of publicly available comprehensive, accurate data in boththe public and private sectors as a constraint to the evaluation of efficiency, equity and quality of the health care system. The DSD had engaged with different data producers, especially the South African Police Service (SAPS) in terms of data produced. Data collected in terms of gender-based violence should be disaggregated by age, gender, crime committed, race and geographical locations. One of the objectives of 1998 population policy was to make reliable and up to date information on human and population development available.

Finanlly, on comprehensive social security, the finding was that there was no provision for supervising adults to assist the child-head households (CHH) to access the child support grant (CSG). It was recommended that the Act should be amended to align it with the Children’s Act, allowing supervising adults supporting child-headed households to apply for the CSG on behalf of children under their supervision. The intermediate action was to facilitate legislation to broaden the definition of a care-giver, to allow supervising adults to apply for the CSG on behalf of the children under their supervision. The conduct of supervisors was better regulated in the Children’s Act.

The Chairperson was worried that the presentation would carry on in this way, as it was not clear what could be done to solve the problems communities were currently facing and the short-term solutions that needed to be communicated to the public concerning the issues above, as the elections had halted the legislative process and amendments to legislation took time to implement, so short-term solutions should be the focus of the Department.

Ms B Masango (DA) agreed and suggested the DSD add a column for intervening strategies in the meantime, as the concerns were known but intervention was necessary for the public.
The Chairperson worried that people were not able to access their rights because of a lack of documentation (birth certificates, etc) and barriers that occurred because of insufficient structures for the official languages and disabilities.

Ms Conwen Nxunalo, for the DSD, said the limitations were on the request sent to the Department by the HLP and the High Court, with a focus on legislation amendment. There were legal provisions that were not allowing the system to operate properly, and therefore the emphasis on legislation.

The Chairperson said that the Department must liaise with the secretary regularly when compiling reports to uphold the manifesto, and further requested the short-term steps the Department would take while legislation was amended.

Mr Netsipale acknowledged the Chairperson’s point, and said the responses were directed by the mandate given to the Department.

The Chairperson asked for more elaboration on the short-term and pilot programmes the Department was running, with relevant statistics on evaluating objectives and performance. She also brought up the issue of the communication problems between the beneficiaries and the Department, and if the beneficiaries understood their rights.

Dr Q Madlopha (ANC) said that legacy reports needed to be highly comprehensive, and recommended a column for short-term strategies.

The Chairperson asked the Members if a child needed legislation to access grant funding. Social workers could not deal with legal issues, but there was a Bill in the pipeline and changes were being made in Parliament and processed through the Speaker’s office while it waited to receive the Bill.

Ms S Tsoleli (ANC) said that foster care grants were a major problem now, so an interim plan of action should be taken.

The Chairperson asked about a previous amendment and its application to public social workers in resolving the backlog being experienced.

Ms Nxunalo responded that the amendment the Chairperson referred to dealt with backlogs regarding adoption, not foster care, and the court order backlog expired on 28 February 2019. The Department had to submit a report to court on 28 Feb 2019 and each premier had to respond to the court order on limitations in the number of social workers available and lack of resources available in each province.  Most provinces had dealt with the backlogs in terms of the court order, and new applications were causing the current backlog. The definition of a child in need was being amended and the Department had developed an intermediate grant, CSG Social Securities, which was supposed to bridge the gap between the CSG and foster care.

The Chairperson’s concern was that children in need were not being properly attended to and social workers in SA were conflicted, as foster applications were made by aunts and relatives. African family structures were different in SA, as there were no legal regulations guiding family structures so relatives sought financial grants from foster care, as they were more than CSGs. She was concerned about the commitment of social workers and their willingness to carry out legislation. Discussions with the Secretary needed to have short-term structures with informal arrangements for social workers to be outsourced to cluster areas. She requested that the Minister act, because she was the only one with the power to carry out these actions. There were insufficient reporting tools to communicate successes and failures of outreach and pilot programmes, which could be the short-term solution to the CSG problem. All the concerns listed above should be added to the legacy reports for future committees.
Ms Brenda Sibeko referred to the importance of the timeframes legislation being passed and the urgent provisions that needed to be made for the Children’s Act and CSG bill. The Minister had to wait for legislation and could not access money, as the Bill has not yet been passed.

The Chairperson said that the Bill was not processed and had never been considered as priority legislation to the amendments. The Minister had stated that she had never seen the Bill and therefore could not act, but the community needed answers and explaining legislation backlogs would not satisfy the community.

Mr Netsipale acknowledged the changes that needed to be made.

Ms Vilakazi continued the presentation with reference to the means test for disability findings, indicating that the means test procedure led to exclusion and was complex for the public to understand. It also encouraged the concealment of income, which exacerbates corruption and fraud.  She recommended the Act should be amended to include a widely accepted definition of disability.

The Chairperson requested an intermediate solution, and referred to and experience with Prof Taylor and the introduction of the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA).

Ms Sibeko responded by speaking to the Deputy Speaker on the issues, as her research had been comprehensive on the SASSA Bill 2002.

The Chairperson said that all that was being discussed concerned legislation.

Ms Tsoleli suggested that all the Acts that needed to be amended should be brought forward at the same time to avoid wasting time and court resources. Politicians on the ground needed an answer for people who were facing social development issues while legislation was being amended.

The Chairperson said that the main problem being addressed was that there was no will to extract what could be done in the meanwhile.

Ms Sibeko said the recommendations of Prof Taylor’s committee task team had seen certain actions implemented, and others were in the process of implementation. Post-SASSA implementation Prof Taylor had been supposed to present the findings to the Committee on the measurement of performance which was taking place in the Department and was continuously amended.

The Chairperson responded that the Prof Taylor situation was not important, but the focus was on the HLP, and they would later consult Prof Taylor. Immediate responses were necessary for the public to receive their rights. Task teams needed to be included on the budget, but shortcuts could be taken to resolve these issues. The Minister could not augment right now, but there were ways to deal with the above issues in the meantime. She suggested the report being presented did not cover these issues and therefore the meeting should end.

Ms Tsoleli expressed her disappointment with the DSD with regard to the Official Languages Act. The presentation showed no strategy to implement the Act within departments. Language was a constitutional mandate, and indigenous languages were continuously being marginalised. Departments should promote languages, to create a more inclusive government. The DSD was said to have not attended meetings to focus on the language issue, and she was disappointed at its lack of interest in enforcing the Language Act.  It was important, especially for the DSD, as they dealt with South Africans every day.

With interviews for language, there were qualified people to drove the Language Act. There were educated young people who needed employment to drive the enhancement of the Act.  She requested that the Language Act form part of the Committee’s legacy report.   

The Chairperson said that the Language Act formed part of the access to information and communication for citizens, which could deprive people of essential rights available to them. Units needed to be established to promote the progression of this Act at the national, provisional and regional level, and to maintain accountability. Gatekeeping policies in the department were undermining citizens with disabilities and looking for reasons for people to function and avoid giving people grants. It was called ‘Mark’s Gatekeeping Policy’ and undermined the mean’s test and prevented people from accessing their rights. She suggested an appeals process if applicants were rejected. 

The Chairperson asked which communities would be trained on the refugees policy, and how it would be executed by the DSD. 

The other issue was the Sexual Offences Data Act, and outlined that the information was in the public domain and that there was a specific committee that dealt with the Act.

Ms A Khanyile (DA) said that in Mpumalanga especially, disabled people were being ignored. When the Department is contacted with regards to issues via email, there is no response to the sender. A report had been filed in November 2018 of a disabled woman who could not leave her home during the day and was left without supervision, with her being vulnerable to abuse or neglect. The Department was not doing enough to deal with people with disability, as they are being abused and could not defend themselves or file charges against abusers, as witnesses were needed to open a case. 

Ms B Abrahams (ANC) raised the issue of granting aid to pensioners.  She requested clarity on the aid and qualifications necessary to receive the grant, as she said anyone over the age of 80 was eligible. Some applicants over the age of 80 had been informed they needed assessments to access the grant even though they were automatically eligible as they were over the age of 60.

Ms N Sonti (EFF) emphasised on the need for social workers in communities to help access peoples’ grants.

The Chairperson responded on social workers’ conduct and findings of corruption, and said there was no mention of the issue in the public domain, so the beneficiaries who should benefit were not. Grants did not cover issues such as mobility and therefore referrals to other departments, such as the Department of Health were necessary to help the citizen. There needed to be more inter-departmental contact to solve some of the problems faced by people.

The Chairperson emphasised the corruption existing among social workers and the lack of systems of accountability to monitor their conduct and ensure the right beneficiaries were receiving aid. The report presented addressed the findings and legislation, but there was no way for the Committee to deal with the issues hands on. Matters needed to be directed to the Minister, and there should be development of a more comprehensive report focusing on short-term and long-term objectives, with feasibility prospects.

The Chairperson requested Prof Taylor’s documentation on the issues.

Ms Abrahams referred to the substance abuse finding, and specifically to how this would impact legislation and the way the Department worked, because the Western Cape was allowing the sale of alcohol in schools.

The Chairperson acknowledged that the Western Cape needed to follow national legislation.

Ms Masango suggested that documents should be used when door to door visits are held to track progress. A column indicating the status quo for the moment should be added to the presentation as it would help the Committee to communicate information to the public and in turn, track social workers.

The Chairperson suggested that social workers needed a workshop on corruption for transparency in the Department. There had been a request for a Gender Commission conference n 8 March. The conference did not include Members of Parliament. The DSD should be involved – how could they recommend changes if had no access to information. There was a need to focus on gender based violence statistics according to race, gender and age. The DSD had been invited at a provincial level, but the police were a prerequisite for the work of the DSD.

The Chairperson asked the DSD to focus on the issues raised by the Committee, highlighting issues in a more concise statistical way, rather than in a narrative-based report.
The Department responded that it needed proper details for the follow-ups on the cases raised.
Language was very important and the focus would be on short term/intermediate action while legislation was approved, which should be aligned with the Department of Arts and Culture’s implementation of the language units. The President had met with disabled people, and the response had been to try to communicate better with the public on their rights and responsibilities, and to ensure citizens were informed. The Department had
to consult with the provinces, as areas differed, an- more specific action was required in the different regions ensure success.

The meeting was adjourned.

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