Minister Progress Reports: Human Settlements & Social Development

NCOP Petitions and Executive Undertakings

05 September 2019
Chairperson: Ms Z Ncitha (ANC, Eastern Cape)
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Meeting Summary

This Committee was briefed on progress made in various programmes of the Department of Human Settlements (DHS) and the Department of Social Development (DSD).

One of the main issues addressed by the DHS was that of title deeds, which was seen as a pervasive issue in the housing subsidy programme. Both the Members and the Department acknowledged the corruption that occurred in the procurement of housing. The Department discussed other procurement issues, including the use of different, sustainable building materials for its housing programmes. There was a discussion on the agreement with the Department of Science and Technology, together with the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in the hope of finding better building materials, considering the fact that the climate was changing, and this would require different building materials.

The DSD presented on the different programmes that it was running. The most contentious was the social work scholarship. There were 556 social workers that had been employed by the Department in the various provinces this financial year. The grant that had used to enrol social workers as students was now being used to hire many of those who had graduated but did not have jobs. This was because there was a backlog of social workers who needed to be absorbed before the DSD could continue to enrol other students. There were many issues that were hindering the success of this programme. Some provinces were not hiring social workers as they should, and this was defeating the objectives that the Department wanted to achieve. To avoid the misuse of grants, the Department had created programmes whose funding would fall under the National Treasury, and subject to scrutiny by the Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA). This would ensure that there was compliance by the provinces.

Other programmes that were briefly mentioned were the “You Only Live Once” (YOLO) programme, which teaches sexual and reproductive rights to children, where the aim was to impart knowledge that would be useful for them in life, and the Ezabasha (“Of the youth”) programme, which was meant to allow children to be children -- essentially the right to play. To further these efforts, the Department had introduced the Social Assistance Bill, which was intended to help children in foster care to get an intermediary grant while in the process of acquiring the foster care grant. There were a number of areas that this bill intended to reform, such as creating a pension fund for workers so that they could secure their retirement.

Meeting report

Briefing by Department of Human Settlements

Mr Mbulelo Tshangana, Director General (DG): Department of Human Settlements (DHS) outlined the manner in which the presentation was going to be presented, and handed over to Mr William Jiyana Chief Director (CD): Stakeholder and Intergovernmental Relations, to present on the issue of housing:

Mr Jiyana said the notion of making townships modern had started with the N2 Gateway Project in Cape Town, and had now been started in Cosmo City and Durban. The size and scale of the project was growing. The issue of material supply was not an easy one, because manufacturers preferred to supply the bigger chain stores, which had the advantage of buying in bulk. This had helped these stores to secure better price structures than the government could. It had been suggested that the Department should look to smaller manufacturers to see if they could offer better choices. This had, in fact, been done in the Eastern Cape, and had been successful in the Nelson Mandela Metro. The DHS was now looking at doing this on a more expansive scale.

The Department had a bilateral agreement with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and other departments, like the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) through the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in the hope of finding better building materials, taking into account that the climate was changing, and this would require different building materials. The scope was huge. There was a lot that was being considered in comparing the current systems, like geysers on roof tops, where the Department was not sure if they were the right weight for the building structures that they were on top of. The agreement was meant to look into these kinds of issues. The DHS would also be rolling out a community education programme on these changes for the next two months, which would be presented to Parliament for adoption.

The Department had set itself an ambitious target for streamlining a portion of its grants to specific grants. One was for title deeds, and another was for informal settlements’ upgrading. These grants were meant to target specific spaces, and would force provinces that tended to divert grants to other areas instead of the specified areas to act according to what they were expected to do.

Discussion

Ms M Mmola (ANC, Mpumalanga) asked what progress had been made in getting the Social Services Practitioners Bill passed. What progress had been made in the refurbishment of pay point infrastructure? She wanted to know about the formal agreement that the DHS had reached with Department of Energy – how long had it been since it was entered into, and was it working.

Ms. S Shaik (ANC, Limpopo) said she did not have specific questions. However, when it came to the recommendations that the Department had to look into, it would be helpful if it provided time frames so that should the Committee want to look into them, they would be able to do so. She also wanted to find out if there had been compliance with the grants that the Department was allocating.

Mr S Zandamela (EFF, Mpumalanga) said that he also wanted to enquire about the timelines Ms Shaik had already referred to.  He added that because the Committee represented provinces, it would be preferable if the Department made presentations that had information specific to provinces.

Mr K Motsamai (EFF, Gauteng) wanted clarity on the manner in which title deeds worked. In Emfuleni, where he currently resides; there were people there who had two houses belonging to them. How was this possible, and what was the DHS doing about it? He also asked about a hostel in KwaMasiza, where there were people there who did not have homes, but the hostel remained empty. Had the Department placed any people in that hostel?

Mr A Gxoyiya (ANC, Northern Cape) also wanted clarity on the matter of title deeds and home ownership. Where he was from, the Northern Cape, there were people who owned multiple homes in the same location, some even buying them in sequence next to each other to build semi-complexes for rentals. Some people received housing subsidies, only to go back to informal settlements so that they could rent these homes and get back on the list. What had the Department done to curb this from happening? He asked if the Department had undertaken the task of doing a cost analysis of building materials. There had not been an advocacy campaign to educate people on the availability of the Government Employee Housing Scheme, so many government employees did not know that this was a viable option that they could exploit. He finally asked what the Department was doing to enforce the use of grants in provinces. These grants were stuck in an interplay between the politics of issuing tenders and the confusion between the functional areas of each sphere, and sometimes there was no clarity on the competency required to complete certain tasks.

The Chairperson asked the DG to mention the difficulties that the Department was facing with regard to title deeds. She also asked about programmes that the Department was running in Nelson Mandela Municipality and Buffalo City -- what these programmes were and their possible dates of completion. Was there any kind of task team that had been established by the Department, in conjunction with other relevant stake holders, to handle the land issue? If so, when did they plan on discharge these roles? Regarding the project done through the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), were there any houses that had been built already? if so, where were they located so that the Committee could go see them when it was doing its oversight visits?

DHS’s response

Mr Tshangana said that when the Department came to the Committee, they usually had a breakdown for the provinces, because it understands that the Committee represents constituencies. Next time he would make sure that this happened.

On the issue of hostels, the DG said that the process surrounding hostels was quite expensive, as renovation of old hostels was quite costly. The issue tends to be that for someone to stay in a hostel, they had to pay a certain amount for a bed. In older hostels, this fee was relatively small because there was not much to upgrade. This became an issue when there had been refurbishments, because the fee increased. The reason was quite simply because it cost more to maintain these kinds of hostels and so prices per bed also increased. People did not want to pay the elevated costs of these hostels. This was the reason why the hostel was empty. It was not a problem occurring only in KwaMasiza -- it happened in many other areas.

Regarding compliance with grant conditions, the DG expressed disappointment at what the provinces had done. The Department’s solution had been to place these grants under Division of Revenue Act (DORA) in order to ensure that there was compliance with how the grants were spent. When these funds were under DORA, it meant that they were within the scope of the Auditor General (AG). The Department wanted to use a carrot and stick to notify the provinces that those who did not spend the required amount of 30% of these grants would lose the funds to those who actually used them.

There were plenty of units that had been built through the CSIR. In Delft, about 2 000 units had been built. There were others that had been built in other areas as well that use alternative building materials. The biggest problem involved the standardisation of these materials and the terms of reference. The terms of reference tended to favour conventional building materials for building. In essence, when it came to building materials, part of the problem was procurement. The others were the specifications and the pricing. If alternative building materials were priced higher than conventional materials, then it was going to be hard for them to penetrate the supply chain. What would change this was if there were many local companies producing these materials, but currently there were very few that produced them locally. The government favoured local companies, so if there were local companies that produced these materials at a reasonable price, that would be ideal.

There was a land task team. It was headed by the Deputy President, with representatives from the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Department of Land Reform. They took the decisions on which parcels of land, public and private, should be transferred to the Department of Human Settlements. The only problem with this was that the DHS had to be careful not publish this kind of information, as there was the issue of land grabs -- once people knew that land was available and belonged to the government, they would occupy it.

The problem with title deeds that faced the Department, put simply, lay in the processes. Many of the townships, some going as far back as 1997, had not been formally registered. This meant that no coding had been done. For this to be done, the area had to be retrofitted, which meant bringing in engineers to all the sites to check viability and then having to go back to the municipality to get approval. Generally, title deeds take a while to be issued, and this also applies to people who buy their houses for cash. The fact that some of these townships have not been formally registered, compounds this process. In some instances, the issue was that people owed the municipality. When one owes the municipality, one can not be cleared because it is the municipality that is responsible for clearances. So if you have debt, you can not get a title deed unless the municipality, based on circumstance, decide to write off your bill.

The DG said he would provide the detailed reports regarding the provinces and the projects happening there, and would send them to the Committee by the end of the following week.

In most cases, the sale of houses was illegal. People would sell their houses after receiving the house for a short while. People were allowed to sell their houses only after eight years of ownership, and the government had the first right of refusal for that period. In cases where people had more than one house, it was a matter occupation, but when it came to the deeds registry, a person could have only one house, unless they bought it from someone who had owned it for more than eight years. So, even if they went back to living in a shack, they would not be able to receive a house again. The system was set, and it worked that way.

Briefing by Department of Social Development:

Mr Mzolisi Ton, Director General: Department of Social Development, said Ms Connie Nxumalo, Deputy Director-General: Welfare Services, National Department of Social Development (DSD), would present on her portfolio:

Ms Nxumalo said there were 556 social workers employed by the DSD in the various provinces. The grant that was used to enrol social workers was now being used to hire many of those who had graduated but did not have jobs. She had not specified the numbers in respect to each province, but that could be provided.

She said the Ministerial committee on social welfare brought critical recommendations that the Department would have to implement to strengthen the fostering programme.

There were number of programmes that the Department was implementing:, such as a training programme for foster parents. Another one was the “You Only Live Once” (YOLO) programme, which teaches sexual and reproductive rights to children, where the aim was to impart knowledge that would be useful for them in life. The Ezabasha (“Of the youth”) programme, like YOLO, was named for the children that would be benefiting from it. The DSD wanted to have a specialised unit that would monitor the success of these programmes.

For Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres, the Department preferred conditional grants, for the same reasons the  DHS prefers them -- to ensure compliance from provinces, and make sure that they use the grant the way it was intended to be used.

Treasury had approved a grant framework for the funding of these programmes. However, in the 2017/18 financial year there had been a slow start. The Eastern Cape in particular had had a hard time at the beginning of the programme. This was largely because the provinces were still starting, and had not figured out the best ways to execute the grants. The Department had had to put in extra resources to help the provinces better execute these programmes. This seemed to have worked, because there had been a great improvement in the 2018/19 financial year.

Targets for the two years reflected this shift in performance. In the 2017/18 financial year, 82% of the target was reached, while in the 2018/19 financial year, this had increased to 92%. This also meant there had been an over achievement on the set target of 103 000 children that were meant to be covered by the grant, as 107 000 had been reached. Generally, the Department was beginning to master how to meet the targets that it had been set. Even under maintenance of ECD centres, this financial year there had been a significant improvement.

Ms Dianne Dunkerley, Executive Manager for Grants Administration: South African Social Services Agency (SASSA), described the changes that had happened at SASSA pay points. The Agency had stopped its contract with CPS in September 2018. South Africans mostly used cash pay points, and CPS had been servicing around 10 000 of these cash points. Since exiting the contract, however, only around 2 000 of those cash points were being serviced. Part of new agreement with the post office was finding ways to reduce the risk that was associated with having cash pay points. The second issue of long queues remained a problem. The Agency had yet to find a plan that would adequately address this. Another issue related to this was that beneficiaries tended to withdraw all of their funds at once, hence the very long lines at the first of every month. She added that there had been a gradual improvement in services like the post office, because many of these structures were not up to standard to serve people. The goal was work with the post office fix these problems.

Ms Brenda Sibeko, Deputy Director General: Comprehensive Social Security, DSD, presented on comprehensive social security proposal that was currently under consideration. The proposal was a culmination of an inter-departmental task team between the DSD, the Department of Transport, the National Treasury and the Department of Labour, all of which had a form of social security responsibility, to make sure that no one fell through the cracks.

From the proposal, one thing that had been approved in principle was the idea of creating a social security retirement fund for everyone who was working. In relation to this, there had also been a proposal for a comprehensive institutional framework to ensure not only that no one fell through the cracks, but also to make sure that there was no “double dipping” of benefits -- something that tended to happen. Now that the new Parliament had been formed, this proposal could be refined and presented.

The second issue was the introduction of the Social Assistance Bill, which was meant to address the current backlogs in foster care. The bill wanted to create an intermediary grant for children who stayed with guardians, who qualified for foster care but could not wait for the long period it took to have a foster care grant executed. It also wanted to reduce the times it took to appeal a decision by SASSA. This would be done by having an appeals tribunal directly within the DSD. The bill also proposed an inspectorate for social services so that it was a body within the DSD that did that job.

Discussion

Ms. Shaik said it had been mentioned by the Department that in this financial year, over 500 social workers had been absorbed. She wanted to know if other social workers had been absorbed, because this was a programme that dated back to 2017. She asked about a policy pronouncement that had been made by the government about having at least one social workers per ward -- where was the Department on this target? She commented that not much had been said about implementation with regard to strengthening parental involvement in child development. The Department had mentioned that there a number of social work units in Mpumalanga, and she wanted to know what progress other provinces had made in this regard. She did not understand why the government did not invest in ECD infrastructure, as it was something that was clearly important.

Mr Gxoyiya said that in the Northern Cape. people had to travel far to receive social services. What recruitment strategies did the DSD apply, if any, to place the right number of people in the right place based on need? There were places where there were large populations that depended on very few social workers, and there were others that had a concentration of social workers. Why was it that the Western Cape had employed social workers on contracts, when other provinces had employed them on a permanent basis? He commented that there was a trend in the Western Cape to do things their own way, even on national policy matters that compelled them to act as required. He said that it would be helpful if the Department gave a breakdown of how many social workers had been employed in each province to see how each of the provinces was faring individually. Finally, he wanted to know if the DSD was synchronising its ECD programmes with other departments, like the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

Mr Motsamai said he had a problem with SASSA, because the challenges they were facing now were not new -- they had been there for a long time. It did not seem like much had been done do cut the long queues. He also wanted to know if SASSA was still giving people the cheap mealie meal and carrots that they were giving a while back.  He had a serious concern about corrupt officials who were stealing money from people. He also wanted to find out if there were any plans to reduce queues within SASSA itself.

The Chairperson intervened on this issue, saying Mr Motsamai’s questions were not addressing the issues that the DSD had been tasked to prepare for this meeting. She would instead ask them to make a written response to the Committee regarding them.

DSD’s responses

Mr Toni said the Department had been working on improving communication, especially on key matters that involved oversight. On the matter of synchronisation, the Minister of Social Development and the Minister of Basic Education had been working together on this matter. There were certain stages of development that each Department was responsible for, but a decision had not been taken on how the respective departments were meant to work together, including the Department of Health.

Ms Nxumalo clarified that the social work scholarship had actually started in 2007 not 2017, and since then 12 222 social workers had been trained. Provinces had then faced as situation where they could not absorb the social workers. Currently, there was a backlog of 4 000 social workers, and this number fluctuated. There had been a pronouncement of one social worker per ward, but in terms of the National Development Plan, there needed to be about 55 000 social workers, and this number included other social service workers as well. Therefore, instead of one social worker per ward, it was about addressing the needs and demands, and then placing people based on that need. The other reason why that pronouncement had not been practicable was because there were wards that had large populations, so one would not be able to meet the needs of people in those areas. The strategy in addressing this was to approach National Treasury to see if it was possible to redirect the funds that were used to fund these scholarships for the absorption of qualified social workers. Instead of enrolling more students, that money was used to employ the ones that had graduated already. There was a call for a strategy to addresses this backlog. There needed to be a kind of framework where the Department worked with the private sector and other departments like the DBE to absorb qualified social workers, rather than leaving this burden to the DSD alone. The Department would provide a report on strengthening support.

Ms Dunkerley confirmed that a written response with regard to the questions asked by Mr Motsamai would be sent through.

She addressed the issue of long queues for applications at SASSA offices, saying that the issue here was that the increase in population meant an increase in the number of applicants. Unfortunately, however, based on the SASSA budget, that did not mean an increase in the number of trained staff to help with the queues.

The meeting was adjourned.

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