The Department of Social Development (DSD) presented its responses to public comments on the Social Assistance Amendment Bill. Minister Lindiwe Zulu was present.
The presentation focused on the Department’s response to public comment on the additional payments, inspectorate, and amendment of clause six.
Members sought clarity on the mechanisms in place to deal with minor issues concerning SASSA and the strong consideration for having a retired judge available at the inspectorate
At the next Committee meeting, the Department was asked to present the timeframe for all processes conducted.
Opening Remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson welcomed the Department of Social Development (DSD) as well as the Committee Members.
In his opening remarks, the Chairperson said that the Department of Social Development cannot be responsible for the delay in the settlement of early child education. He discussed statistics which showed that approximately 53% of unemployed individuals in South Africa do not have matric.
He asked the Department for its responses regarding the presentations made in the previous meeting.
Briefing on the background to the Department’s stance in terms of the Social Assistance Amendment Bill [B8-2018]
Before the presentation began, Ms Brenda Sibeko, DSD Deputy Director-General, Comprehensive Social Security, gave a brief background of where the Department was coming from in terms of the Social Assistance Amendment Bill [B8-2018]. In November last year, the primary contents of the Bill were presented to the Committee. Following this, the Bill was published for public comment. There were six written comments from the public which were discussed by the Department at the beginning of February 2020. Public hearings on the Bill were then held last week.
Ms Sibeko began the presentation by discussing the Bill and the primary areas which the Department has decided to focus on. Foster childcare was the first problem that the Department responded to as it is a major concern for South Africa. In terms of this issue, there has been a backlog in the South African foster care grant applications. This is primarily because of the way that the foster childcare system is structured in South Africa. Ms Sibeko noted that there is nothing wrong with this structure, however there are just high levels of demand for the grant applications that has led to the crisis.
Ms Sibeko said that there are three key areas which will be discussed. Firstly, the foster childcare grant is intended to be a grant enabling foster parents to look up children who are not their own but because of the large amount of orphans in the country - even family members who are looking after orphans have also tried applying for this grant. The reason for this is that the Child Support Grant amount, intended to support families who are struggling to look after children due to poverty, is very low. The amount is currently R430 per month. The result of this is that the foster childcare system is temporary, meaning that children will only be kept in the system for two years and thereafter social workers are intended to review the case and check whether it still stands as appropriate. Following this, a court order will be given if the magistrate confirms the case as appropriate and the foster childcare grant will be given to the person. As a result of this process, many children fall out of the system due to the incapacity of the social workers to deal with the matter in court. This huge backlog has thus resulted in many children that are needy who struggle to access the system of child protection.
Ms Sibeko continued that the second area that contributed to the foster care crisis is the length of time in which people wait for appeals when applying for grants; the Department is hoping to reduce this issue. The Appeals Tribunal will then deal with appeals in which people apply for grants. This will only occur once the individual deals with the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) after three months of reconsideration. The problem with this is that people wait 180 days for their appeals to be dealt with, which is a delay in administrative justice.
The third provision is about the Inspectorate of Social Assistance and the type of organisational form that is reflected in the legislation; it states that the Inspectorate should be a government department. The Department said that it is unnecessary for the Inspectorate to be a government department but it should rather be a component of government.
Ms Sibeko noted in her presentation that these were the three key areas which the Department of Social Development wanted to focus its response on as these issues were the most substantive.
Ms Sibeko stated that she would go through the amendments in relation to the three areas she previously discussed, instead of going through each amendment one by one.
Consideration of inputs on the Social Assistance Amendment Bill [B8-2018]
This Amendment allows the Minister of Social Development to introduce an additional payment to a social grant. This payment acts as a Top-Up to the existing Child Support Grant so that orphans who are living with their family members can access an additional amount of money. Since these are children living with relatives, they do not need to be in the foster care system every two years.
The Black Sash and Children’s Institute has supported the provision; they have added proposals on two key issues. The first issue is the mechanisms in which the children will be able to access the Top-Up. The regulations of the Top-Up should not be onerous and should not require complicated documentation. The Committee should understand that many children might not know who their father or mother is, so it is important not to have a literal definition of what an orphan is. The Committee should consider that if both death certificates of the parents are not given, it could mean that the father or mother of the child was not present in the first place.
Amendment to Clause 6
For a person to lodge a complaint against the Department, the Appeals Tribunal has the authority to review and alter decisions made by SASSA in relation to applications for grants. If an individual applies for a grant and he/she does not qualify, that person has a right, in terms of the current legislation, for SASSA to reconsider their decision. If the person still does not qualify for the grant after SASSA has reviewed it again, he/she then has the right to go to the Appeals Tribunal.
As a result of this process, it has been found that more than 90% of the reviewed cases made by SASSA had the same decision confirmed by the Appeals Tribunal. This meant that the majority of the time decisions do not change, and because of this Clause 6 has been amended. The Clause states that SASSA’s requirement for reconsideration as an extra administrative body will not be necessary. The provision states that there will no longer be an initial three-month period as before - this will shorten the waiting period because people will have to go directly to the Appeals Tribunal for a decision to be made.
Black Sash raised a concern that the Appeals Tribunal might then receive too many complaints. The response of the Department is that it is not a concern because the issues that the Appeals Tribunal must deal with are minor decisions regarding grants. In terms of capacity, the Department is confident because it has regional offices in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal where the majority of the cases occur.
The Inspectorate for Social Assistance is an institution which is meant to protect the integrity of the grant to ensure that all grants are issued to the correct person. This institution is currently established in the legislation as a government department. The Department stated that this was not necessary, and the Inspectorate should rather be a national government component. This provision is primarily supported by Black Sash and it suggests that the Department should introduce two clauses. The first clause is to make sure that in law, SASSA and the South African Post Office (SAPO) are required to report to the Inspectorate on all issues relating to the grant system. The second clause is that SASSA should ensure that all data is protected and not used. In response to this, the Department stated that it is not appropriate to regulate contextual agreements by legislation. The arrangement of how the grants agreement gets done is a contextual relationship between SASSA and SAPO.
Another provision that Black Sash has raised is that in terms of the capacity of the Inspectorate, it wants to ensure that there is a judge, from of the Inspectorate, be present. In other words, it would like the Inspectorate to be led by a retired member of the Judiciary. In response to this, the Department stated that this is unnecessary since the Inspectorate does not have arbitration powers and would refer any other matters to other government agencies.
In response to this, the Chairperson argued that sometimes SASSA or other organisations would want someone who is highly experienced to be available and this would also minimise the chances of going to court. He noted that it is not always because there is adjudication. This does not mean that the Department should accept this proposal, but rather see it as part of the bigger picture.
Mr D Stock (ANC) stated that before he comments on the presentation given, he would like to express a word of gratitude to the different organisations that made submissions and towards the Department for the good presentation that was given. Based on the submissions given, he appreciated that most of it strengthened the Bill. His believes that the Department is moving in the right direction.
Ms B Masango (DA) thought the presentation was helpful. Although the level of the presentation only included certain issues, one is losing out on the opportunity to ask questions that was part of the presentation made in the previous week. However, this could be discussed at a late stage. On the point of SASSA being removed as an extra administrative body, she stated that Ms Sibeko referred to minor issues several times and would like to be clarified on the mechanisms put in place to deal with these minor issues. She also pointed out the issue of the judge being available for the Inspectorate and its lack of necessity according to the Department. Although one will be giving the Inspectorate some ‘teeth’ if a judge is present, the legal understanding will reduce the amount of what needs to go to the other government agencies. She stated that when it was said that a judge is not a necessity, she strongly recommended that that recommendation stands.
Ms Sibeko responded that she will take the advice given about the judge without making it essential. She does not want it to be a legal requirement. In response to how the minor issues will be dealt with, firstly, the Appeals Tribunal would only deal with grant applications. The provisions for the Inspectorate that is in the legislation would empower the Inspectorate to conduct investigations and complaints. Within SASSA it is meant to have the ability to deal with complaints.
A Committee Member responded to the point about the presence of a judge and stated that there is a provision for a legal advisor for the Inspectorate. Most of the forensic investigators are lawyers as well.
The Chairperson stated that when planning is so clear and results are concrete, one needs lesser risk units and it also saves time. Because the presentation focused on key areas, the questions asked were essential, unlike in the prior meeting. In the previous meeting, the Portfolio Committee discussed that it does not want to do anything wrong with regard to the process of the Children’s Amendments Act.
Another Member discussed that he met up as a team with colleagues of the Department shortly after the Committee meeting took place last week. They had met again on Friday, a day after the Committee meeting, where it was said the Department has made considerable progress on the introduction of the Bill. It has been agreed that the Department will introduce the Bill based on the communication that has been taking place between Parliament and the Department.
An official from the Department stated that he wanted to take this opportunity on behalf of the DSD to thank the Committee for providing guidance and making things a bit easier. The Department will need to make sure that the Bill is tabled and will need to ensure the certification of the Bill as well.
The Chairperson responded that he did not want to waste time on other issues – what the Committee now requires from the Department is a timeframe that considers all processes conducted. This will be discussed next week. The deadline for the court order is meant to be in November, but the Department should have a deadline earlier than this in case anything goes wrong. As for the next meeting, the DSD should present its timeframe of its processes.
The meeting was adjourned.
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