Briefing the joint Committee on its Annual Performance Plan, the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) said it had agreed to utilise marshals to assist the elderly and people with disabilities when they were queueing to collect their grants. Furthermore, facilities such as ablutions, water and access to seating areas at pay-points needed to be improved, as this undermined the dignity of the beneficiaries.
SASSA said it would reinstate all the disability grants that had lapsed in February, while those that had lapsed in March had already been extended until October without people having to go to SASSA offices. The double payment of grants that had occurred last month had been due to a technical glitch, and SASSA was seeking legal advice on how to recoup the funds. It acknowledged that this had affected its reputation.
The Minister said that the DSD needed to ensure the well-being of every citizen, not only the vulnerable. People needed to learn new ways, such as social distancing, home-schooling, or working from home, so they now needed different methods of support. Referring to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said the tried and tested methods of food nutrition within the Department had always worked. The issue became difficult when non-governmental organisations that distributed food did not work with communities. This was where part of the challenge was. People who wanted to distribute food in communities needed to collaborate with the DSD. A directive was being developed to help in a way that would ensure the safety of the people.
Members were concerned about the cuts to the Department’s budget, as increased demands could be expected as a result of COVID-19, and they were critical of the decreases in the budgets involving HIV/AIDS, people with disabilities and social workers. They also said there should be more focus on addressing gender-based violence and child abuse. Doubt was cast on the National Development Agency’s ability to address poverty issues. The Department’s R1.5 billion in irregular expenditure came in for criticism, and Members also wanted to know how far SASSA was progressing with the rollout of the R350 social relief of distress grant.
Ms M Gillion, Chairperson: Select Committee on Health and Social Services in the National Council of Provinces, was unable to attend the meeting. In her place, Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC) was elected as the Co-Chairperson. The agenda was adopted with no contestations.
Minister’s Opening Remarks
Ms Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development, thanked the Committees for adjusting and stepping up its oversight at this difficult time. She said Mr Mzolisi Toni, Acting Director-General (DG): Department of Social Development (DSD), had completed his contract, and the new Acting DG was Mr Linton Mchunu, who was previously the Chief of Staff. Mr Papi Nkoli was now the Acting Chief of Staff.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Toni for his service to the Department, and said that he had acted with warmth and humility.
DSD: Annual Performance Plan
Mr Mchunu said that the nationwide lockdown had disrupted the implementation of the DSD’s plans and the provision of some of its services, such as the filling of vacancies.
Ms Nelisiwe Vilakazi, Deputy Director General (DDG): Strategy and Organisational Transformation, said that the DSD had had a total of 177 620 reported crimes against women in 2017/2018. It intended to achieve a 30% reduction within the five-year target period. The DSD aimed to provide leadership, management and support services to the Department and the social development sector by executing an annual target implementation plan, implementing an integrated sector information technology (IT) strategy, developing a sector Human Resources (HR) plan, reviewing the entity governance and oversight framework, and creating a monitoring and evaluation framework.
The DSD aims to have adequate welfare services policy development and implementation, and to create an enabling environment for the delivery of equitable developmental welfare services through the formulation of policies, norms and standards and best practices, and by supporting implementing agencies. It planned to capacitate 500 social workers, conduct education and awareness sessions on anti-gangsterism in nine provinces, and review the integrated social crime prevention strategy.
The Department had capacitated 18 districts on the national food and security plan, and had reached one million individuals.
Mr Fanie Esterhuizen, Chief Financial Officer (CFO): DSD, said that the social work scholarship had been reduced to allow the Department to absorb social work graduates. The Community Development budget had decreased from R97.795 million in the 2015/16 financial year, to R30.031 million in the 2020/21 financial year.
Ms Busisiwe Memela-Khambula, SASSA CEO, said that the double payments of grants that occurred had been due to a technical glitch. SASSA was seeking legal advice on how to recoup the funds. She acknowledged that this had affected the reputation SASSA.
The Chairperson stated that the language of accountability had improved in the Department’s vision and mission statement. This would be an ongoing improvement, but he was giving credit where it was due.
Ms B Masango (DA) said she appreciated that the Department had met with the entire sector. She asked what challenges had been created around the need for food? The Department had been rendered inadequate and not ready to meet the need people had for food. The CFO had stated that there were 18.1 million beneficiaries, with an expected increase to 20.1 million beneficiaries by 2025 -- had this taken into account people that would be in need after COVID19? Was the Department, through SASSA, looking at the social needs of the people in the missing middle? She suggested that SASSA use the information gained from grant applications to feed information of opportunities that may arise in the future, that would allow these people to exit the social grant system.
Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) welcomed the new Acting DG, and urged him to look into the recurring findings of the Auditor-General (AG). She asked what documents and plans he had for the next five years. She asserted that gender-based violence (GBV) and child abuse had been under-emphasised in the Annual Performance Plan (APP).
Ms M Sukers (ACDP) asked what was being put in place to deal with oversight and monitoring in SASSA and the National Development Agency (NDA). The Department needed to listen to the recommendations made previously, and greater collaboration was needed between departments and social development organisations. There was a great top-down approach, but the bottom-up approach was lacking. An increase in communication was needed between the private sector, churches and others that were providing food to communities, as these people were getting arrested. The Department needed help with food provision and distribution. There was a lack of consequence management, and current investigations needed to come to an end. What was being done to conclude the pending matters?
Ms D Ngwenya (EFF) asked the Department to speak on the regression of oversight and monitoring, performance management and human resource management, which the AG had presented on. Were there plans to change this, as well as SASSA’s lack of compliance and consequence management? A 91-year grandmother had died as she collapsed while waiting to collect her grant, and she wished to convey her sincere condolences to the family of the deceased. She asked if SASSA had a long term budget plan for the six-month basic income grant to surpass the six months stipulated. SASSA needed to open their offices, as people did not have access to emails and WhatsApp to complete the applications. Was SASSA ready to pay the basic income grant on 15 May? Had there been progress in registering new born children with SASSA?
Ms L Arries (EFF) asked why there were decreases in the budgets dealing with HIV/AIDS, disability and social workers. The community development budget had decreased dramatically, from R95 million to R30 million. The statistic for unemployment was 29% of the population and with COVID19, this number was expected to increase, so the need for community development would increase. Why was there no budget for food relief? The R1.5 billion of irregular expenditure from SASSA was a lot of money -- would any of this money be recouped?
In Pietermertizburg people had slept outside the payment station, as they had been unable to collect their grants. It had been said that transport would be arranged for people, yet old people were sleeping outside the pay-points. The amount of social grants was not enough – they needed to go beyond the six months.
Ms A Abrahams (DA) stated that GBV had not been emphasised urgently enough in the plans, especially considering that GBV incidents had increased during the lockdown. Would the Department scrap the proof of address for the application of the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant, as many people did not have proof of address? If SASSA offices were closed due to the lack of protective personal equipment (PPE), would staff and management be supplied with PPE when the offices reopened?
Gangsterism awareness campaigns were not going to decrease gangsterism. The youth needed opportunities and family strengthening programmes. What were the gangsterism campaigns, and what were the expected outcomes? Why had the Minister not given a clear direction of how food parcels should be handled? From images found on social media of the food parcels, were the contents of the parcels the same, as it did not seem so?
Ms T Breedt (FF+) said she had received a number of calls from people informing her that SASSA money was being abused, especially in the Western Cape. Young children were being taken into ‘tik huise’ (drug houses), so gangsterism and substance abuse campaigns needed to go beyond pamphlet campaigns, and the DSD should rather be working hand-in-hand with communities.
What was SASSA doing about the long lines of people queuing to receive their grants? The staggered approach to dispersing grants on different days was not working to a large extent. SASSA cards could be used at shopping centres, but this message was not getting to the people. How did SASSA envision stopping the long queues? Pensioners were the most vulnerable group in the times of COVID19, so there needed to be an intervention plan to prevent them from contacting COVID19 while queuing.
The Minister had said that the NDA and National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) would be assisting with Members going into communities -- how far was the Department with the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or Service Level Agreement (SLA) regarding this? When did they see the rollout of these platforms, be it the email or WhatsApp line?
She asked for an update on how far along the Department was with the approximately 2 000 investigations previously mentioned in another presentation. Videos of SASSA cards being distributed and people drawing money from them had circulated on social media, and she wanted the Department to comment on this.
Mr D Stock (ANC) asked for a comprehensive and detailed explanation of where SASSA was with the rollout of the R350 social relief of distress (SRD) grant? The new method of separation of grant beneficiaries had helped with social distancing and overcrowding in areas. A video in the Eastern Cape had emerged where there was no social distancing while collecting grants, which showed that one size did not fit all.
Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KwaZulu-Natal) asked how people who did not have access to WhatsApp, email or smartphones, and who did not have a bank account, would apply and receive the SRD grant.
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) asked why the allocation of the social crime prevention and victim empowerment services budget had decreased from the previous year. Did the DSD have a plan on how provinces would be monitored on the programmes it would implement? What had been implemented for the National Drug Master Plan (NDMP), and what was the progress to date? Disability grants of beneficiaries in the Northern Cape had lapsed, as doctors were not going to smaller towns to assess cases and help with the renewal of these grants. Would these cases be prioritised when the SASSA offices reopened?
Ms T Mpambo-Sibhukwana (DA) asked what had happened to the Isibindi programme? What would be done in the future to prevent R1.5 million of wasteful expenditure? Did the DSD plan on expanding youth programmes?
Co-chairperson Nchabeleng asked how the money spent on capacity building by the NDA helped organisations to deal with their challenges. Over the years, it had spent about R200 million on capacity building. In respect of sustainability and the civil society organisation’s (CSO’s) impact on reversing poverty, what had changed?
Ms N Mvana (ANC) asked if the Department could revive the use of queue marshals who would assist the elderly and disabled while collecting their grants. What were the SASSA opening hours and days -- could this be publicly announced to prevent people traveling to find that offices were closed?
The Chairperson added his condolences to the grandmother who had passed away while collecting her grant, and said those were the incidents that he hoped did not happen in future. He encouraged Mr Mchunu to keep the same energy throughout his tenure of office, especially when it came to issues of consequence management. The dignity of the elderly needed to be emphasized, as people should not be traveling to find they could not access their grant payout. The Department must consider hiring marshals to help the elderly and disabled, as well as to ensure people adhered to social distancing. Implementation was the biggest challenge for the Department. Vacancies had been a big challenge in the previous year, as seen by the internal audit on governance. The lack of strategic planning flowing from the top resulted in talent being wasted below. No politicians should touch food parcels. The Committee supported the Department on this matter.
Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) said there were a thousand spokespersons communicating on behalf of the Department during the times of COVID19. The Department needs to coordinate all the information being disseminated and give a clear direction to the public, especially regarding the R350 SRD grant. The R1.5 billion in irregular expenditure was recurring -- what plans were in place to curb this high rate of irregular spending? He encouraged the Department to think outside of the box regarding reaching the intended goal of 80% customer satisfaction.
Ms Memela-Khambula said that people with disabilities had not been able to go to SASSA offices. SASSA was waiting for the Minister’s regulations to be signed off. They had recently been approved by the legal stream, so now SASSA could go ahead with reinstating all the disability grants that had lapsed in February. Disability grants that had lapsed in March had already been extended until October, without people having to go to SASSA offices.
SASSA was ready to take applications for the R350 SRD applications via the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) line, the WhatsApp line and email. Over and above using community development workers, SASSA would need to get other people on the ground who could provide the support that was needed, especially in deep rural areas. Peoples’ names needed to be run through multiple databases to make sure they were eligible for the grant. The Department was experiencing issues running names through the South African Revenue Service (SARS) database, as there were legal restrictions preventing SASSA from doing so. However, it was able to run applicants’ names through the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) database. This needed to be done as soon as possible to meet the deadline of 15 May.
Beneficiaries who did not have a bank account would receive their grant through e-wallets. The beneficiary would be able to choose which bank they would like to receive their e-wallet from. There had been about 30 to 40 unsolicited bids for e-wallet system providers, and the supply management chain team was looking for the most suitable. The provider needed to be interoperable so that beneficiaries were not forced to use only one store, but rather a store that was close to them. Spaza shops would be included, as the township economies must be prioritised at this time.
Community development workers and volunteers working with the NDA would be enrolled to help with queue management. SASSA would take the recommendations on board for support in queue management and helping people who did not have access to technology with grant applications. SASSA had engaged with banks to use mobile bank options, especially in high-volume areas, to prevent people queuing at just a few branches.
Mr Mchunu said that following the insistence of Members for a results-based approach, the Department’s APP demonstrated that it was listening to them. Due to the lack of time, the Department would write a response to the Member’s questions by Wednesday, 13 May. It had embarked on a g-tech process, which was largely around organisational restructuring and change management while prioritising entity oversight. The Committees would continuously be updated with the progress on this.
The Department would be strong on issues relating to controls, such as risk controls monitoring and evaluation, and creating a framework that manages implementation and consequence management. There had been an improvement in reducing the number of vacant posts, but the process had been disrupted due to COVID19.
Ms Conny Nxumalo, Deputy Director-General: Welfare Services, DSD, said that social workers were desperately needed. 4 597 social workers were employed throughout the Department. The budget reduction for social work scholarships had been so that the Department could hire graduates, and 200 would be employees to contribute to society. Moving forward, there was a need for about 71 000 social workers, and the DSD was working on a long-term solution for employing social workers.
Provincial and local structures had been trained to come up with the implementation of the NDMP, based on agreed indicators. They would report quarterly on the progress made. The Isibindi programme was still being implemented by the DSD in provinces in partnership with 400 organisations, reaching 1.4 million children using 6 000 child and youth care workers that had been trained.
The issues of GBV and gangsterism needed to be articulated better, and the Department would do so in a written response.
Mr Peter Netshipale, Deputy Director-General: Integrated Development, DSD, said the Department had noted the concerns around food security. It had been providing food and nutrition programmes throughout the provinces utilising NGOs. COVID19 had made the method shift from hot meals to food parcels. People who wanted to distribute food in communities needed to collaborate with the DSD. A directive was being developed to help in a way that would ensure the safety of the people. From the 2020/21 financial year, the budget for food allocation had been shifted to provinces so that they could implement food security programmes as part of their equitable share. The need for permits for people was being dealt with. NGOs had been provided with permits, but needed to collaborate with the South African Police Service (SAPS) for distribution to ensure their safety, and the community’s safety.
Mr Esterhuizen stated that the budget cuts for welfare had been introduced by National Treasury. The budget cut for people with disabilities was due to the rights of people with disabilities having been moved to the Portfolio Committee of Women, Children and People with Disabilities. The social crime budget decrease in the last financial year was a once-off reprioritisation of R90 million, that was why the same amount was not being budgeted for this financial year.
Minister’s closing remarks
Minister Zulu said the COVID19 pandemic had accelerated the old and the new, and the opportunities to position the Department’s response to the people. The NDA must not be a stepchild of the portfolio. The role of the NDA would be more important now in dealing with poverty and working in partnership with communities.
COVID19 had come at an awkward time, as the Department was in the process of envisioning the legacy which it would like to leave. The picture which the Department had envisioned was one where people were empowered to deal with their challenges and government and NGOs would create a conducive environment.
The issues raised by the AG needed to be focused on. If the DSD responded to the constant issues, it would strengthen the Department and the civil servants. It needed to ensure the well-being of every citizen, not only the vulnerable. People needed to learn new ways, with social distancing, home-schooling, or working from home, so they now needed different methods of support.
The tried and tested methods of food nutrition within the Department had always worked. The issue became difficult when NPOs and NGOs that distributed food did not work with communities. This was where part of the challenge was.
Minister Zulu said that she, as well as the Department, did not envision elderly people dying while traveling to receive their grants by the time her term ends. It was not complicated, and it was possible. The community needed to be educated that money would reflect on their SASSA cards and they did not need to go to stores and pay-points to check this. However, the Department must be conscious of the fact that poverty caused this, as people lived from hand-to-mouth.
Chairperson’s closing remarks
The Chairperson said the DSD needed to prioritise increasing people’s capacity to be self-supporting -- they needed access to developmental programmes. All structures should be informed on the systems. This would reduce the load on the Department, as the local leaders and provinces could help with disseminating information and directives.
Ms Mvana asked that the Department provide feedback in writing regarding the alleged SASSA officials in KZN that had kept SASSA cards for their own use.
The meeting was adjourned.
Gungubele, Mr M
Nchabeleng, Mr ME
Abrahams, Ms ALA
Arries, Ms LH
Bara, Mr M R
Bilankulu, Ms NK
Bogopane-Zulu, Ms HI
Christians, Ms DC
Lehihi, Ms SB
Luthuli, Ms SA
Maleka, Ms AD
Manganye, Ms J
Masango, Ms B
Motaung, Ms A
Mpambo-Sibhukwana, Ms T
Ndongeni, Ms N
Ngwenya, Ms DB
Stock, Mr D
Sukers, Ms ME
Zulu, Ms LD
van der Merwe, Ms LL
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