The Portfolio Committee was addressed by the Department of Social Development (DSD) and its entities on the status of its COVID19 interventions, and was told by the Minister that money must not be lost to corruption in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE). The Office of the Auditor-General was auditing the DSD as it performed its work, rather than auditing at the end of the financial year, to help the Department to avoid blind spots. About 7 000 cooperatives linked to the National Development Agency (NDA) were ready to produce cloth masks, including specialised masks for Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres.
Since the lockdown, the National Department of Social Development had spent over R19 million for the procurement of PPE, and had utilised level one, triple black economic empowerment (BEE) service providers in this regard. All supply chain procedures had been followed, and all service providers were on the central supplier database (CSD), and the DSD had assisted suppliers in registering on the CSD. Funding for the procurement of PPE was conditional, and the DSD had been communicating with provincial Departments on the processes and standards for procuring PPE. Once it was procured, the provincial Departments submitted compliance documents to the national Department, and it was then verified. Only after this process did the national Department reimburse the provincial Department for the procurement.
The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) was utilising the post office for grants, as the requirements from National Treasury to make use of the services from the banks had been lengthy. This was on-track, however, and would be utilised in August. This would offload some clients and reduce the pressure on the post offices. SASSA had not yet started using e-vouchers for food distribution. On the SASSA website, from August 3 to August 9, beneficiaries could change their method of payment. An SMS would be sent on the day they could collect the cash in order to ensure a staggered approach and reduce the queues.
Members wanted to know how many cooperatives and small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) were ready to produced PPE. The decentralisation of the PPE procurement was a great initiative, but was the DSD monitoring to ensure there was no corruption? They said post offices in rural areas and townships were not providing assistance, and were sending claimants into the towns. The long queues in those areas were also disheartening. Errors in rejected applications were being reported, and these needed to be corrected. Now that SASSA had access to the data bases of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), how many fraud cases had been uncovered?
Minister’s Opening Remarks
Ms Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development, encouraged the Committee, the Department of Social Development (DSD) and entities to continue observing COVID19 protocols. Members were unable to save others if they did not save themselves. She thanked the Committee for its assistance in the budget review. She had appeared on the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) that morning, during which it had shown SMSs and emails sent by members of the public that had not received their R350 social relief of distress (SRD) grant. SASSA was currently working on this. Everybody who deserved the grant would get it.
The lessons learnt during the period of COVID19 would allow the DSD to change systems and improve areas where needed, to better serve the people of South Africa. The Department was responsible for social transformation, but could make a contribution to economic transformation as well. Money must not be lost to corruption in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE). The Office of the Auditor-General (AG) was auditing the DSD as it performed its work, rather than auditing at the end of the financial year. The AG had advised the DSD on its blind spots to help it to avoid them. The DSD remained committed to improving its interventions.
COVID19: Social sector update
Mr Linton Mchunu, Acting Director-General, DSD, said that at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the subsequent lockdown restrictions, the Department had reacted swiftly by closing down and limiting access to its facilities. As the economy had been opening up, together with the relaxation of some restrictions relating to movement, the re-opening of DSD-supported facilities had become inevitable. However, it had taken serious measures towards their re-opening by putting the safety of its beneficiaries first while ensuring the provision of good quality services.
The DSD had partnered with the Nelson Mandela Foundation on the Vhangasali campaign in order to improve the standard and conditions of early childhood development (ECD) centres, especially those that were unregistered. A major challenge was that all of its provincial and district offices were affected by the pandemic, which had resulted to some of them temporarily closing.
The Department had developed a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the prevention, containment and management of COVID-19 in day-care centres for children with disabilities not enrolled in special schools. All of the more than 800 day-care centres had comply with the SOP prior to their re-opening. centres. Staff members at the centres for children with disabilities had to receive training on the SOP, and the COVID-19 screening and response procedures. Similar to day-care centres, the SOP for the protective workshops had been drafted with measures that the workshops had to comply with for their re-opening. This SOP would be implemented by each province, with provincial officials providing periodic monitoring reports.
Mr Mchunu said the Department had received 7 840 934 valid applications, of which 5 063 543 had been approved. In May, payments had been made to 4 369 627 applicants, and to a further 2 499 989 in June and July. Total disbursements had amounted to R3.279 billion. The largest residual payment for the month of May had been finalised and paid on 22 July. Going forward payments would, as far as possible, be sequenced and prioritised according to the initial date of application. The payment of those applicants who applied in May and, after re-validation still qualified for both June and July, was being effected as a single payment of R700. Payments were as far as possible being made in batches of 500 000 per day, as from 20 July. All the applicants that had previously been disqualified due to database errors had since been reconsidered, and those that met the criteria had been notified and paid.
The majority of initial implementation challenges were being addressed. For instance, with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) data bases, a few problems had emerged, but these were being refreshed. Other challenges included:
- Bank account details causing a high rejection rate. This was due to delays in providing details, using other peoples’ accounts and not knowing the difference between savings and current accounts;
- Personal details not matching their identity documents (IDs);
- Applicants visiting the post office prior to receiving an SMS;
- Clients not responding to SMSs sent to the number on the Department’s records, and difficulty in tracing them;
- Expectations not matching reality – it was not a universal grant, but a short-term grant based on valid applications received.
In addition to the COVID-19 SRD grants, the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) had paid the top-ups that were introduced in May, and the special COVID-19 care givers grant to 7.1 million child support grant (CSG) primary caregivers.
Mr Mchuna said that prior to Covid-19, the DSD had always been a key player in the food security programme through the provision of cooked meals using centre-based feeding programmes, such as the Community Nutrition and Development Centres (CNDCs). However, due to COVID-19, the food distribution strategy had been altered to the distribution of food parcels. The strategy uses registered non-profit organisations (NPOs) as implementing agents, partnerships with the private sector, and donors in the form of individuals, public and civil society organisations (CSOs) like faith-based organisations. About 14 million people (23.8% of the population) were food insecure and experienced hunger prior to COVID19, and since the outbreak, more than five million people had been fed by the DSD in partnership with various organisations, as well as other ordinary citizens. Though this was not enough, it had certainly gone a long way towards alleviating the unforeseen devastating impact of the pandemic.
StatsSA projected the economic impact would leave about 50% of the population at risk of being food insecure, so more still needed to be done. The devastating socio-economic impact of COVID19 was already felt as demand for food security was increasing. This called for a rethink and a need to explore:
- Multi-pronged approaches that include migration from the current manual food parcel distribution to a hybrid model that would instil peoples’ right to choose and restore human dignity;
- Digital monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems that would capture real time data on food distribution;
- Ways to strengthen coordination mechanisms and establish lasting partnerships with business and civil society organisations;
- Establishing a programme on linking beneficiaries with economic and sustainable livelihood opportunities towards creating self-reliant individuals and communities.
Finally, the Department had encouraged its entire portfolio to procure PPE for staff and all its facilities from a National Development Agency (NDA) supported cooperative and small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs).
Ms D Ngwenya (EFF) asked how Members of the Committee could get a hold of National Development Agency (NDA) volunteers in their constituency who were supposed to assist people without smart devices to apply for the SRD grant. How many cooperatives and SMMEs were ready to produce PPE? What was the update regarding people who had been instructed to apply for the SRD grant rather than the disability grant? What was the timeline for SRD grant reviews?
What monitoring structures were there for CSOs that received funds from the R32 million budget allocation from the NDA for CSOs? What daycare facilities existed for severely disabled children, particularly in Gauteng, as she knows of a few families that were struggling to care for severely disabled children in her constituency? Was the Portfolio Committee on Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities engaging with the DSD on dealing with matters pertaining to people with disabilities?
Ms T Breedt (FF+) said that many ECD centres that were within primary schools had closed -- would these open going forward? The decentralisation of PPE suppliers was a great initiative, but how was the Department overseeing this to ensure there was no corruption? Regional SASSA offices in Bloemfontein had not been adhering to the dates for applications for elderly and disability grants, and this had caused confusion and large numbers of people at the offices. The presentation had mentioned that the appeals process for the SRD grant had been completed, but she knew of individuals who had appeals that had not been finalised despite obvious errors in the reason their applications being rejected. Were people being run through the various databases before each payment to ensure that they had not found employment since first applying? People were not getting through to the SASSA call centre.
Ms M Sukers (ACDP) asked how Members of the Committee could link members of communities with the DSD for food parcels.
Mr D Stock (ANC) said that local post offices in townships and rural areas were not assisting people with the SRD grant. These people were being directed to go to town, so the Department should communicate with local post offices in this regard. He suggested that in the next term of Parliament, the DSD should present what the status of ECDs per province was.
Ms J Manganye (ANC) said that there were challenges with registering ECDs in rural areas due to a lack of smart devices used for the application process. How could these ECDs get registered, especially in the North West Province? Had the Department addressed the lack of coordination regarding the distribution of food parcels? What lessons had been learnt through the processes brought on by the pandemic that would help the Department to create a better social welfare approach?
Ms N Mvana (ANC) said that the SRD grant was a sore issue for the Department. The long lines of people queuing for applications in townships and rural areas were disheartening. There seemed to be mismanagement from the post office regarding the SRD grant. While Parliament was on recess, could the Department request a report from each province regarding the SRD grant? The food vouchers had been determined to be preferable, and this needed to be speeded up.
Ms L Arries (EFF) said that according to the Department, it had received about seven million applications for the SRD grant, about five million had been approved and 2.1 million had been declined. What about other applicants? It had been indicated that in May, 4.3 million beneficiaries had been paid, and in June and July, there had been double payments. She asked for clarity on this.
Ms Arries said she was disgusted that the Eastern Cape planned to distribute 69 300 food parcels for three months, while for the same cost of R48 million, the Western Cape would distribute 120 000 food parcels -- 50 700 more that the Eastern Cape. How could this be? SRD beneficiaries were supposed to receive their grants using an e-wallet system, and now the post office was the sole provider of these grants. She asked the Department to explain? It had been alleged that people had tried to hack the SASSA system -- how secure was it?
Ms A Abrahams (DA) asked if the Department would continue providing a weekly COVID19 status update to the Committee while Parliament was in recess. Was SASSA aware that some officials had requested that the SRD grant applicants reapply for the grant each month? A mayor’s wife in the Free State was said to be benefiting from child support grants to the tune of R50 000. Now that SASSA had access to databases, such as the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the UIF, how many more fraudulent cases had been revealed? What legal action would SASSA take against this woman in particular? What data from the National Population Register was being used in the verification process, especially considering that the last census was in 2011?
Which three months was the Department referring to regarding the food parcels to be delivered? Where would the funding for these food parcels come from? Would they be distributed to households receiving parcels for the first time, or would they go to existing households? The dates for the old age grants had changed -- how had this been communicated to the public? What did the support packages for ECDs entail? The ECDs that were conditionally registered had not been included in the Department’s presentation. The one-size-fits-all approach to registering ECDs was not working. The R1.3 billion budgeted for compliance monitors should rather go directly into ECDs, as the Committee had requested that volunteers and NGOs perform monitoring and evaluation.
Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) said that Members of the Committee were seen as representatives of the DSD and SASSA to the general public. A man in her constituency had confided to her about contemplating poisoning his family out of desperation, as he did not know how he would feed his family. This had led to pay this man R350, as his SRD grant had not yet reached him. She said it was difficult when members of the public came to the members of the Committee with severe issues -- who could these people be referred to? How many SRD application appeals was SASSA dealing with? Was it possible for SASSA to move towards the national banking payment system suggested by Mr Tim Masela in the South African Reserve Bank report? People were struggling to get through to the call centre, which resulted in a long queue at SASSA offices -- how was this being addressed? At a recent gender-based violence (GBV) summit, President Ramaphosa had stated that unemployed social workers needed to be employed. Had the DSD engaged with other Departments to help absorb social workers? Had the organisations that provide shelter services, and disability services that did not receive payments or received short payments, now received their payments?
Ms B Masango (DA) said that Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) volunteers in Tsolo, Eastern Cape, had not received their stipends since April. How could these people be helped? An educator from an ECD centre funded by the DSD had told her that she had been paid R2 300 -- was this a regular salary for ECD workers? Did the Department have authority over this, or was it out of its control once the funding had been made? In June, she had received a SASSA voucher that had been issued to a member of the community of Zandspruit, and this was at a time when SASSA had not yet started issuing vouchers. Why were some people getting these vouchers, and others not?
Ms N Bilankulu (ANC) said that food security challenges required a multi-pronged approach, which the Department had found, and asked what the timeframe for the implementation of this was. Was there an update on the work being done by the Inter-Sectorial Advisory Committee in relation to socially sustainable solutions for the effects of the COVID19 pandemic? What was the total amount that had been dispersed in relation to the allocated budget? There was a lack of social distancing at post offices, and people received their payments late in the day after arriving very early in the morning. How was the Department addressing this?
The Chairperson echoed the suggestion for the Department to continue providing the Committee with COVID19 updates throughout the recess period. The issue of queuing was a common theme that prevailed at each meeting, and had become a sticky point for the Department.
The Minister said some responses would be made in writing to give an adequate response that was not possible in the meeting, due to time constraints. The request for the Department to continue submitting COVID19 reports during the recess period would be considered, and feedback given to the Chairperson. Data on the amount of people that had been paid and the amount of applications that were still pending was not difficult to report on a weekly basis.
Ms Thamo Mzobe, Chief Executive Officer (CEO): NDA, said that the guidelines circulated by National Treasury on PPE procurement from cooperatives in the main had been excluded. The NDA had taken it upon itself to engage with National Treasury to capacitate cooperatives and communities in order for them to sustain themselves, as per the NDA’s mandate. The NDA was able to highlight cooperatives that were ready and capable of supplying PPE. This ensured that these cooperatives were not excluded from economic opportunities. This included cloth masks and school uniforms that were South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) approved. About 7 000 cooperatives were ready to produce cloth masks, including specialised ECD cloth masks. These cooperatives had been guided in meeting the three-layer requirements.
Ms Mzobe said that the R32 million to which Ms Ngwenya had referred was being directed to job opportunities for unemployed youth who had already been participating with CSOs. There were 200 CSOs that were engaged in a contract with the NDA, and they had received a total of R5 million as an administration fee. The bulk of the budget went directly to the stipends of the volunteers. This was accounted for by the CSOs, and there were monitoring and evaluation tools being utilised as per the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). A list of the CSOs with which the NDA had partnered would be given to the Committee. Members of the Committee may contact these CSOs should they not find volunteers at the designated places. The NDA was an agent of Government which included all departments, so it would engage with the EPWP that was in partnership with the Independent Development Trust (IDT) to provide a response regarding unpaid volunteers.
Ms Totsie Memela-Khambula, CEO: SASSA, said that the food vouchers provided in Zandspruit were not SASSA vouchers. A private company working with an NGO in Zandspruit that wanted to provide support to people in that particular area, had issued food vouchers. SASSA had provided the company with data of the people who were already receiving grants to avoid double dipping, but it was not agreed that the company could use the SASSA brand on the vouchers. SASSA had engaged with the company in this regard. SASSA was looking at methods of supplying vouchers. One was for it to use a transversal contract that exists between SASSA and Vodacom. It needed to engage with Treasury on the matter, but if successful, Vodacom would be able to supply electronic food vouchers. If not, SASSA would create its own e-voucher system which had gone through the procurement process.
SASSA was using the post office for grants, as the requirements from National Treasury for using the services of the banks had been lengthy. This, however, was on-track and would be used in August. This would offload some clients from the post office, especially for clients that opted for electronic cash send. There would be a process of verifying the cellphone numbers for the e-cash.
3.959 million people had received their SRD grants in June and July. People did not have to reapply for the SRD grant if they had already applied, and this would be clarified with the branches. The existing data for beneficiaries were run through the database for verification, and they therefore did not need to reapply to obtain verification. There were people who had fallen through the cracks in the verification process, SASSA was trying to clean up the system to pick up these mistakes. She would engage with the region where staff at SASSA offices had reportedly been rude.
Ms Dianne Dunkerley, Executive Manager: Grants Administration, SASSA, said a number of people had been redirected to the post office to receive their SRD grants, despite this not being their first payment method choice. This was due to the contracts with the banks for e-cash options. Progress was being made on this. On the SASSA website, from August 3 to August 9, beneficiaries could change their method of payment. This would be communicated to the public. All SRD payments for June and July would be made by August 1. This meant that money would be available, but to try limit the numbers of people that went to the post office, an SMS would be sent on the day they could collect the cash. This was to ensure a staggered approach and reduce queues. The queues at local pos offices were also due to the reintroduction of the disability services. There were specific days for specific grant types. There was no full access to health facilities for the disability grants as yet, but SASSA was trying to work on this on an appointment basis. There were challenges faced with the disability applications, but SASSA was trying to address the matter.
The Chairperson left the meeting early due to prior commitments. Mr Stock took over as Acting Chairperson.
Ms Brenda Sibeko, Deputy Director General: Social Security, DSD, said that 14 million people were food insecure in South Africa, and the money available in the sector was grossly inadequate to meet those needs. COVID19 had caused food insecurity to increase, so the Department was making a bid for additional funding. The Department had also pleaded with private donors and organisations to continue working with the Department in this regard. The SRD grant was also a means of reaching people in dire need. People could reach out to the provincial Department of Social Development to access food parcels.
The projections of future food parcel requirements were estimates given by provincial Departments, based on food security needs. The projections were not exact, and were likely to be underestimates of what would be needed. The Department was looking to work in collaboration with the Solidarity Fund to deal with food insecurity.
Mr Fanie Esterhuizen, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DSD, said that since the lockdown, the national Department had spent over R19 million on the procurement of PPE and had utilised level one, triple black economic empowerment (BEE) service providers in this regard. All supply chain procedures had been followed, and all service providers were on the Central Supplier Database (CSD), or the Department had helped suppliers in registering on the CSD. Funding for the procurement of PPE was conditional, and the DSD had been communicating with provincial DSDs on the processes and standards of procuring PPE. Once PPE was procured, provincial DSDs submitted compliance documents to the national DSD, and these were then verified. Only after this process did the national DSD reimburse the provincial Department for the procurement.
The Department had stated that ECDs struggled to access DSD offices for self-assessments. Teams had been created at the local and district levels. A list of these teams would be supplied to the Committee. The Vhangasali campaign had enabled more ECDs to be registered, and a list of figures would be submitted to the Committee about the prior numbers, compared to the numbers since the Vangasali campaign. The figures were expected to rise with the additional reach Vangasali had. The report on progress made with the Vhangasali report had been delayed with the additional information, and figures were still coming in.
The one-size-fits-all method of registering ECDs did not work, so there was a conditional registration framework which categorised the registration of ECD facilities. There were three categories -- bronze, silver and gold. The conditional registration framework needed to be endorsed by the Department of Health as well, as this affected environmental health perspectives.
The subsidy for ECD centres was R17 per child, per day. The ratio of the budget was 40% for nutrition, 40% for salaries, and 20% for administration. The Department provided this subsidy on a monthly basis. It was trying to get status reports from the provinces on ECDs, but it had been disrupted due to challenges imposed by COVID19. The transition from the DSD to the Department of Education (DBE) had been handed over to g-tech, and each department was handling this with the provinces.
Mr Mchunu said that the Committee Members were indeed ambassadors for the DSD portfolio. He committed to equipping the Committee adequately. The suggestion for the provinces to engage with the Committee on the status of ECDs was welcomed, and the message would be relayed to the provinces. The glossary of the provincial, district and local leaders that were supporting food and ECD programmes would be made available to the Committee. The lessons learnt from the COVID19 pandemic would be woven into the Social Development white paper. The R350 SRD grant was the closest the Department had come to universal social security assistance. Pro-poor policies were being looked at in this regard.
He asked that the secretariat assist with questions that needed to be responded to in writing, to avoid questions going unanswered.
The Acting Chairperson thanked the Department and entities for their comprehensive presentations to the Committee, and their efforts throughout the term. The DSD inspired the Committee and as long as it was committed to improving the lives of South Africans, then the Committee would continue providing oversight.
Ms Sukers reminded the Department to respond to the request for the litigation figures mentioned at a previous meeting.
Committee’s fourth term programme
Ms Yolisa Khanye, Committee Content Advisor, said that a petition had been forwarded to the Committee by a group of researchers from various institutions such as Stellenbosch University, the University of Cape Town, Wits University and the University of the Western Cape. The petition was regarding measures which they proposed would help reduce substance abuse, and was related to GBV. There were about four or five measures, one of which related directly to the DSD, which was the counselling and rehabilitation of people using substances. The other measures had been directed to other Departments. Although the national drug master plan covered much of the measures suggested by the petition, it was suggested that the Committee meet with those petitioning the Department.
The Committee considered the proposed programme for the fourth Parliamentary term.
Ms Mvana asked what would be expected of the Committee in meeting with the people who had petitioned the Department.
Ms Van der Merwe suggested that oversight of ECDs and the Gender-based Violence Command Centre (GBVCC) should be factored in.
Ms Masango suggested that urgent matters, such as GBV and the high court proceedings be brought forward.
Ms Abrahams asked if there would be a COVID19 update on the programme. Could the Department present the foster care monitoring tool to the Committee? Would the province report back be included, as well as the Auditor-General’s report?
Ms Ngwenya suggested that the meeting on GBV should be dealt with immediately. The time limit was a concern, as issues had not been thoroughly interrogated.
The Acting Chairperson said that the COVID19 updates would be made at the beginning of every Portfolio Committee meeting. Thus, it was a standing item. The time limit was noted, as issues had not been thoroughly integrated, and the Department often did not have enough time to answer all the questions. Urgent agenda issues would be prioritised for the first couple of meetings, and a meeting on the status of ECDs in the provinces would be added.
Ms Khanye said that the Committee would be expected to engage with the presentation and discuss the matters, as was done in a usual meeting. In the framework given to the Committees regarding the programmes for the next term, it had been stated that no oversight would be allowed. There would be a briefing with the Auditor-General in preparation for the Budget Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR).
The fourth term programme was tabled for adoption with amendments.
Ms Mvana moved the adoption, and Ms van der Merwe seconded. The programme was adopted with amendments.
Adoption of minutes
The minutes of the Portfolio Committee’s meetings on 23 April, 7, 8 and 29 May, and 8 and 15 July, were tabled for adoption. The minutes were adopted.
The Acting Chairperson thanked the Committee for its commitment this term.
The meeting was adjourned.
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