The Committee was briefed on the Social Assistance Amendment Bill by the Department of Social Development and a Member of the Western Cape delegation to the National Council of Provinces.
Members were told the Bill aimed to empower the Minister of Social Development, acting in concurrence with the Minister of Finance, to make additional amounts available to social grants. The grants affected were the Older Persons Grant for those older than 75 and the Child Support Grant.
The Bill also provided for the removal of a time-consuming reconsideration mechanism for reviewing decisions on social grants and allowed direct access to an appeals tribunal. It also provided for the establishment of an Inspectorate for Social Assistance.
Members heard that the National Assembly had referred the Bill to the National Council of Provinces on 9 June 2020 as part of a six-week legislative cycle. The provincial legislature had to conduct public hearings on the Bill. The province had to submit its negotiating mandate by 22 September 2020 as Parliament would like to finalise the Bill by 29 September 2020.
The Bill had been up for consideration for quite some time. The Covid-19 pandemic had also caused delays. The Bill's aim was important as it would assist government to provide better social security and care to destitute South Africans.
Members welcomed the proposed amendments. .
The Committee was briefed by Mr Brenton van Vrede, Chief Director: Social Assitance, Department of Social Development (DSD), and Ms M Gillion (ANC), a Western Cape provincial delegate to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). Ms Gillion also chairs the NCOP’s Select Committee on Health and Social Services.
Mr van Vrede told the Committee that the objective of the Social Assistance Amendment Bill was to empower the Minister of Social Development, in concurrence with the Minister of Finance, to make additional amounts available for social grants. The affected grants were the Older Persons Grant for those older than 75 and the extended Child Support Grant.
The Bill provided for the removal of the reconsideration provision in the Act which caused considerable delays in reviewing decisions on grants made by South Arica Social Security Agency (SASSA). It would instead allow direct access to an independent appeals tribunal.
It also provided for the establishment of an Inspectorate for Social Assistance.
The Bill had been referred to the NCOP on 9 June 2020 by the National Assembly as part of a six-week legislative cycle. The Western Cape and Gauteng legislatures had asked for their briefings to take place on 1 September.
After the introduction of the Bill to the provincial legislature, the legislature would have to conduct public hearings on it. The province had to submit its negotiating mandate to the NCOP by 22 September 2020 as Parliament would like to conclude Bill by 29 September 2020.
The Bill had been up for consideration for quite some time. The Covid-19 pandemic had also contributed to delays in processing the Bill. The Bill's aim was important as it would assist government to provide better social security and care to destitute South Africans.
Ms Gillion noted that the Bill had been referred NCOP on 9 June 2020 from the National Assembly. The whole process took place within a six week cycle. The Western Cape and Gauteng legislatures asked for their briefings to take place today (1September).
After the introduction to the provincial legislature, the latter has to conduct public hearings for at least two weeks on the Bill. The province has to submit its negotiating mandate by 22 September 2020 as Parliament would like to conclude Bill by 29 September 2020.
She added that the Bill had been up for consideration for quite some time. The Covid-19 pandemic also impacted on the delay of the Bill. She stated that the Bill's aim was important as it will assist government to provide better social security and care to destitute South Africans.
Ms A Bans (ANC) welcomed the Bill’s provision for direct appeals to an independent tribunal. This would cut out a lot of unnecessary red tape. Social assistance provision was an important government priority.
Ms N Bakubaku-Vos (ANC) said the presentation had been informative and noted the progress that had been made, especially the provisions for additional amounts for the elderly and for child support. She said the ANC supported the amendments and called on all other political parties to do the same. She asked what had caused the delays in dealing with the Bill. What would the function of the new Inspectorate for Social Assistance be and where would it be situated within the department's organogram? Would provincial offices be opened and would the inspectorate also be dealing with challenges related to the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA)?
Ms N Makamba-Botya (EFF) welcomed the amendments and their objectives. She asked about bottlenecks experienced by the department. Had the department put processes in place to curb corruption?
Mr R Mackenzie (DA) asked what constituted an appropriately qualified person as mentioned in the provisions for the independent tribunal.
In response to Ms Bakubaku-Vos, the Chairperson noted that political parties would be given an opportunity to express their support for the Bill when all processes had been completed .He requested Members to be mindful of this.
Responses by the Department of Social Development (DSD)
Mr van Vrede said the Bill had been tabled towards the end of the previous administration in 2018.The transition between the two administrations had created challenges and this had impacted on the finalisation of the Bill. The Department had been in regular contact with the Leader of Government Business on the Bill.
On the appeals tribunal, he informed the Committee that this had been a function within the Department since 2008.
Adv Antoinette Brink, head of the appeals tribunal, DSD, added that the function of the tribunal would be to adjudicate all appeals related to social grant applications and reviews. The purpose was to do away with the internal consideration mechanism. In order to become a panelist on the tribunal, one either had to be an admitted Advocate or a medical professional with at least five years’ post-qualification experience. Panelists had to be fit and proper with no conflict of interests. These professionals still had their day jobs and provided their services to the DSD on a case-by-case basis. The amended Bill provided for the Minister to table the names and resumes of the panelists before Parliament.
The DSD operated three provincial offices in Kwazulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Eastern Cape. The other provinces had been assigned provincial coordinators.
Adv Brink said previous backlogs had created bottlenecks and that the DSD had been able to address about 60 000 appeals to clear the backlog. An additional bottleneck had been created by incomplete and late applications. The DSD managed to clear about 95 percent of appeals within the allotted 90-day period.
Ms W Philander (DA) requested more detail on Clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill. Had the DSD incorporated any lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic into Clause 5?
Ms Makamba-Botya stated that her question about corruption had not yet been answered.
Mr Jabulani Khumalo, DSD legal adviser, said the Social Assistance Act guaranteed the independence of the inspectorate. It would be responsible for financial audits, investigations into theft, fraud and corruption and investigations of social assistance abuse. The nodal point would be in Pretoria and officials would visit other provinces on an ad-hoc basis.
Mr van Vrede said the amendments on social relief had been influenced by other variables and that Covid-19 was not yet a reality when the amendments were crafted. He said social relief had always been tied to individuals and the Act did not allow for collaboration with non-profit organisations. According to the new amendments, old age grants would increase by R20.
Ms Philander asked about the timelines for the consideration of appeals.
Mr van Vrede replied that the initial reconsideration process by SASSA took 90 days. If applicants were not happy with the review they could appeal to the Appeals Tribunal. This process also took about 90 days. The amendments would cut this process by 90 days as applicants could appeal directly to the Tribunal.
The Chairperson thanked the DSD for their time and excused them from the meeting.
The Committee then discussed the way forward for the Bill.
The Chairperson said that the Committee had to discuss the public participation process in order to ensure that the Western Cape's views were heard. Once this had been concluded the Western Cape Legislature would be able to submit its negotiating mandate to the NCOP.
Two sets of dates had been proposed: 7 to 11 September and 14 to 18 September. The Committee agreed on 14 to 18 September 2020.The Committee also agreed to hold two public hearings.
The Chairperson proposed that the public hearings be conducted via an online meeting platform.
Ms Makamba-Botya noted that she would have liked to engage with communities face to face.
Ms Bans proposed that the Committee should conduct one virtual and one in-person meeting. She stated that many people might not have access to online platforms.
Ms Philander supported the call by the Chairperson to conduct virtual public hearings.
Ms Gillion proposed that the Committee should consider conducting a hybrid meeting that also made provision for in-person hearings. She said that the NCOP had had very successful hybrid meetings.
Ms R Windvogel (ANC) proposed that the Bill be sent out to all stakeholders. The Chairperson reminded Members to identify stakeholders they would like to invite to the hearings.
The Chairperson noted the following: He and the support staff would engage the programming committee on the dates (14-18 Sept). Members should submit the names of interest groups and organisations. Once dates had been finalised the Committee would engage with all stakeholders
He also noted that many municipalities had access to technology that enabled them to participate. He would also make contact with the Western Cape Provincial Parliament's outreach unit to assist with public awareness and education. The advertisements for the public hearings would be published in the province's three official languages. The advertisements would also go out to all community newspapers and radio stations.
The Chairperson thanked Members for their inputs and adjourned the meeting.
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