13 Nov 2019
06 Nov 2019
The purpose of the meeting was for Department of Social Development (DSD), the National Development Agency (NDA), and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) to brief the Committee on its Audit Implementation Action Plan (AIAD), and to report on its progress regarding the implementation of the 2018/19 Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR). The meeting took place on a virtual platform.
The Committee was also briefed on the progress made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The DSD also reported on the progress made regarding the Children’s Amendment Bill X-2019.
For the 2017/18 financial year, the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) had 13 findings on the audit of the DSD. The statistics regarding the audit were broken down according to what was resolved, what remains unresolved with progress, and what is unresolved with no progress.
SASSA reported a 96% overall completion of actions taken to resolve AGSAs findings for the 2018/19 financial year. SASSA had 82 audit findings for which an audit action plan was required to address internal control deficiencies. Further, SASSA has a huge amount of irregular expenditure amounting to R1.5billion.
The recommendations from the Committee regarding the BRRR includes: the Minister must ensure the DSD reports on its mandate and its role in the fight against GBV; the Minister must ensure DSD commissions an investigation into the state of psychosocial services at the Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs); the Minister must ensure DSD employs people with disabilities exceeding the 2% (two percent) government target; the Minister must ensure the portfolio of the DSD aligns it targets to its mandate in its reimagination of social transformation; and the Minister must ensure DSD moves toward an evidence-based outcomes approach to deliver on its mandate, and to strengthen its monitoring and evaluation measures.
Members questioned additional measures in place to improve access to the social grant services, e-vouchers, online applications, the NDA’s board members annual financial declarations, consequence management and disciplinary action, condonment and the employment of disabled people at the DSD. Members also wanted to know about internal audit, employment of more social workers and scanning of local SASSA offices regarding the files of beneficiaries.
Regarding the Children’s Amendment Bill X-2019, the DSD outlined two options available to proceed. The first option is to split the Bill and only consider the amendments addressing the foster care court order. The second option is to process the comprehensive package of the Bill.
The DSD is of the view the second option must be implemented because it will ensure smooth running of the process. This will require approaching the courts on an urgent basis to request the extension of the court order dated for 26 November 2019. The Parliamentary Legal Services (PLS) strongly supports the DSDs proposal of implementing the second option. The Committee agreed with this legal advice.
The Committee noted the impotance of pushing the finalisation of the Bill in 2021. The DSD must approach the North Gauteng High Court to request an extension on the current court deadline of 26 November 2020, to submit a comprehensive legal solution to foster care backlogs. A Member noted the importance of making provision for unforeseeable consequences in the process of public participation to finalise the Bill. She said the problem of long queues and turning away SASSA beneficiaries needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Another Member noted the concern of 30 000 unanswered emails, and 40 000 calls per day, received from SASSA. She asked how this is being addressed; and why SASSA does not employ people on a temporary basis at the call centre. She asked about progress on saving the applications which were dumped in the streets of KwaZulu-Natal.
Election of acting Chairperson
The Committee Secretary said the Chairperson, Mr Gungubele, had trouble connecting to the meeting. According to the rules governing parliamentary Committees, Members must nominate and elect a Member who will serve as the Acting Chairperson for the meeting.
Mr D Stock (ANC) was nominated by Ms N Mvana (ANC) and seconded by Ms B Masango (DA). There were no other nominations, and Mr Stock was elected as the Acting Chairperson.
Opening Remarks by Acting Chairperson
The Acting Chairperson opened the virtual meeting and welcomed Members, and the delegations from the Department of Social Development (DSD), the National Development Agency (NDA), and South African Social Security Agency (SASSA).
The purpose of the meeting was for the DSD, NDA, and SASSA to brief the Committee on its Audit Implementation Action Plan (AIAD) and to report on its progress in implementing the 2018/19 Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR). Another item on the agenda is for the Committee to be briefed on the progress made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic issues. Lastly, the DSD will report on the progress made regarding the Children’s Amendment Bill X-2019.
Deputy Director-General’s passing
Acting Chairperson Stock expressed his condolences on the passing of Ms Constance Nxumalo, who served as the Deputy Director-General: Welfare Services at the DSD. This is the first Committee meeting since the passing of the dedicated public official.
Briefing on Auditor-General South Africa (AGSA’s) findings for the 2017/18 and 2018/19 financial years
Deputy Minister’s opening remarks
The Deputy Minister of Social Development, Ms Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, said the purpose of the briefing is to update the Committee on the progress made in addressing issues raised by AGSA, and what measures were put in place to do so. The Committee will receive a detailed update on the improvement of the DSD’s systems and coordination strategies. The DSD needs to improve its systems but remain flexible enough to timelessly deliver services to South Africans within the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. The DSD previously reported on the increased capacity of its internal audit committee. This was done to ensure it covers and implements the findings of the AGSA across all its entities.
DSD’s progress on AGSA’s findings
The Acting Director-General of the DSD, Mr Linton Mchunu, said for the 2017/18 financial year, the AGSA had 13 findings on the DSD audit. Currently, three findings remain unresolved, whereas ten of the findings were successfully resolved. For the 2018/19 financial year, there were 24 findings on the DSD’s audit. Nine findings remain unresolved, whereas15 findings were resolved.
Mr Fanie Esterhuizen, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DSD, said regarding security management and user access control, all the findings for the 2017/18 financial year are completed. Regarding the findings on Information Technology (IT) service continuity, the only outstanding area to be completed is role player training. Testing was performed after the COVID-19 lockdown was announced. Therefore training for the relevant officials were not conducted as physical face-to-face training sessions are required.
For the findings for the Directorate of Supply Chain Management (SCM) in the 2018/19 financial year, a centralised e-mail address was implemented to receive invoices in the DSD. The system is undergoing testing.
For the Directorate of Internal Control, 16 policies are currently under review, and four are ready to be tabled for approval.
For the Directorate of Internal Audit, the DSD is currently in the process of procuring automated audit software. As an interim intervention, a contract appointment was made until the end of November. Options to fill the position permanently are being explored.
For the Directorate of Finance, the Asset Register was updated to remove all duplications and to indicate disposed assets. The DSD is finalising its process of asset verification. The DSD is waiting for feedback from National Treasury regarding how pre-payments, advances, and unauthorised expenditure must be dealt with.
NDA’s progress on AGSA’s findings
Ms Thamo Mzobe, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), NDA, said 40 out of the 65 findings (62% completion rate) were resolved. 20 of the unresolved findings show some progress to resolution, while five findings had no progress at all.
Ms Karen Muthen, CFO, NDA, said the main areas of AGSA’s findings for the 2018/19 financial year, relates to the annual financial statements, and the reporting compliance standards. Those findings can only be resolved during the prepetition of the financial statements for the 2019/20 financial year. A significant focus is on ensuring compliance.
Regarding asset management, findings relate to the completeness of the asset records and the ensured existence of the assets itself. The CEO approved the appointment of an asset management officer. This officer has the dedicated responsibility of managing the assets, and providing quality verifications on a full-time basis. The position is currently vacant. The NDA is in the process of appointing a suitable candidate.
There were issues relating to the extensions of lease agreements. It resulted from historical irregular procurement processes which caused recurring irregular expenditure for the NDA. With the reprioritised budget for COVID-19, the NDA took the decision to rationalise the least operating lease costs, and several leases were nearing termination. In doing so, the NDA is curtailing its expenditure for operating leases and irregular expenditure.
Other findings of the AGSA relate to policy development of the NDA’s SCM, Finance, and Asset Management policies. A significant amount of these policies were revised and are awaiting approval from the Board. The revision of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) policies will remain in process for the rest of the current financial year.
A major area of findings relates to performance management. The AGSA said the NDA has an inadequate system for monitoring performance. During the 2019/20 financial year, a lot of money was invested into developing a performance management system. The purpose is to assist the NDA in providing reporting measures on performance on a quarterly basis.
The NDA developed checklists to align with the changing national frameworks, to address irregular or fruitless and wasteful expenditure. The idea is to improve its consequence management. Regarding provisions of the National Development Agency Act 108 of 1998 (NDAA), the NDA can source funding from third-party funders and implement according to the third-party contractual conditions. This resulted in a significant amount of irregular expenditures, because of the misalignment of the NDAA and the Public Finance Management Act 1 of 1999 (PFMA). The latter requires an open a transparent process for sourcing partnerships. An amendment of the NDAA is included in the NDA’s 2019//20 Annual Performance Plan.
SASSA’s progress on AGSA’s findings
Mr Tsakeriwa Chauke, CFO, SASSA, said there was a 96% overall completion of actions taken to resolve the AGSA’s findings on SASSA for the 2018/19 financial year. SASSA had 82 audit findings for which an audit action plan was required to address internal control deficiencies. 79 out of 82 of these findings are resolved.
Three findings which remain unresolved pertain to long outstanding irregular and fruitless cases, the incompleteness of social grant beneficiaries’ files, and relating non-compliance to National Treasury regulations on external assessment of the internal audits.
SASSA has a huge amount of irregular expenditure, amounting to R 1.5 billion. In the presentation SASSA broke down the cases involved in the irregular transactions, and procurement processes, for the Committee to peruse. It is an update on the progress made in imposing its consequence management measures.
The finalisation of these cases is delayed because of the COVID-19 lockdown. Challenges include the unavailability of key role-players in adjudicating these cases, and the need for each case to be assessed on its own merits. The 2019/20 financial year closed with R86 million, in fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
Progress Report on the 2018/19 BRRR
Implementation of the recommendations on gender-based violence (GBV):
Mr Mchunu said the first recommendation from the Committee was, the Minister must ensure the DSD reports on its mandate, and reports on its role in the fight against GBV.The DSDs mandate includes providing psychosocial services to victims of GBV. There are various initiatives implemented both at provincial and national level to intensify and increase the Department’s efforts to end the brutal scourge of gender-based violence and femicide.
This includes strengthening legislation to efficiently and effectively respond to the needs of survivors of GBV; to increase response capacity to GBV; to intensify awareness campaigns; to implement social behavioural change programmes; and to increase access to psychosocial services.
The second recommendation was for the Minister to ensure DSD commissions an investigation into the state of psychosocial services at the Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs). The DSD realised there is a need to generally develop a guideline document on the provision of psychosocial services in the sector. A project to develop a policy guideline was established and technical support from a service provider was secured. This happened in March 2020. The Department will have a draft document on the psychosocial support services provided and consulted in the sector. It includes the engagement with the TCCs.
The third recommendation was for the Minister to ensure the DSD employs people with disabilities which exceed the two percent governmental target. At SASSA the disability quota stands at 2.1% of the filled funded posts. In figures it amounts to 176 persons with disabilities in employment against a total of 8 243. The NDA has four employees with disabilities. It amounts to 2% of the 186 filled posts.
The DSD employs a total of 1.7% persons with disabilities. This results in a deficit of 0.3% to meet the 2% Employment Equity target for employment of persons with disabilities. Some of the officials with disabilities were transferred from the DSD to the Department of Women, Youth and Disabilities in line with the government national macro organisation of state. The DSD is currently embarking on the recruitment drive towards strengthening its disability target to reach or exceed the 2% target.
The fourth recommendation was for the Minister to ensure the portfolio of the DSD aligns its targets to its mandate in its reimagination of social transformation. This mandate is implemented through the sector agreed indicators, and targets, as well as the Strategic Plans (2021/2025). The Strategic Plan also set out indicators and targets for the next five years.
The fifth recommendation was for the Minister to ensure the DSD moves towards an evidence-based outcomes approach to deliver on its mandate. It will also strengthen its monitoring and evaluation measures. The challenges of COVID-19 pandemic affirmed the necessity of evidenced based planning. As a result, the DSD had to review the current Annual Performance Plans (APPs) in response to COVID-19. It also had to review the adjusted budget using a decision-making framework. It provided science on the review of the Strategic Plans and the Annual Performance Plans which were already tabled in March 2020. The framework also required evidence as part of rationalising and reprioritising the plans.The DSD is starting a process to develop the APPs for 2021/2022. It should be informed by evidence and other relevant tools.
Implementation of the recommendations on expenditure:
The first recommendation of the Committee was that the DSD, NDA and SASSA, must develop an action plan to address internal control deficiencies and other recommendations of AGSA. The second recommendation was about finalising investigations into irregular, fruitless, and wasteful expenditures, and the outcomes submitted to the Committee.
The third recommendation centred around ensuring financial expenditure reports align with the non-financial performance of the DSD and its entities. Both financial and non-financial performance information is included in the Annual Reports regularly presented to the Portfolio Committee on invitation.
Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu said DSD is the custodian of the disability policy. The 2% employment target was increased to 7% and was approved by Cabinet.
Ms L Arries (EFF) asked about the 6 000 social grants and if the DSD has additional measures in place to get into touch with the beneficiaries, and improve access to the social grant services. She asked at which retail stores the e-vouchers can be used, and how far the process for implementing the online application platform is. She said the DSD must provide the Committee with a timeline on the completion of the process.
She also asked what the reasons are for delaying the submission of the NDA’s board members annual financial declarations; what the reasons are for the SCM compliance officer positions to only be involved for the next two months; and regarding consequence management from SASSA, she wanted to know if the disciplinary cases will also involve legal proceedings.
Ms A Abrahams (DA) referred to SASSA’s recommendation of the expenditure for condonement. She asked if the NDA can resubmit a presentation to the Committee including the actual amounts for the nine legacy contracts referred to. She also asked what the reasons are for audit findings showing no progress.
Ms B Masango (DA) thanked the delegations for the presentations. She asked how well the NDA did in addressing AGSA’s findings overall. She asked how its performance affected service delivery, and asked about the alleviation of further risks associated with the findings, which were not addressed.
She also asked if the uptake of using bank cards for depositing SASSA grants improved; if the complaints written to SASSA via SMS, WhatsApp, and other communication channels are sent to the offices of SASSA; and what the arrangements between the SASSA head office and its regional offices are, regarding which types of social grants are issued on which days. It is unnecessary and a major inconvenience when people are turned away from SASSA pay points because of ineffective communication with the public.
Ms J Manganye (ANC) asked for clarity on what the DSD’s plans are to track down beneficiaries whose benefits lapsed. She asked what the relationship is between the internal audit committee and the management of SASSA; if the NDA identified the culprits who got away with lump sums of money because of irregular expenditure and procurement processes; how the 55 staff members who money must be recovered from are held accountable and liable; if these staff members face additional criminal legal proceedings, or if these staff members will only face internal disciplinary measures; and what DSD will do to relieve the workload of the human resources staff, regarding monitoring of performance.
Ms K Bilankulu (ANC) said it is a year since the letter was written to National Treasury asking for guidance on dealing with the matters of prepayments and advances which led to unauthorised expenditure. She asked if the DSD has any plan on how it will resolve this issue; what caused the delay in response from National Treasury; what SASSA’s persistent challenges are regarding the support contracts, and how it will be systematically addressed.
She also asked what the timeframe is to address the challenges in the progress report on the AGSAs findings. It relates to grant beneficiaries who filed without supporting documents, or who made incomplete applications.
She asked if there are any challenges delaying the implementation of SASSAs online application process; and which possible solutions there are to address the challenges which impacted progress on the long outstanding nine large cases of irregular expenditure.
Ms D Ngwenya (EFF) welcomed the Deputy Minister’s update on the DSD acting as the custodian of the employment policies which relate to people with disabilities. The 7% increase in the employment target is welcomed, but people with disabilities cannot be limited to which percentage must be employed in government entities.
She asked how many disabled people are employed at DSD, including social workers. The Committee welcomes the increase in the number of employees within the audit team.
She asked for the number of audit team members, and by how much it was increased. The vacant positions of asset management officer and SCM compliance officer must be filled with immediate effect. Regarding the matter of human resources development at the NDA, it is important for there to be policies which will finally encourage the development of human resources within the entity.
She asked who is on the risk management committee of SASSA. SASSA, as an entity, must institute criminal charges against the seven SASSA officials who resigned after fraudulently taking money. The COVID-19 pandemic cannot be blamed for the delay. The National Treasury must prioritise hiring more social workers. The DSD must push for available funds to be used to build more shelters to be established under the DSD, and not under non government organisations (NGOs).
Ms N Mvana (ANC) commended SASSA on implementing the Committee’s previous recommendations of spreading out the grant payments on various days depending on the type of grants issued. The long queues and turning away SASSA beneficiaries on dates of payments must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Social workers are prioritised to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This left a gap in service delivery at the offices of social development. She noted concern about the unresolved findings of the AGSA, and urged the DSD to resolve those issues to avoid it extending to other financial years.
The Acting Chairperson agreed with Ms Mvana. He said the AGSA will continue to raise concerns with findings. It is inefficient when those concerns are not completely addressed. He asked about completing the scanning of local offices, to address the concerns related to incomplete beneficiary files. He wanted to know what the progress on this is. He also asked what the timeframe is for the completing file audit processes; what the timeframe is to ensure the outstanding cases of irregular, and fruitless, and wasteful expenditure are addressed and finalised; and what the reasons are for the NDA not addressing the 0% on compliance. Here he referred to the BRRR, and reporting financial statements.
Responses from the DSD, the NDA, and SASSA
Mr Mchunu welcomed Ms Lindiwe Zulu, the Minister of Social Development, who joined the meeting.
An Internal Auditor of the DSD replied to the Members questions on the relationship between internal audits and management. She said the role of internal audits regarding risk management processes are to review and evaluate the systems put into place by management, and to address the risks in the organisation. The internal audits serve an advisory capacity to management. It improves on the efforts of the entity to better its risk management processes.
Responses from the NDA:
Ms Mzobe (CEO of the NDA) said because the board members of government departments declared its financial statements in its respective departments, the departments are not sure if it must declare it for a second time as Members of the Board. However, with the guidance of the AGSA, it was determined the Board Members are supposed to declare its financial statements a second time as an independent process.
The board members have since completed the necessary declarations. On the issue of the SCM vacancies, the NDA is following the proper process. Human resources completed the shortlisting process after sifting through the applications. The advertisements for the posts closed at the end of July 2020. The NDA intends to hold interviews during the second week of September, and finalise the process by the end of the month. All the candidates who applied are available immediately. This will make the final appointment of suitable candidates simpler and expedite the process. The NDA will provide the Committee with an updated presentation which includes the actual amounts for the nine legacy contracts referred to.
Ms Muthen (CFO of the NDA) said the NDA had an overall completion rate of 62% of AGSAs findings, for the 2018/19 financial year. Risks relating to the lease agreements were alleviated through exit contracts which resulted in irregular expenditure. The NDA improved its controls regarding the transfer of assets between its offices. It undertook the process to appoint an asset management officer. The asset management policy is being revised and will contribute to alleviating the risks regarding partnerships. The NDA will receive guidance from National Treasury to alleviate the risks and the implementation of third-party funding. It has been a substantial risk for the NDA. This guidance will come within the current financial year.
Regarding performance management findings, a significant amount of money was spent in developing an information management system to assist verifying the performance information the NDA reports. This system will ensure information is credible, and can be verified by the internal and external auditors. It will alleviate risks regarding the findings identified by AGSA.
The findings where there has been 0% progress, or compliance with AGSAs concerns, relates to petty cash procedures which forms part of the NDA’s revised finance policy. Reporting in terms of the BRRR, the compliance requirement will be reported in the Annual Report submitted to the Committee by the end of October 2020. The NDA cannot change the reporting measures of the previous financial years. It can only fix the non-compliance going forward.
Regarding the legacy contracts of the 96 transactions which amount to R4.5 million, the NDA will submit these transactions to National Treasury for condonation. The legal departments are busy looking at the irregular expenditure involved in these contracts. The NDA will carry it forward in its balance of irregular expenditure from the past five years. The high-level analysis shows there was no fraud, or corruption, or criminal activity involved. The process is not a competitive bidding process in terms of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), but the transactions go back to 2012. It amounts to R61 million. The NDA will provide the Committee with a full breakdown of these transactions and the progress to date.
Responses from SASSA
Ms Dianne Dunkerley, Executive Manager: Grants Administration, SASSA, said the 6 000 grants left at the end of February 2020 were not collected by beneficiaries at all over a consecutive period of seven months. Those grants lapsed, as it exceeded the three months period allowed for in legislation.
SASSA is very aware of which grants are involved. If the beneficiaries come in to a SASSA office and explain why they were not able to collect the grant, SASSA can then process reinstatement in line with the legislative provisions. Because of the change in the payment environment, the money for those grants were left in the accounts of the South African Post Office (SAPO) to make it easier for beneficiaries to access the money if reinstated. If the beneficiaries do not claim the money at the end of the day, SASSA will recover the money from SAPO. It will reflect in SASSAs financial books for the 2019/20 financial year. However, if the recovered money relates to previous financial years, the money must go to the National Treasury Revenue Fund.
Regarding the e-vouchers, SASSA is still in a procurement process to obtain service providers who can provide the vouchers. It is not possible to say at this stage which retail stores SASSA will work with. However, whichever service providers are awarded the tenders, it must have a process to be able to empower local spaza shops and store owners. It is not only the big established retail stores which will benefit from the process. It is critical to revive the township economy, and to stimulate local economic development. SASSA pays 8 million grants through SAPO and 90% of the beneficiaries collect grants through a national payment infrastructure. It helps to manage the costs of the payment contract.
Mr Abraham Mahlangu, Chief Information Officer (CIO), SASSA, said the development phase of the online application process is completed. SASSA is currently finalising the procurement of licensing for access by all users. The users will utilise the platform for the grant application process.
Mr Caeser Vundule, SASSA, said scanning SASSA offices is in progress. The scanning solution was configured and installed at 64 offices. It is in progress at 53 offices. SASSA plans to roll out the scanning solutions to all local offices by mid-2021. The local offices will be tasked with addressing issues relating to outstanding documentation.
Mr Chauke (the CFO of SASSA) answered the question relating to the disciplinary and legal action against individuals involved in irregular expenditure. The disciplinary process is purely internal, but in some cases SASSA sourced legal advice to initiate proceedings in court. This is especially so in the big seven cases. Regarding the lack of response from the National Treasury on how to deal with matters of prepayments and advances, he said SASSA must escalate a meeting between the CEO and the Director-General. This is to understand why there are delays. Further engagement with National Treasury will be performed by the end of September 2020. The Risk Management Committee is comprised of internal and external staff members. The primary role of internal staff members is to oversee the steps management takes to address the strategic and operational risks of SASSA. Management updates the Risk Management Committee on a quarterly basis, and when needed, then receives advice.
He said the approach taken to consider criminal charges against the seven SASSA officials depends on if the financial misconduct was done through regular expenditure, or through fruitless and wasteful expenditure. If it was through regular expenditure, SASSA starts by assessing if the entity suffered any losses. It then follows due process to recover those losses. If there were no losses for the entity, SASSA considers condoning those transactions rather than instituting legal action to recover the money. This is because SASSA would have received the value and benefits of the relevant goods and services. SASSA intends to finalise the seven big cases by the end of the current financial year.
Responses from the DSD
Mr Mchunu said there are currently 18 staff members in the DSDs internal audit. There is a recruitment process ongoing to appoint a Director. The DSD has a standing principle which states there must be no discrimination against applicants who are disabled. However, in most cases there are an limited amount of people with disabilities who apply. The DSD does encourage and include people with disabilities to apply in the advertisements for its posts.
National Treasury advised DSD about imminent budget cuts and deliberation which are underway. It must determine how it will hamper the delivery of the DSDs services. These budget cuts will impact the employment of social workers, and will impact heavily on the work of DSD, the NDA, and SASSA.
COVID-19 Implementation Progress
Mr Mchunu said the purpose of this briefing is to update the Committee on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the responses from DSD, under the Level Two lockdown restrictions. The DSD is engaging with the sectors and stakeholders before the finalisation of directions on amendments to its restrictions. The biggest challenge is increasing levels of alcohol abuse. DSD put measures in place, such as the reduced hours of selling alcohol. It is in the process of working with other departments to impose further measures such as increasing the tax on alcohol; increasing access to treatment; prevention services; conducting education and awareness campaigns; and reducing the allowed blood alcohol limits when people operate vehicles. The COVID-19 pandemic caused fatalities of DSD employees. It inhibits its ability to provide service delivery without interruption. The facilities of the DSD are open with strict measures in place to comply with COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The DSD is in engagement with the National Treasury to find solutions to address food insecurities which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms Mzobe (CEO of the NDA) said funding was transferred to 186 civil society organisations (CSOs) qualified to receive funds for it to implement programmes on GBV. The NDA will continue to monitor how these entities implement activities and report on the programmes. Entities were equipped with the necessary remote tools of trade to ensure business stability and continuity. A platform was developed for engagement with tCSOs to assist it with mobilisation data, and capacity building processes.
Ms Dunkerley (SASSA) said SASSA is responsible for the payment of 18.3 million social grants to approximately 12 million beneficiaries at a cost of R15bn per month. SASSA is implementing social relief measures to alleviate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes releasing temporary grants to provide for those vulnerable citizens who are desperately affected by the virus. The total COVID-19 relief package is worth R 40.9 million for a period of six months.
It includes payments of a social relief grant of R350 to distressed adults who are unemployed, and not receiving any other form of income. There are also payments of an additional R300, and R500 Child Grants in May 2020, and payments for Child Grant care-givers from June. There are R250 Top-up Grants to the elderly, war veterans, foster care, and people with disabilities. R27 billion was already spent. SASSA received 8 million applications for the special COVID-19 Relief Grant of R 350. Of this, 5.57 million applications were approved so far. SASSA can now pay the COVID-19 grant through mobile payment channels, and to bank accounts, and through the SAPO payment methods.
Between April and July 2020, 411 of SASSAs staff members tested positive for COVID-19. 12 staff members passed away because of it. This impacts the entity’s ability to provide services, especially at the local offices. Currently, staff members work on a rotational basis between local offices to ensure business continuity.
Briefing on the Children’s Amendment Bill X-2019:
Adv Nkosinathi Dladla, Chief Director: Legal Services, DSD, said the Committee is concerned about the time left to process the Children Amendment Bill. The Committee asked about the possibility of splitting the Bill to consider amendments which address the foster care court order, and the impact of such a split. The DSD now has two options before it. The first option is to split the Bill and only consider the amendments addressing the foster care court order, or secondly, to process the comprehensive package of the Bill.
The first option will work against the DSD because it still requires regulations to implement the comprehensive legal solution which deals with foster care. It will still go beyond the time remaining before the court order lapses. The applicable date is 26 November 2020. Parliament will also be disadvantaged as the time frame remaining is too little to comply with all the requirements for processing the Bill.
The second option entails allowing Parliament to comply with all legislative process requirements which imply a longer period for processing the Bill. It will also go beyond 26 November 2020. This will be to the advantage of the DSD. A comprehensive package will not only deal with foster care, but also with other long outstanding amendments to comply with other challenges the Department faces. The second option will also entail approaching the courts for an extension. The DSD will ask Parliament to assist advising the Department about the approximate time frame. DSD will ask the court for an extension, and any other support required.
This Bill attracted huge public interest. This necessitates regulating the sector comprehensively, and not in piecemeal. The DSD is of the view the second option must be implemented because it will ensure smooth running of the process. It will require approaching the courts on an urgent basis to ask for the extension of the court order dated for 26 November 2019.
Parliamentary legal advisor’s comments:
Adv Siviwe Njikela, Senior Parliamentary Legal Advisor, said the two teams from Parliament and the DSD met, to consider both options as outlined in the presentation. Both teams agree the second option must be followed. The Children’s Amendment Bill is classified as a Section 76 Bill. It must be dealt with in a manner which allows the provinces to make sufficient input. The public participation processes must be followed to the letter. The Parliamentary Legal Services (PLS) strongly supports the DSDs proposal to implementing the second option. The PLS will be looking into what support can be given to the DSD to expedite the court process.
The challenges relating to the tabling of the Children’s Amendment Bill to Parliament resulted in the Bill being referred to the Committee in August 2020. The Committee sought legal advice from Parliamentary Legal Services and from the DSDs legal services on how to proceed with processing the Bill. The Committee’s main concern was for it and the Select Committee on Health and Social Services to finalise the Bill before the court’s deadline. The Committee agreed with legal advice suggesting the DSD should seek an extension of the court deadline. This will give the Committee sufficient time to continue processing the Bill in its entirety, and manage the potential risk of possible further litigation.
The Committee is aware the benefits of going this route means the extension of the court order will provide an interim mechanism for management of foster care orders due, to lapse. It also means the Social Assistance Amendment Bill, which the Committee passed in March 2020, is part of the legal solution the court ordered to be developed.
The Acting Chairperson asked Members for comments, and to provide an indication if Members accept or reject the advice from the PLS to implement the second option. The Bill will be completed in September or October of 2021.
Ms Mvana noted the importance of pushing for the finalisation of the Bill in 2021.
Ms Masango agreed with legal advice to implement the second option. The DSD must approach the North Gauteng High Court to request an extension on the current court deadline of 26 November 2020, to submit a comprehensive legal solution to foster care backlogs.
Ms T Breedt (FF+) noted the importance of making provision for unforeseeable consequences in the process of public participation to finalise the Bill. She said the problem of long queues and turning away SASSA beneficiaries needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Ms Arries noted concern of 30 000 unanswered emails, and 40 000 calls per day, received from SASSA. She asked how this is being addressed; and why SASSA does not employ people on a temporary basis at the call centre. She asked about progress on saving the applications which were dumped in the streets of KwaZulu-Natal.
Mr Dunkerley said SASSA and the DSD are engaging with SAPO regularly to improve the waiting times and ensure COVID-19 health and safety protocols are implemented. This includes adherence to social distancing while waiting in queues. The transfers of grants through bank accounts and other payment channels are helping to alleviate the pressure on the infrastructure of the SAPO. SASSA reopened the window period for people to update preferred methods of payment. The budget cuts make it unfeasible to employ more people at SASSAs call centre, but this proposal can be explored further with DSD.
Regarding the question on the dumped SASSA papers found in KwaZulu-Natal, she replied, those were not social grant applications. It was documents from SAPO for people who collected R 350 grants. SASSA is working with SAPO to determine how the matter will be resolved, and to ensure the documents are properly secured and protected.
The Acting Chairperson thanked the delegations for the presentations, and the responses to questions from the Members. The Committee agreed with legal advice to implement the second option of DSD approaching the North Gauteng High Court to request an extension on the current court deadline of 26 November 2020, to submit a comprehensive legal solution for foster care backlogs.
The meeting was adjourned.
- DSD-SASSA-NDA Progress Report on 2018-19 Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report
- DSD: Progress of Audit Implementation Action Plan
- DSD Sector M&E Draft Policy Framework
- DSD SASSA NDA Responses to the BRRR 18-19 AR 31 August 2020
- Media Statement: Social Development Committee Wants Department To Request Extension On Court Order On Foster Care Backlog
- COVID-19: Implementation Progress
- Notes on Children Amendment Bill
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