The Standing Committee on Social Development held a virtual meeting to consider the Western Cape's final negotiating mandate on the Social Assistance Amendment Bill. The Committee noted its unanimous support for the Bill.
The Western Cape Children's Commissioner’s Office also briefed the Committee on progress made in setting up the office since she took up the position of the Commissioner in June. The Office does not have internet access or a telephone line. The Commissioner is the only staff member, has a part-time personal assistant, and relies on support from the Department of the Premier.
The Office was further hampered by the lockdown, and the recruitment process was delayed by a sign-off at national level. However, the Commissioner successfully engaged with and partnered with 35 government child monitors in the province, with whom she met weekly to develop training on the rights of children. Social media platforms were launched to publicise activities of the Office, and four interns were recruited to provide necessary research support to the office.
Final negotiating mandate: Social Assistance Amendment Bill
The Chairperson welcomed Members and said the meeting will concentrate on the consideration of the negotiating mandate for the Social Assistance Amendment Bill.
The meeting will also consider several Committee Reports, as well as a briefing by the Western Cape Children's Commissioner.
The Chairperson said when the Bill first appeared before the Committee, the Committee supported the Bill and proposed two additional amendments.
The first amendment related to Clause 10(c).The Committee proposed the notification regarding the Tribunal also be gazetted, with the concurrence of the Ministers of Social Development and Finance.
The drafters of the Bill said the amendments were accepted.
The second amendment dealt with appointments - the Committee proposed appointments to the Tribunal be shared with the National Assembly (NA), National Council of Provinces (NCOP), and Provincial Legislatures. The Committee did not talk about appointments. The Committee resolved the amendments should stand.
Mr R Mackenzie (DA) said it is prudent to include all the province's amendments in the final mandate.
The procedural officer said it will not be possible to effect any amendments at this stage of the negotiating mandate. The Committee only had to indicate if it supported the Bill.
Ms R Windvogel (ANC) agreed with the comments by the procedural officer.
The Committee unanimously agreed to support the Bill and adopted the Mandate Report.
Adoption of Committee Minutes
The Committee adopted the following minutes:
24 July 2020
Ms N Makamba-Botya (EFF) said she did not see her name reflected under the word, apologies.
The procedural officer said she only noted the names of Members who tendered apologies.
The Chairperson asked the procedural officer to double check the attendance of Ms Makamba-Botya.
1 September 2020
Mr Mackenzie wanted to know why certain words, like provincial, and national, were written in lower case when it preceded certain words.
15 September 2020
Mr Mackenzie proposed adoption.
Ms Philander seconded adoption.
6 October 2020
The Chairperson wanted to know if a certain Member Brinkhuis was a full member, as he thought Ms Makamba-Botya fulfilled this role.
Mr Mackenzie proposed adoption.
Ms Philander seconded adoption.
Draft Committee Programme
The Chairperson said the following was on the programme for the next term:
-Briefing by Children Rights Organisations and Children on Children’s Needs
The Chairperson said the meeting should be held in person, and children participation should be assured. He recalled criticism leveled at the Committee by the organisation, Molo Songololo, about very little children participatiing on a previous occasion.
The Chairperson said the Provincial Department of Education should also be invited.
-Briefing by the Department of Transport and Education on the Transport Requirements of Social Workers in Rural Areas
-Briefing on Provincial Child Safety
-Briefing by the National Delegate on the Social Assistance Bill
The Chairperson also proposed the Committee should undertake a study visit to the Eden district.
He called on Members to list proposals of organisations and so forth, to visit. He proposed the Committee should pay an oversight visit to the child youth facility in George.
Briefing by the Western Cape Children's Commissioner
The Western Cape Children’s Commissioner, Ms Christina Nomdo, briefed the Committee on progress in setting up the Office, since she took up the position of the Commissioner in June. The Office does not have internet access or a telephone line. The Commissioner is the only staff member, has a part-time personal assistant, and relies on support from the Department of the Premier.
The Office is further hampered by the lockdown, and the recruitment process was delayed by a sign-off at national level. However, the Commissioner successfully engaged with and partnered with 35 government child monitors in the Province, with whom she met weekly to develop training on the rights of children. Social media platforms were launched to publicise activities of the Office, and four interns were recruited to provide necessary research support to the Office.
The Chairperson said the presentation by the Commissioner was one of the most interesting and visually stimulating presentations he saw.
Ms R Windvogel (ANC) welcomed the presentation and thanked the Commissioner for highlighting the close working relationship with key departments, such as the police and education.
Referring to slide nine and ten, she noted the lack of capacity in the Commissioner's office. According to Ms Windvogel, the children of the Western Cape and the Commissioner had been failed.
She wanted to know why the national Department of Social Development needed to approve the Commissioner's work when the position was created by the province.
Ms W Philander (DA) welcomed the broad overview provided by the Commissioner about her Office and mandate. She noted the comments by the Commissioner regarding certain cases, and wanted to ascertain how the Commissioner intends working with the police to ensure justice for children who were wronged.
She said two children, a boy and a girl, disappeared in her constituency of Newtown, Wellington, the previous day. The boy was found dead. She expressed her sympathies with the bereaved.
Ms Makamba-Botya noted disappointment with the staff challenges within the Commissioner's Office.
She wanted information on the cases the Commissioner already dealt with, as part of the mandate was to investigate cases.
She recalled she forwarded a case which involved a boy who was raped by his father. The Member was subsequently informed the case did not fall within the ambit of the Commissioner's powers.
She wanted to ascertain how best the Commissioner could assist the child, either with psychological help, or on the side of ensuring justice.
Mr Mackenzie said he enjoyed the presentation, and always appreciated the involvement of children in the legislature's work. He highlighted the staff establishment as the first challenge. He recalled a meeting held on 2 September 2020 with the Director-General of the province, the Premier, and the Commissioner, on staff establishment challenges. What emanated from the discussion was that the Public Service Act must be complied with. The staff establishment could only be signed off by the Minister of Public Service and Administration. He said he called on the relevant senior provincial government leaders to intervene to bring this matter to a conclusion. He commended the Commissioner for the great work thus far.
Commissioner Nomdo said her office will not be dealing with individual cases, as the Office was created to act as an oversight mechanism. Her fiduciary role was to ensure the various government systems work effectively, and efficiently, when dealing with issues affecting children.
She cited the criminal justice system, and child social support services, as examples. She also said she would always refer individual cases to the relevant authorities, empowered by the constitution, to fulfill this role.
The Children's Commissioner cannot be seen as a short-cut to get quick relief. The Office must have a strategic and systemic orientation, geared towards being responsive to the needs of all children. She reminded Members the legislation it crafted did not assign any punitive powers. The Commissioner can only advise and recommend.
Commissioner Nomdo said, in the meantime, she will continue to focus on public awareness campaigns about her Office, and the strategic nature of her focus. On the staff establishment, she noted dismay at being told to go it alone. In the meantime, the Minister still had not signed off on the establishment.
She commended the Province's DG for his efforts in the matter. She said she was not there for spek en boontjies (there for show / to do nothing). This is why she will intensify her community engagements to bring about change.
The Chairperson said the Committee had means at its disposable to try and nudge the process forward. The Committee will engage with the Standing Committee on the Premier and Constitutional Development, to nudge the process along. The allocated budget is too low and new and innovative ways must be found to supplement the budget.
Ms Makamba-Botya was not happy with the informal communication process of the Commissioner's office. She recalled she only received a phone call.
Ms Windvogel liked the positive attitude of the Commissioner and commended her for it. She asked what role the Commissioner played in combating human trafficking. She also asked if the Commissioner's Office will not benefit from the free broadband roll-out.
The Commissioner said she appreciated the guidance provided by Members on how best to improve systems. She cited the lack of staff as the primary reason for inefficiencies in her office. Until recently there was not even an official email address. Anyone who worked for the Office had to undergo a police clearance, as well as getting names checked against the sexual offences register. She preferred to go slow to ensure things are done right.
She welcomed the proposal by Member Windvogel about free wifi, and asked Members to engage with her on options available.
On additional sources of income, she said donors normally have an agenda. It is incumbent on the Office to ensure its independence is not compromised.
She also asked Members to protect the R8 million budget allocation.
On human trafficking she said the Centre for Child Law published a study on human trafficking. She will share this study with Members. Commissioner Nomdo said her Office will always be motivated by the plight of children and she will focus on empirical research to guide her work.
Closing Remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson thanked the Commissioner for the engagement and noted the Committee's unwavering support.
Ms Makamba-Botya wanted to know if there was a task team to assist the Commissioner.
The Chairperson said a letter was sent to the Standing Committee on the Premier, and a Chief Director from this Office is assisting the Commissioner's Office.
The meeting was adjourned.
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