The Committee was briefed by the Department of Social Development, the South Africa Social Service Agency and the National Development Agency on their second quarter performance for the 2020/21 financial year.
The Minister of Social Development said that she had signed the performance agreement, which outlined the responsibilities of the Department, with the President. The inconsistency of appointments of social workers was a matter of utmost importance to the Department, as social workers were at the forefront of fighting social ills in South Africa.
The Department of Social Development reported that it had achieved 81% of its targets in the second quarter. Information Management Systems and Technology (IMST) was one of the non-achieved targets, as this needed to move from manual to digital systems, which had to be synchronised. The digital system kept an accurate record of assessments that needed to be carried out and the time required to do so. Despite training on the new system, provinces have failed to use it, as a means of avoiding accountability. Another thorn in the Department’s targets was monitoring and evaluation (M&E). It was awaiting approval from the bid adjudication committee for a digital M&E system to be built.
Responding to an issue raised by the Committee, the National Development Agency asked it to
submit the names of organisations that had submitted proposals but had not received funding, and the Department would go back to its records and furnish it with the reasons why certain proposals had not been endorsed. In quarters two and three, the NDA would be performing an evaluation of the volunteer programme, given the massive amount of funds invested in this programme.
The South African Social Security Agency reported that it was in the process of finding ways to consolidate all its call centres within the DSD. It was considering creating a one-call centre where people could call in for whatever need they had. It was also looking into using robotics for frequently asked questions, as this would quicken the turnaround time. People who had received the R350 social relief of distress (SRD) grant, but should not have received it, had been taken off the system. Some errors had been genuine errors, but some were cases of fraud. Although it felt strongly that these funds should be retrieved, the cost of tracking these people down may involve a greater loss.
Minister’ opening remarks
Ms Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development, said that the Department of Social Development (DSD) needed to increase its communications to the public about the increase in the infection rate and deaths due to COVID19. The DSD had a responsibility to communicate this with the community to prevent the second wave of COVID19, and should it occur, for it to be minimised and not be as devastating as it had been in other countries.
She thanked the Members of the Committee for their attendance and eagerness to hear from the DSD. The performance report would detail the key successes and challenges encountered during the implementation of the defined constitutional, legislative and programmatic imperatives in quarter two. Moving from one quarter to the next meant that the DSD had carried the last quarters’ issues, but also its lessons.
The DSD had had unprecedented success at the forefront of the technological innovation which it had implemented when delivering the special COVID19 social relief of distress (SRD) grant. Historians of the social protective system would look back at the fact and note the DSD’s efforts in strengthening the technological limits of the social protective system. During this period, social protection had been extended to more than six million beneficiaries.
The Minister had been going through the social security review for 2020, which was of utmost importance to the Social Development portfolio. It was also the first review of its type. In exercising oversight and implementation of applicable programmes, it determined whether such implementation was generating the desired social outcomes and impacts. The Members of the Committee were doing this in their role, which was intrinsic to South Africa’s developmental outlook. It was safeguarding the collective interest of South Africans’ wellbeing.
She said she had signed the performance agreement with the President. The Members may have an interest in what was in this agreement, as it outlined what the Ministry and the DSD had to do. She reassured them that the DSD, the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and the National Development Agency (NDA) were paying close attention to the Committee’s counsel. It was becoming evident in the improved functions of Social Development as it gravitated towards the insights and advice given by the Committee. This was a recognition of the symbiotic relationship between the Department and the Portfolio Committee.
She shared the Committee’s concerns regularly with Members of the Executive Councils (MECs). The MECs were encouraged to respond to the concerns raised by the Committee to the Committee, and also to the provincial legislatures.
SASSA and the NDA would be delivering the accounts of their second quarter reports. This was not only done as part of the DSD’s requirements, but rather because it was a reflection of the resources that had been allocated to it. The DSD needed to be counted among the first trail blazers which had transcended the state of the collective panic and helplessness that was a result of the COVID19 pandemic. The economic shocks of the pandemic would echo in the lives of South Africans for years to come. The mid-term budget that would be presented was being worked on by the DSD.
The demands of COVID19 had shown that alternative and innovative resources needed to be identified so that unemployed social service professionals could be absorbed into the economy. There was a prioritisation and repurposing of legislative corporate social investment funds towards social development outcomes. The DSD needed to find implementable propositions of how the long-standing challenge of social service professionals would be resolved, amongst other challenges. The dire shortage of social service professionals in public and private institutions, as well as among communities, was leading to a potentially catastrophic situation.
The reports would show how the portfolio was fine-tuning its strategic focus within the context of the new normal and the increased demand for its services. The new normal had forced the DSD to consider how it could become more agile, robust and flexible in responding to events such as COVID19 while still providing its required services. The DSD had reprioritised and refocused what needed to be done with the looming budget cuts. It had communicated with all portfolio partners and delivered the impact which it had committed to deliver. It had refocused its approach to access and reach communities through partnerships with civil society organisations, faith-based organisations and the private sector, to respond to social shocks. It had created and consolidated evidence structures within the portfolio to ensure that production and access to evidence information for portfolio planning, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and learning from the efforts made during the COVID19 pandemic, was available.
DSD second quarter report
Mr Linton Mchunu, Acting Director-General, DSD, presented the Department’s second quarter report, and said 81% of the targets for 2019/20 had been achieved. Information management systems and technology, as well as monitoring and evaluation (M&E), had not fully achieved their planned targets due to delays in the finalisation of procurement processes. However, the processes in relation to supply chain management (SCM) were at an advanced stage, and these projects were serving before the bid adjudication committee (BAC) for approval.
With regard to M&E, once the BAC gave approval, the process towards building a digital M&E system to assist the Department with evidence and real time data to inform planning and decision-making considerations would begin in earnest.
NDA Second Quarter Report
Mr Ben Morule, Head of Strategy, NDA, presented the second quarter report for the NDA, and said 39% of the targets for 2020/21 had been achieved. There had been a poor performance in the area of implementation of consequence management in relation to irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure (IFWE) cases. Capacity challenges and the lengthy process involved in implementing the task had affected the performance. However, 15 employees had been issued with recovery notices. The assessment of some historic contracts had identified about R24 million which could be eligible for condonation. A recruitment process for a resource to assist in the process of legal assessment and investigations was under way, and would be concluded by the end of December.
The key pillars underpinning the turnaround strategy had been presented and endorsed by the Board. These pillars would constitute the development of the draft turnaround strategy for further development and consultation. There had been delays in obtaining Board direction and inputs on the turnaround strategy. The planning session held in October had served as a basis to solicit further Board guidance and inputs from other stakeholders. The fully fledged turnaround strategy would be developed in alignment with the planning session inputs. Further deliberations would be undertaken to consult and finalise the turnaround strategy by the end of the third quarter.
SASSA second quarter report
Ms Busisiwe Memela-Khambula, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), SASSA, presented the second quarter report for SASSA, and said 74% of the targets for 2020/21 had been achieved. Objective one for SASSA was reducing poverty. SASSA continued to pay approximately 18.3 million social grants to approximately 12 million beneficiaries. As of 30 September, the number of active social grants had increased to 18 513 552. The increase may be attributed to a number of aspects, including the persistent increase of unemployment. The reach of the social grants was approximately 31%. This correlated with the unemployment rate in the country, which was at 29% before Covid-19 pandemic. The major challenge was that there was no long-term intervention for people between the ages of 18 and 59, and the economy was also not providing sufficient opportunities to absorb this group of citizens.
Ms Raphaahle Ramokgopa, Executive Manager: Strategy and Business Development, SASSA, said that the implementation of the top-up of existing grants had given SASSA only a few days to adjust the social security pension (SOCPEN) system in order to ensure that the changes were effected and payments were ready for the May pay-cycle. This had resulted in technical glitches impacting on the payment of beneficiaries in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and the Western Cape. Internal audit was investigating, and appropriate action would be taken so that there would not be a repetition of this problem. The root cause report had also been submitted to South African Reserve Bank.
SASSA and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) had collaborated by compiling a database of matriculants who are/were in receipt of social grants developed. Due to the impact of COVID-19, the school calendar had been reviewed, so the list of learners registered for matric in 2020 had not been provided. Research was conducted in collaboration with Finmark Trust to explore mechanisms that could be used to increase the beneficial use of social grants, to develop a pathway out of poverty framework 18 and 35.
Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) commended the Department for its 81% achievement of targets. She agreed with the ADG that there was still much work to be done. What plan did the DSD have to catch up to the targets that had not been met? Targets were either achieved or not achieved -- there was no such thing as a target partially achieved. When the Auditor-General (AG) looked at the performance of departments, it did not look at targets partially met. The impact programmes had on communities needed to be considered. For example, there were no further details provided in the presentation on the anti-gangsterism strategy that had been rolled out in KZN and the Western Cape. This made it a talk shop. What had been the real impact of the anti-gangsterism strategy and the workshops? Gangsterism in Gauteng and the Western Cape was on the rise.
Once the BAC approved the process towards building a digital M&E system to assist the Department, it would be implemented. What were the timeframes? It seemed like the Department had taken a step back, as it had previously said it was going to be rolled out, but now it was back at a stage where it had not been approved.
Gender-based violence (GBV) reporting needed to speak to the National Strategic Plan (NSP). The DSD website had a commendable GBV page, as there was an option where abuse could be reported. What was the process and turnaround time for this? Information about shelters could be improved on the site. The funding for 117 shelters was commendable, but many shelters currently could not pay their social workers, and were struggling to keep their doors open. What were the plans for ring fence the funds for the absorption of social workers? The AG had flagged issues of human resources, vacancies in key posts and information technology (IT) findings -- what had been the progress in this regard?
The incident earlier this year where SASSA had made overpayments in the Western Cape an no payments in KZN, had resulting in elderly people sleeping outside pay stations. Were there mechanisms in place to prevent this? Call centres were now said to be fully capacitated, but most go unanswered.
33 000 people had received the R350 grant that should not have -- what progress had been made in retrieving these funds?
What criteria were used to determine who was awarded the CARA grant for GBV? The list of recipients of the fund included the Soweto Rugby Club and book clubs, but organisations such as Rape Crisis and the Saartjie Baartman Centre had not received any funding. These organisations were on the verge of closing their doors and were crucial in the fight against GBV.
Ms L Arries (EFF) said that the fraud investigation costs were high, and asked why they were so expensive. Was it the consultants’ fees that were expensive? According to the presentation of the DSD, the Information Management Systems and Technology (IMST) was in the procurement process, but later on in the presentation, it said that it had been achieved. She wanted clarity on this. What were the financial implications of the extension of the R350 social relief of distress (SRD) grant? How many appeals for the SRD grants were still outstanding? It had become apparent that some post offices had given notice that they would no longer pay the SRD grant. How many post offices were no longer paying people the SRD grant?
Structures around early childhood development (ECD) centres needed to be strengthened, and the number of ECDs that were registered had to be increased. The issue of food security had come to light. The failure of developmental aspects in feeding programmes resulted in people becoming reliant on the programmes, and this had a huge financial implication for the Department. Were there programmes that would develop people so that they did not become dependent on the feeding programmes? It had been found that the Department returned registration applications to NPOs because of missing documentation, when in fact the said missing documentation was actually attached. This was creating a backlog. She notified the Committee and the Department that SASSA did not have telephones in its George office, which had been the case for months now.
Mr D Stock (ANC) stated that from quarter to quarter, there seemed to be an issue with meeting the targets for IMST and M&E. These were important systems for the optimal functioning of the Department. What were the real challenges confronting these systems? When would these targets be met? Had there been a preliminary study on the impact of food distribution and the SRD grant during COVID19? When did the Department expect to complete such a study? Had there been any preliminary findings on the SASSA internal audit investigating the technical glitches that had impacted the payments for some beneficiaries? What were the key components of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) turnaround strategy?
Ms A Abrahams (DA) said that Ms B Masango (DA) had left the meeting due to a bereavement in her family, so she would ask Ms Masango’s questions on her behalf. She asked what the Department was doing to include people in townships and rural areas in its new digital and technological advancements.
She said Limpopo had failed to reach its target of ECDs receiving subsidies by 1 460 children. That was 1 460 children who were not in an ECD centre, receiving an education and nutrition. It was concerning, knowing that there were children that needed the service but were not receiving it. The migration of ECDs to the DBE needed to be a topic of discussion, as this would affect a lot of the policy work the Department was doing, as well as its targets. Did every province give ECD centres R17 per child, per day? It had been found that some provinces gave different subsidy amounts. Provinces should have been given the mandate to allocate the CARA grant, as it was more aware of the organisations and shelters that were key role players in the fight against GBV. This would have saved R5.7 million in administration fees which could have been given to shelters instead.
Ms Abrahams said it was nothing to be proud of, that 57% of the population depended on social welfare grants. Where were the figures showing the successful child support recipients that had moved through the basket of services, had studied, and were now employed and off social welfare? Where were the statistics showing that the Department was getting citizens off the social welfare system? Did the totals for children aged 0 to 17 receiving grants include the caregiver grants of child-headed households?
Ms N Mvana (ANC) asked if the Department thought the persons employed within the ICT and M&E disciplines did not have sufficient skills, and additional personnel needed to be employed. How could the research conducted with Finmark Trust contribute to empowering beneficiaries? Programme two referred to the development of civil society organisations (CSOs) -- how had the delay of the second tranche affected the performance of CSOs that did not receive their funding?
Ms A Motaung (ANC) was unable to access the meeting, so her questions were asked on her behalf. What were the key issues detailed in the Green Paper on comprehensive social security? What were the key policy options in the linking of child grants and government services? When would the Fund-Raising Amendment Bill be concluded? With regard to the NSFAS collaboration, how was SASSA addressing the challenge of the list that had not been provided? How had this impacted SASSA’s planning for the provision of support to beneficiaries who were eligible for NSFAS? Had the NDA traced the volunteers that had dropped out of the programme to ascertain how they had developed through the work with the CSOs, and how the work of the CSOs could be strengthened?
The Chairperson said that the presentations needed to be reworked according to the questions asked by the Committee. For example, the Committee wanted to know programmes’ effects on the required change. It did not seek to know the policies adopted. but instead it wanted tangible numbers on the effects of a programme. The most important thing about performance was the selection of the object of change that was targeted. They need to explain the issue faced by the Department, the strategy to resolve the issue and the timeline of how long it would take to be resolved. The object of change needed to be clear.
Mr Mchunu noted the Chairperson’s remarks regarding the content of presentations.
Mr Khumbula Ndaba, Deputy Director- General (DDG), DSD, said that the challenge with IMST was that it needed to move from manual to digital systems. The other challenge was that the systems needed to be synchronized, and there needed to be an improvement in the usage of the system. There had been training at the provincial level on the new digital systems, but there had been resistance, so there had been a poor uptake of the new system. It was also found that the electronic systems that had been developed would indicate the number of assessments that should be carried out per day and time spent on assessments. Provinces used manual systems to avoid accountability. This needed to be addressed with the provinces.
When abuse was reported via the call centre, the response was generally one hour. The matter was dealt with by a social worker, and the matter was referred to the South African Police Service (SAPS) and a social worker within the vicinity of the person who had been abused.
The anti-gangsterism programmes were being evaluated at the implementation stage. The impact of these programmes would also be evaluated, and this would be shared with the Committee. Once abuse had been reported, it took three to six hours for it to be attended to, as it was an emergency. Shelter details were not on the DSD website to protect victims that were housed there from their perpetrators tracking them down.
The year-to-year contract with NPOs that had resulted in facilities being unable to pay social workers in the contract period was in the process of being renewed. The DSD had now changed this, and had multi-year contracts.
ECD challenges were very serious, and the Minister had taken them up herself. There were engagements between the Department and the MECs. There was a commitment to ensure that ECDs were paid on time. The R17 subsidy for children per day was standardised throughout the provinces.
Mr Brenton van Vrede, Chief-Director: Social Assistance, DSD, said that the Green Paper on comprehensive social security covered a large array of matters, and a meeting on this should be scheduled with the Committee. It was one of the government’s largest reforms, and was on the same scale as National Health Insurance (NHI). Some key aspects of the Green Paper were income support and retirement planning. The DSD had tried to take a different approach to linking grants to government services. Other countries had conditional grants, but South Africa took an approach of providing grants and services. It made sure that grant recipients had access to healthcare, education and other services, as this was developmental in nature.
It was hard to say when beneficiaries would be phased off of grants as many beneficiaries were employed -- for example, domestic workers, which was a minimum wage-paying job. These people were still eligible for a child support grant, which was significantly higher than the minimum wage. Thus, grants were also supplementary of income.
The Fund-Raising Bill had been approved by Cabinet in quarter one, and would be tabled before Parliament soon.
Mr Mchunu stated that services were procured externally, as the DSD was a huge department. However, some skills were not as technical as required. In some areas, especially in the digital space, it required experts from the private sector.
The services’ Annual Performance Plan (APP) gave details of the Department’s catch-up plan for targets not achieved. Shifting towards the new monitoring tool had been delayed due to the lengthy nature of processes in government. The presentation had included targets partially met, as the Department was guided by Treasury guidelines which state that targets should be categorised as “met, partially met or not met.” Categorising a target as partially met, indicated that the Department was on course for reaching the target.
The NDA had an open request for proposal (RFP) process, where it listed a number of requirements and documents that needed to be submitted for CARA funding proposals. The Committee may submit names of organisations that had submitted proposals but had not received funding, and the Department would go back to its records and furnish the Committee with reasons why certain proposals were not endorsed.
The budget cuts had hit the NDA badly, and a funding plan was needed to arrive at a new generation of the NDA. This would be possible only if the NDA was able to strike up strategic partnerships at the level of business organisations and interact with them to tap into corporate social investment (CSI) to further its mandate of development work.
In quarters two and three, the NDA would be performing an evaluation of the volunteer programme, given the massive amount of funds invested in this programme. The NDA had noted the Chairperson’s recommendation on presenting, and would implement this in the future.
Ms Memela-Khambula said there was a digital call centre where people could check the status of their grant applications, which had been supportive. This, however, was not accessible to everyone, as it was digital. SASSA was in the process of finding ways to consolidate all call centres within the DSD. It was considering creating one call centre where people could call in for whatever need they had, like a one-stop call centre.
It was looking into using robotics for frequently asked questions. This would quicken the turnaround time. SASSA was determining what needed to be outsourced versus what could be consolidated for the sector as a whole.
People who had received the R350 SRD grant but should not have received it, had been taken off the system. Some errors were genuine errors, and some were cases of fraud, where people had applied for the grant using deceased persons’ details. In cases where it was fraud, SASSA felt strongly that the funds needed to be recovered, but the funds required to track these people down may incur a greater loss.
She added that further responses would be provided in writing due to time constraints.
Minister’s closing remarks
Minister Zulu stated that there was a new normal which would demand things to be done differently, including the reports sent to the Committee. The Department worked well with the Portfolio Committee, and making these adjustments would be done so that the Committee could determine if the Department was doing the right thing, and whether its programmes were have an impact were on the ground or not.
The inconsistency over the appointment of social workers was a matter of utmost importance to the Department and the Minister. Most of the nation’s social ills needed to be dealt with, and social workers should be at the forefront. She hoped that the district development model would look at the hotspots of social ills so that social workers could be dispatched and be known in those areas.
The registration of NPOs was a serious concern, as R7.6 billion was spent per annum on NPOs. The country needed to know how many NPOs were needed, and what sectors needed emphasis, such as GBV. The amount of money the Government was spending on NPOs compared to the value on the ground, was two different things. It was time to look at the value for money, and not simply registering and funding new NPOS. NPOs were also funded by other departments, so if one looked at the overall amount of money spent by the government on NPOs, evaluating the impact was important.
The Department was gearing up for the payments of an extended period of the SRD grant. Lessons of the last six months needed to be remembered so as to not find the Department in the same situation as before. It was committed to working with the post office and other structures to minimise long queues and people sitting in all kinds of weather, waiting for their grants. This needed to change within this administration.
The meeting was adjourned
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