The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) told the Committee, in a virtual meeting, that it had received R24 billion in the Department of Social Development's first social relief grant allocation, and for this round it had been allocated R26 billion. However, it was concerned about the lack of an integrated system that would allow it to have comprehensive information on all of the country's citizens. This had resulted in about 67 770 grants being paid to individuals who were not distressed, and did not qualify.
SASSA’s future plans included:
- Applying additional measures to verify payment files before releasing them to National Treasury monthly for payment.
- Providing monthly validations against all databases for all applicants, regardless of previous decisions.
- Opening criminal cases in phases against those who had defrauded the system. So far 241 criminal cases had been opened against government employees, and 657 against company directors.
- Recovering the stolen money according to Section 100 of the Criminal Procedure Act.
- Cancelling the manual system of issuing food parcels, and introducing an e-voucher system.
The Department said an analysis of grant applications had highlighted that a large proportion of the applicants possessed tertiary education qualifications, which raised significant concerns about youth unemployment.
The Minister of Social Development commented that the Department was working towards establishing a basic income grant (BIG) to deal with the challenges faced by people living in poverty, and the growing unemployment.
Briefing by the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA)
Ms Dianne Dunkerley, Sassa’s executive manager, informed the Committee that the Auditor-General's (AG’s) findings on the R350 special relief grant indicated a potential for the grant to be paid to undeserving individuals who did not qualify, due to the lack of data integration across government.
In order to recover the social relief money stolen, SASSA aimed to:
- Open criminal cases against 241 government employees and 657 against company directors;
- Collaborate with the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) for coordination and monitoring of the disciplinary actions.
She said that the recovery of the stolen money would be done according to Section 100 of the Criminal Procedure Act.
The challenges facing SASSA included getting current, complete data from all government departments. There was a critical need for single and integrated databases from different departments, to provide a comprehensive view of the country's citizens. About 67 770 grants were paid to individuals who were not distressed and did not qualify.
Manual processes had introduced some control weaknesses with regard to accounting for all applications received. Parcels had been delivered long after applications were approved, manual processes implemented under Level Five lockdown conditions and parcels had not contained all the items, and some items had been damaged on delivery.
The process to implement the top-up grants were not adequately quality assured prior to payment, resulting in some double payments and late payments in the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal. Changes were implemented within a very short space of time, which had resulted in double payments and late payments in May 2020
SASSA’s future plans were:
- Future considerations would not include food parcels, so the tender process for food parcels had been cancelled with National Treasury.
- There had been approval of specifications drafted for e-vouchers, based on requests for information (RFI), which were currently in an open tender process.
- Implementation of a R4.5 million direct system enhancement for the required configuration of the system.
- Additional steps to verify payment files before releasing them to National Treasury monthly for payment.
- Monthly validations against all databases for all applicants, regardless of previous decisions.
SASSA had received R24 billion during the first round of the social relief grant, and for this round they had been allocated R26 billion. There was also the R4.5 million needed for the direct system enhancement. An additional R5 million had been spent on the extended the social relief grant. The high administrative costs had come from the extra support activities, like sms notifications, the use of unstructured supplementary service data (USSD), transaction fees, marketing, and improving communication to address the previous mistakes made by applicants, which had delayed payments.
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) asked about the total amount spent by the Department of Social Development (DSD) on the social relief package and food packages. The previous manual system had issues with delivering food packages. What plans were being made to improve the Department’s system to ensure it worked efficiently? Had the Department been able to open any investigations which had led to successful prosecutions of the 67 000 people who had falsely benefited from social relief packages?
Ms A Maleka (ANC, Mpumalanga) wanted clarity on the Department's information technology (IT) issues, and asked for details of its planned system enhancement. She wanted to know how many beneficiaries had been overpaid from May 2020.
Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) asked about the process of recovering the money that had been paid to undeserving people, and wanted to know if child carers who were already receiving social grants were also eligible to receive the social relief grant.
Ms S Lehihi (EFF, North West) asked whether there was a possibility of checking whether deserving beneficiaries would receive the social relief grant. The social relief grant may not be enough for those living in poverty, so could SASSA increase the grant?
Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo) was concerned about the social relief grant application process, especially how it was unable to remove the applicants who did not meet the requirements. He asked about the AG's comments on government employees involved in irregular practices, and wanted to know if the Department had implemented any of the AG's recommendations to apply corrective measures on the identified issues.
Ms N Ndongeni, (ANC, Eastern Cape) asked about the progress made by the Department to apply the recommendations stated in the AG's report.
Ms Busisiwe Memela, Chief Executive Officer, SASSA, replied that the Department used a legacy system which made it difficult to implement changes, especially in a short period. Plans were under way to update the system, and there were also considerations to look at an entirely new system. The system used for the social relief grants was new, but issues occurred due to the lack of integrated databases across government, and incorrect databases that had been provided.
Previously, care providers received an additional R500 on the child support grant. Currently, they were included in the social relief package because they had been excluded in the past, which had affected many women. SASSA was unable to determine the amounts given to beneficiaries, as it was the government's call.
Ms Dunkerley said that in the first duration, the Department had allocated R24 billion for the social relief grant, and for this round they had been given R26 billion. For May and April, SASSA had spent R177 million, which did not include the amount paid by the Department of Social Development.
The AG had found that 67 770 social relief grants had been paid irregularly, but after further verifying its data, SASSA had found the correct number to be 31 955. In total, R11 million had been paid irregularly, and the money from the duplication of regular grants in May had all been recovered, and confirmed by the AG.
Mr Hlengani Bila, General Manager: Fraud Management and Compliance, SASSA, said the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) had assisted with further analysis and validation of the AG report's findings. Criminal cases had been opened against 241 government employees and 657 company directors. The DPSA was assisting with coordinating disciplinary action against the government employees.
Recovery of funds would be made in accordance with section 100 of the Criminal Procedure Act. Criminal cases would be opened in phases. Currently, 899 were being targeted. The case involving 2 000 individuals would be opened the following week in a different category.
Mr Tsakeriwa Chauke, Chief Financial Officer, SASSA, said the R4.5 million plan for direct system enhancements involved the system's reconfiguration. R296 million was required for support activities, including SMS notifications, the use of USSD, transaction fees for the South African Post Office (SAPO), and for improved communication and marketing. There were plans under way for the enhancement of maintenance support, which was estimated to cost around R23 million.
Mr Linton Mchunu, Director-General, Department of Social Development, said SASSA had improved its communications and marketing to avoid delayed payouts due to applicants' application errors. The 67 000 people who were not supposed to receive the social relief grant represented a small fraction of 1%. However, the organisation had plans to prevent this from occurring in future. Previously people were double-dipping due to the lack of a correct database, and other packages had been closed due to an insufficient database.
The Department was slowly moving from the paper-based system to improve its efficiency, and people had been deployed to rural areas to assist people with application processes. The USSD programme had been used to help applicants who struggled with internet access. Future considerations were to move fully to an electronic application process.
Unrelated to the presentation, he said the Department had been able to get a sense of the people applying for the social relief grant, and had found that the majority of the applicants possessed tertiary education qualifications, which raised significant concerns about youth unemployment.
Ms Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development, welcomed the presentation and urged Members to send their questions in writing, and the Department would respond similarly. The DSD had noted the AG's findings and was planning to improve its systems based on the results mentioned in the report.
The concerns about the amount of the social relief grants was being looked at by government. Based on the complex environment in which the government operates, it was also looking at other areas of importance to ensure that the beneficiaries were taken care of in other areas such as education and health-care.
The Department was working towards establishing a basic income grant (BIG) to deal with the challenges faced by people living in poverty and the growing unemployment. For the second duration, SASSA had ensured that it validated all applicants and ensured that it paid the rightful beneficiaries. The moment of reflection had also allowed the Department to improve its systems.
Report of the Select Committee on Health and Social Services on the Annual Performance Plan (Budget Vote 20) of the Department of Women, Youth And Persons with Disabilities for the 2021/22 Financial Year
The Select Committee adopted the report
The meeting was adjourned.
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