In a virtual meeting, the Portfolio Committee considered its report on the budget vote report on the revised strategic planning and the Annual Performance Plan of the Department of Human Settlements and its entities.
Some Members were impressed with the report as they felt that it attempts to analyse government performance in terms of its strategic framework. It was also felt the report raised/flagged areas of weaknesses in how government and the Department implement their programmes. Members commended how well it highlights the gaps in showing known challenges in housing. Some Members especially liked how the report corroborated the issues that were noted in a public hearing just the week prior.
Other Members were not as impressed as they felt that this report is no different from those presented in previous years. They expressed that the recommendation made by the Committee are weak, considering that the Department of Human Settlements is on the frontline of service delivery and the fact that it has been plagued by issues of irregular expenditure and the constant rotation of leadership. It was further expressed that the Committee, in its two years since it has been sitting, has not received a single section 65 Public Finance Management Act Report, as required in law. The most basic of the constitutional obligations of the Committee is to monitor fruitless, wasteful and irregular expenditure. It is known for example that at just the Housing Development Agency has had over R100 million in fruitful and wasteful expenditure as well as irregular spending. It was stressed that recommendations for such entities need to be tighter so that they can be tracked properly.
The report was adopted with the objection of the DA and EFF.
Minutes dated 23 March 2022
The Committee secretary said she had not circulated the minutes from the previous meeting because she was still awaiting go ahead from the Committee Chairperson on the meeting.
As a result of the minutes having not been circulated to the Committee prior to the meeting, the Committee Secretary read the minutes from this meeting to the Members so that they could comment.
Ms E Powell (DA), on the mention of the Deputy Minister sending an apology, asked that it be changed to ‘the conduct of the CEO, following a heated exchange between Hon. Powell and Ms Mohlala’ because that was, in fact, what the Deputy Minister apologised for. She recounted that the CEO of the Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority (PPRA), who has now been suspended, accused Ms Powell of having a conflict of interest. She also said she also looked on the Parliamentary Monitoring Group website to see what she had said. She had asked that the CEO’s comments be written in the minutes, specifically what the Chairperson said in her rebuke of what was said by the suspended CEO’s expression on her [Ms Powell] as a Member of Parliament (MP). This was agreed to in the meeting.
The Chairperson said that she could recall Ms Powell’s comments. If there is an issue that had upset any MP, there are processes to be followed on how one could express those grievances. She agreed that the matter should be included in the minutes. The reason why it was not included was because she had told the CEO to withdraw the comments that she had made, and that if she was to raise anything it must be in writing.
The minutes were adopted.
Minutes dated 20 April 2022
Ms S Mokgotho (EFF) said that she raised a concern about the unblocking of blocked projects. She wanted to know if the unblocking was also going to include the unblocking of houses that were built in the 2016-2019 period, for the houses that were not attended to by service providers. She pointed out that there was no consequence management for the projects that were not finished. She made an example of houses in the North West that were left unfinished: would they be unblocked and be completed? She also mentioned houses in Moses Kotane and in the Dr Kenneth Kaunda District Municipality. These points were not highlighted in the minutes.
Ms N Sihlwayi (ANC) said as she sees it, all of the minutes as they are presented here are two names. There is an ‘n’ that is always underlined in red. Is that something that is done in ‘protest’? Why is it always underlined, those are her names, what is that saying? So that she can correct it.
The Chairperson replied to Ms Sihlwayi and said that this is the reason she was having a conversation with the secretary. There are many parts of the meeting that have not been noted in the minutes, as presented. The responses of the Department also do not appear. She thought that the Committee should agree to redo the minutes.
Ms Sihlwayi said that she does not have a problem with the minutes going back. However, she does not want there to be an error, because there is what Ms Mokgotho raised with regards to the unblocking of projects. That is an important matter, but the rest of the clarity that she seeks has been reflected.
The Chairperson said that, in cases where Members are asking clarity seeking questions, they will be written down and sent to the Department for responses, and that will be noted in the minutes. If a matter has been raised by a Member of the Committee, it will be raised as a recommendation for the report.
The minutes would be redone to include the missing details. For example, the comments that have just been noted by Ms Mokgotho have been elevated into the report because it was not hers alone but considered a Committee view. For the purposes of the minutes, however, it was said that they should reflect the meeting.
Mr T Masutha (ANC) said that he wanted to differentiate between a record of a meeting or a discussion and a set of minutes that reflect such a meeting, and a report of a meeting or meetings that have taken place – of matters that may not have arisen in a meeting but are relevant nonetheless. It is a question of what standard one wants to hold and what the institutional norm is, because different institutions have different norms where one either produce a word by word record or one that is not so detailed. Whatever standard one adopts, critical issues that have been raised and any undertakings to correct them in relation to the work at hand, have to be included. These should be the bare minimum.
The Chairperson said that the minutes will be sent back to include the missing details.
Members of the Committee agreed.
Minutes dated 21 April 2021
The Chairperson said that these minutes also did not reflect the deliberations, and so they should be redone.
Committee Report on the Budget Vote Report of the Department of Human Settlements and its entities, 2022/23
Mr Sabelo Mnguni, Committee Content Advisor, took Members through the report. The report detailed the interactions, observations and recommendations the Committee had stemming from its interactions with the Department and entities on the 2022/23 Annual Performance Plans.
Observations and Recommendations made by the Committee
The Committee noted the three-year plan of unblocking blocked projects, elimination of asbestos roofs, eradication of mud houses, and eradication of the housing backlog around the country. The Committee was concerned that there were no indicators, budgets or timeframes linked to these matters. A recommendation was that, within three months, the Department should develop an action plan that mentions these priorities and report back in three months. The plan to unblock blocked projects should have deliverables, and there must be budgets and timeframes to develop plans.
The Committee welcomed the work around the digitisation of the housing beneficiary list. This is because digitisation would encourage transparency and accountability. However, the Committee was concerned that the process is slow. There is still a lack of well documented beneficiary list, which is traumatising because there are people who have been waiting for houses but those names had disappeared from the list. The recommendation was for the Department to fast-track the digitisation of the beneficiary list for accountability and transparency. The Department must present in six months.
The Committee welcomed the procurement set aside by the Department and entities, which includes 40% of procurement budget spent on women, 20% and five percent on people living disabilities. However, there needs to be a presentation on how the procurement plan would be monitored; this will be presented on a quarterly basis.
The Committee welcomed interdepartmental work with other departments. However, much can be done to develop the district development model. It was recommended that it should be ensured that the Departmental alignment with the district developmental model and report to the Committee on progress made in three months’ time.
The Committee welcomes the initiative to fill the CEO and CFO positions, as this would ensure stability and continuity in the entity. However, the Committee was concerned that progress was taking too long. Recommendation: finalise the appointment of the CEO for the HDA within three months.
The Committee is concerned that the Social Housing Regulatory Authority is not visible in the townships for the provision of social housing. The recommendation is that the Authority should ramp up its visibility in townships.
The Committee also observed that the Authority’s norms and standards are not uniform, as there are differences in the interpretation of these norms and standards in the different policies. It was recommended that the authority should ensure that its norms are interpreted uniformly throughout all the provinces.
The Committee further had an issue with the fact that the authority does not have a CFO and internal auditors. Recommendation: the authority should fast-track the filling of these vacancies and report to the Committee on a quarterly basis.
The Committee welcomed the effort from the Department and its entities towards job creation. It felt, however, that these motions must be closely monitored. The Department, working with communities, must come up with a number as to how many jobs will be created.
Ms Sihlwayi commented that it is a very good report in that it attempts to analyse government performance in terms of its strategic framework. It also raised areas of weaknesses in how government and the Department implement programmes. It highlights lots of gaps and challenges in housing. The reporting goes back to the hearings that were held the previous week. If one looks at the issues that were raised in the hearings and the issues raised by the report, one starts to get a sense of the limitations that the Department has to deal with what has been indicated in the strategic plan. The Committee should be able to tally to the issues here when the report of the hearings has been submitted, and be able to look on how best the weak areas can be strengthened. She said that she does not want to get into detail, but this strategic planning shows how there is a need to strengthen weak areas in order to be able to deliver quality houses to the many people who need them, and to transform the housing sector. This report came at the right time, as Members are fresh from public hearings. Lastly, she said she noticed that there is a huge commitment from officials of the Department. As hard as the Committee is on them, it is important to say when they are doing a good job.
Mr Tseki wanted to clarify 7.1 of the report and wanted to find out if 7.1 is an observation. He said if 7.1 is an observation, then it must be written as one. He liked the recommendation on 7.1, as it is an action plan. He assumed that the action plan is not just for 7.1, but for the whole APP. He seconded Ms Sihlwayi’s points.
The Chairperson said that, with regards to the beneficiary list, it was also suggested that it must prioritise the elderly, people living with disabilities and child-headed households. As she does oversight, she says she still sees people, older people saying they have applied for housing for up to 20 years, and have yet to come through for them.
Mr Masutha added that he was not sure about the monitoring and evaluation strengths of the Department given that its work is also carried out through agencies. To add to the Chairperson’s points, the question becomes how much capacity the Department has in not just resourcing the system but also ensuring that there is compliance. There has not been an opportunity to hear the mechanism that the Department uses outside of the APP, and its general function, but also in the broader intergovernmental framework – on how it works with other departments to fulfil its obligations. He said he is looking forward to seeing how the Department plans/co-plans with other departments.
[Mr Masutha experienced connection problems]
The Chairperson said she is going to escalate the matter to the administrators because it happens too often on Mr Masutha. She suggested that he use the chatroom if he has further questions or comments.
Ms Powell said she unfortunately had Covid-19 for two weeks, and so she was not able to attend the meetings where these reports were presented. For her, the recommendations are very weak, considering that this Department is on the frontline of service delivery and the fact that it has been imbued in issues like irregular expenditure and the constant rotation of leadership. The Committee, in the two years since it has been sitting, has not received a single section Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) report as required in law. The consequence management that has resulted is a separate discussion, but it is known that year after year, the Committee receives the same Auditor-General report, with regards to budget and expenditure. The critical problems with title deeds need a recommendation. There also needs to be a recommendation around the emergency housing grants. The quarter two and three reports showed that only one percent and two percent, respectively, had been spent at a municipal and provincial level. The most basic of constitutional obligation of the Committee is to monitor fruitless, wasteful and irregular expenditure. It is known, for example, that at just the HDA there was about R140 million cumulatively, over the last couple of years. The analysis given by the parliamentary researcher was the same presented every year. The targets and recommendations are loose and elusive making it very hard to monitor. An example is “provide support with the upgrading of” - what kind of support is this referring to?
The Chairperson said the Committee has already interacted with the Department. That is why, in the report, the Committee has said there needs to be an action plan on the issues already indicated. If one is to check the APP on pages 130-131, it is titled targets and where the Committee found the indicator was not specific enough, the Department was asked to come back in three months with an action plan. As Mr Masutha said, the implementing work of the Department takes place in the provinces so there must be solid indicators to track the work done. Hence the decision to allow the Department to come back and present an action plan to the Committee.
Even with regards to the HDA, the same matter was flagged. The Chairperson said she remembered asking the HAD whether they were overstating its ability to deal with the mammoth task ahead of it considering all the challenges the entity faced. Perhaps because Ms Powell was not part of the meeting, she might think that these issues were not dealt with. The action plan required from the Department addresses these very problems. The tightening of indicators was also dealt with. For example on the target of mud houses, it cannot be ‘the eradication of mud houses’, but it will be a question of how many houses will be built. This would entail plans in the provinces.
Ms Powell said she does not have time to respond, as she will be having load shedding in about a minute. She asked the Chairperson to note the objection of the DA to the report.
Ms N Tafeni (EFF) said that there is a mess in the Eastern Cape. There are about 102 older women that are staying in houses that are too far gone. They say that they have been registering for many years but their names somehow do not appear as beneficiaries, as there is consideration for child-headed households, people with disabilities and other elderly people. Some of these people are at the age of 102, and some are 95 without proper homes. They do not have the means or ability to go out and seek help anymore. This also applies to many other older men in villages – people do not know what to do. The Committee that should be going to them to explain how they can best get help. Ms Tafeni made these comments with reference to 7.2.
The Chairperson agreed with Ms Tafeni. A conversation with the Department was held that people over the age of 60, people with disabilities and child-headed households take priority when it comes to the allocation of these services.
The report was adopted with the objection of the EFF and the DA.
The Chairperson said she is still awaiting a response from the Chair of Chairs, on the request to visit KZN to look at the damage there and interact with the Department on how the Committee’s intervention would be helpful. As a Chairperson, she thinks it is the responsibility of the Committee to go to KZN and see how the provincial Department of Human Settlements and the HDA are responding to the disaster. The brief will not be enough for the Portfolio Committee.
Mr Tseki said that he received a message that he should be on a flight to KZN at six o’clock, the following day.
The meeting was adjourned.
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