Department of Social Development budget: briefing

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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

Select Committee on Social Services

2 JUNE 2004

Ms J Masilo (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department budget presentation

The Director-General briefed the Committee on the Department's performance during 2003/4 and its priorities, key developments and challenges for 2004/5. He also provided a financial overview. The discussion that followed covered the following topics:
· distribution of food parcels
· queues for social grants
· the new disability assessment tool
· pension age discrimination against men
· the time frames for the Social Security Agency to be operational
· potential department staff redundancy as a result of the Social Security Agency
· victim empowerment programmes
· the way forward for lapsed Bills such as Older Persons Bill and the Children's Bill
· access to social grants for babies without documents

Department presentation
Mr V Madonsela, Director-General of the Department of Social Development briefed the Committee on the Department's vision, mission, priorities, structure, key developments and challenges, performance and financial overview.

Ms J Vilakazi (IFP) asked how the Department managed distributing food parcels to "inaccessible" places and how many "drop-in centres" there were in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

Mr Madonsela said that distribution of food parcels was the responsibility of the provinces which worked out a business plan after identifying people in need. He knew, for instance, that there were places in the Eastern Cape that were only accessible on horseback where people had received food parcels. He said that the provincial and national departments might not be familiar with other areas that were difficult to access and asked for details of specific cases so that the Department could investigate. He knew that provincial departments were doing all they could and some had even acquired 4x4 vehicles for the purpose of distribution. There were ten drop-in centres in KZN.

Mr B Tolo (ANC) asked what steps the Department was taking to alleviate chaos and even violence at Post Office (PO) queues for social grants. He complained that the Child Justice Bill had been passed two years ago but not implemented. He wanted to know what the impediments to the bill's implementation were.

Mr Madonsela advised that the Child Justice Bill had not been passed.

Mr Madonsela said the problem of long and disorderly queues, especially when handing out the child support grant (CSG) had been stressed to the Minister, who expressed concern. The Department had encouraged people to open bank accounts, but many people were reluctant to do so because of bank charges. The PO did not levy charges but old people preferred to queue for their pension as it was a social occasion for them. The matter was receiving attention.

Ms Masilo added that in the North-West, there were different days for receiving CSGs and old-age pensions because young girls paid old age pensioners to let them go to the front of the queue.

Mrs Vilakazi said that in KZN they also pushed old people out of the way.

Mr T Setona (ANC) said that even before the CSG was introduced, there were stampedes and felt that communities should also take responsibility for solving the problem.

Mr Madonsela thanked the Members for their advice and said the Department would explore the different options.

Mr M Thetjeng (DA) asked how the new disability assessment tool would help epileptics get social grants. If it could not assist them in this aim, he asked the Department officials to tell him what to do to assist epileptics in his area. He also asked whether the different ages for men and women to become eligible for pensions was discriminatory.

Mr Madonsela said the problem had been debated with the Department of Health. He distinguished between chronic health problems, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, asthma, epilepsy and disability to work. An applicant would have to pass a test that proved he or she was unable to work. A new test that was not only medical but introduced social factors had been developed.

Ms H Lamoela (DA) agreed that the pensions were awarded in a way that discriminated against men and that passing but not implementing or monitoring laws was useless. She alleged that prior to the elections, the distribution of food parcels was an election tool and asked how it could be ensured that they would be delivered to the people who needed them.

Mr Madonsela said the pension age question was currently sub judice. He suggested, though, that as women left work to bear and care for children and did not accumulate pension benefits and were alone and the primary breadwinners in rural areas, the discrimination was positive and affirmative. Regarding food parcels, there was a stakeholder forum in each province; an independent, objective body that identified households and areas. Coincidentally, the highest concentrations of need were found in the "nodal points" listed by the President, although some other areas were included. In Gauteng and the Western Cape, the richest provinces, there had been some problems with identifying people but this had been ironed out. The national food emergency programme reached 506 978 households at the end of March 2004. It began in 1997/98 and was scheduled to finish in March 2004. Its intention was to ensure that all departments had poverty alleviation on their agenda. This had been accomplished. Its next phase would be in an expanded public works programme. The reason for this was that there were 18 departments that dealt with poverty alleviation in a fragmented way. The Treasury had assessed the combined impact of the different programmes and advised Cabinet that the structure was poor. The Cabinet then chose to focus more on an expanded public works programme. Current programmes, however, would receive funding to sustain existing projects. The role of the National Development Agency was also being examined.

The Department was implementing all laws that had been enacted as the public was acutely aware of its rights.

A Committee Member asked for the time frames for the agency (which would be responsible for grants payments) to be operational and what the current situation was for people who used to care for the aged voluntarily.

Mr Madonsela said that the Agency would begin to disburse grants in April 2005, depending on the state of readiness of each of the provinces. Where provinces were not ready to hand over, the Agency would not take over, as the handover should not cause a drop in standards. Home and community-based care-givers were not paid but they were given a stipend of between R250 and R500 for transport and subsistence. The Health Department, however, paid their volunteers R1000 which was putting pressure on the Department. The DOSD was working on a proposal that they would present when finalised.

Ms M Madlala-Magubane (ANC) asked when the Bills tabled in the National Assembly were to be passed; whether Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes would cater for street children; and for figures on the number of ECD centres and projects.

Mr Madonsela said that street children were usually older than children in ECD programmes and shelters catered for them.

Mr T Setona (ANC) asked what the impact of the Social Security Agency Bill would be on the scope of work of the Department, whether existing or new staff would be employed by the agency and the state of the negotiations with labour, because the Department was, in effect, setting up a parastatal. He also commented on the controversy around food parcel distribution as there had been allegations that food parcels were delivered to relatives. He personally had delivered 500 parcels but could not possibly have that many relatives. He did not feel that legislation to ensure fairness was required; the community itself should be able to reach consensus and not burden government departments with problems that they could solve within the community.

Mr Madonsela reported that the Department had consulted with the Department of Labour and were in discussions with the Bargaining Council. No Department staff would lose their jobs. Social security comprised 80-90% of provincial budgets and had pushed most other social development issues aside. The takeover of grant payments by the Agency would provide an opportunity to expand them.

Mr M Sulliman (ANC) asked if there were victim empowerment programmes other than the one mentioned in the presentation in Upington. He commented on the correlation between the crimes these victims suffered, alcohol abuse and the 'dop system'. He also informed the Committee that there were in fact no Bills before Parliament because they had all lapsed when Parliament prorogued before the April elections.

Mr Madonsela explained that the victim empowerment programme in Upington was the first but when other provinces were ready, there would be more. The Department was working on a campaign to raise awareness of alcohol and substance abuse and their links with crime. A range of people would be targeted, including high school learners. This campaign would be developed with partners such as Hugh Masekela and TKZ, a kwaito band. The Department already hosted the secretariat of the Central Drug Authority.

Mr Madonsela confirmed that all Bills had lapsed but that the Chief Whip, Mr G Doidge, had assured him that there was a procedure to reintroduce them quickly. The Older Persons Bill and the Section 75 parts of the Children's Bill would be finalised by December 2004.

Mrs A Qikani (UDM) said there were mothers in the Eastern Cape who could not get grants because they did not have clinic cards as they had given birth at home. She asked how she could assist these women in their grant applications.

Mr Madonsela found it hard to believe that Department officials asked for clinic cards when birth certificates were needed for CSG applications, although there were alternatives to birth certificates that officials could use at their discretion. Delays by the Department of Home Affairs in issuing documents were making the problem worse but the use of health cards would increase corruption. He said that the Department would make interim funds available for the "social relief of distress" and would also meet with the Department of Home Affairs to assist children without birth certificates.

Ms Lamoela said that peoples' needs went beyond politics. District surgeons had waiting lists of six to eight months. In the rural area where she worked, labour needs were seasonal and people had no income after April but the forms got lost at the social office. In one instance, a woman who had applied for a pension in 2000 had still not received one. Ms Masilo asked Ms Lamoela to give the official present the details of the cases. A speaker interjected to note that these mishaps dated from the years when the DA was in power but he was ruled out of order.

Mr Madonsela noted the political questions on food parcels but hoped that communities would take charge of distribution, although, he noted, they did not work well in all provinces.

Mr Thetjeng said that the answers to his queries regarding the difficulties epileptics experienced applying for social grants and the discrimination issue in old age pensions had not been addressed to his satisfaction. He had a new question too - was there a database of people who had been compensated for losses during the floods in Limpopo in 2000 because some people had been compensated and some had not?

Mr Madonsela asked for details of the applicants who were having difficulty in accessing disability grants on the grounds of epilepsy to be provided after the meeting. The panels to assess disability were being piloted in three provinces. There was a database on grants and applications for relief from the floods in 2000 and he asked for the names and details of the unsuccessful applicants.

Ms Masilo asked how far integration in old age homes had progressed and for details of the numbers of applications for care dependency grants. Mr Madonsela acknowledged that integration was a challenge in this area and said that the Department was using funding to apply pressure. He said that care dependency grants were declining as child support grants increased. In 2004/05, the upper limit for the latter would increase to age 14. He promised to send provincial breakdowns to the Committee. The availability of care dependency grants would be advertised. The disability should be so severe that 24-hour care was required and it was restricted to those under 18.

The Chair announced that the venue had been double booked by the Committee and for a memorial service at 2 p.m. It was agreed that the answers to the following questions should be emailed to the Committee secretary after the meeting:

Mr Setona remarked that there was a scattered approach by the Department, which responded to pressures. He advocated the exploration of a multi-faceted approach using teachers, social workers, judges and others.

Mr Thetjeng asked whether food relief allocations to provinces were based on population or poverty levels.

The meeting was adjourned.


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