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SOCIAL SERVICES SELECT COMMITTEE
10 May 2000
WELFARE BUDGET BRIEFING
Documents handed out:
Presentation by Department of Welfare
This meeting was held in preparation for the debate that will take place on 6 June 2000, when the outstanding Complete Financial Report on the controversial expenditures and under expenditures of the Department of Welfare will be presented to the Public Accounts Committee.
The Director-General of the Department of Welfare presented their budget priorities for 2000-2005 to the Committee. The discussion centered around the efficient allocation and spending of money in the Department, as well as the efficiency of the system in relation to grants and pensions. The HIV/AIDS problem was debated and the Committee concluded, with the Department, that action in this regard is still hopelessly inadequate.
The absolute importance of accurate monitoring and proper financial management within the Department was emphasized. This will be the first priority of the Department. A Chief Financial Officer will soon be appointed and the financial accountability of managers at all levels will be inculcated.
Ms Angela Bester, Director-General of the Department of Welfare, briefed the committee on the eight priorities of the Department which will form the context for the budget for the next five years. This included details on the following:
· Budget 2000/2001
· Poverty Relief Programme
· Social Security
· Improving financial management
In relation to the first priority of rebuilding families, communities and social relations (frame 3) with specific attention to older persons, Ms Bester said that a committee had been established by the Minister to research the abuse of elderly people and that they are to report within six months.
Ms Bester pointed out that up to two years must be allowed for research in relation to the development of the social security system (frame 5) before the improved system will be implemented. The urgent need for a proper monitoring and auditing capacity has however been emphasised on several occasions and will be attended to within this year.
The percentage increase in Total Welfare Allocation (frame 11) and Social Security (frame 12), which are pensions constituting 80% of the total allocation, will have to be revised each year, because of the pressure that the uptake on Child Support and Aids will put on the budget.
Frame 15 shows how allocations have changed within the Departmental budget. Ms Bester apologised for not having the exact figures of how much has been spent, knowing that this deficiency has been pointed out as a major problem. However, an unaudited figure of 26% of the total allocation of R526 million has not yet been spent.
She mentioned that the Public Accounts Committee has requested a complete financial report from the Department which is to be handed in by 31 May 2000. This will contain a detailed explanation of underexpenditure and plans to avoid it in future. Ms Bester briefly commented on the apparent underexpenditure, explaining that it was mostly an illusion created by bad communication between the Provinces and the Department. Much of the money is in fact spent, but the Suspense Account is not yet cleared and so it looks like it was not spent.
A snap debate on this issue had taken place where the Minister was asked many questions that he could not answer. Another meeting, after the presentation of the report, has however been scheduled for June.
Reverend Moatshe (ANC North-West) interjected with the comment that it was a pity that the explanatory report was not available before this meeting, since it now seems pointless to discuss the issue before all the information is available.
The Chairperson, Ms L Jacobus (ANC Gauteng), pointed out that this meeting was only a preparation for the debate, while Ms Bester indicated that she is prepared to answer any questions on expenditure and the lack thereof to the best of her knowledge. The Chair then asked that there be no further comments or questions until the end of the presentation.
In relation to the Total Allocations to Provinces (frame 18) Ms Bester explained that the Western Cape rates fourth, not because there are so few poor people, but because of the strength of the NGO sector and Welfare system within the province. This also accounts for the lack of Cluster Coordinators in the Western Cape (frame19), where they chose to use their own mechanisms for launching projects. The Department wants to improve the allocations in 2000/2001 by means of a "poverty map" which is currently being constituted.
Ms Bester enlightened the committee that "end" of the Payment Process (frame 23) denoted the end of funding and not the end of the project, since the Department wants projects to be sustained by creating their own funds.
Completion of Improvements in Social Security (frame 26) is targeted for June 2000, but it seems that two provinces are behind on this matter. Ms Bester pointed out that pensioners will be the first to receive the SmartCard and be incorporated into the new system.
On the issue of HIV/AIDS (frame 29) Ms Bester commented that a lot more needs to be done by the Department in this area. She emphasised that the issue enjoys priority in the whole Social Sector cluster and that the focus is specifically on orphans. For greater efficiency the three Departments work on a district basis. A national strategic framework has been developed to ensure children's access to integrated services. The public campaign for HIV/AIDS awareness will be run by the Government Communication and Information Service.
The improvement of Financial Management (frame 30) is facilitated by appointing contract financial management for a period of 22 months. With their assistance each province will identify problem areas and focus specifically on those. The Public Finance Management Act requires that a Chief Financial Officer is appointed and this is currently in process.
Mr Tlhagale (UCDP North-West) asked what the reason was for the huge decrease in poverty relief funds after 2001. He could not see how such a long history of poverty could be resolved in such a short time.
Ms Bester replied that the poverty relief fund was a special allocation for four years and that Cabinet will decide if it is to be extended after that. The intention is more likely that the Department should integrate poverty relief in their normal business, especially in the light of the close relationship between poverty and HIV/AIDS.
Ms Gouws (DP Eastern Cape) asked what the IDT was.
Ms Bester explained that the IDT, the Independent Development Trust, is a private sector development trust that provides programme managing support and financial monitoring, especially to the Poverty Relief Programme. They do this at no cost to the government.
Ms Gouws asked which two provinces will not complete the re-registration process in due time. She pointed out that the Eastern Cape has no fingerprint officials and that registration cannot take place before these vacancies have been filled. The problem had been brought to the attention of the Government but no action has been taken to resolve the issue.
The Chair added that she would also like to know which provinces are referred to and whether or not they receive any Government assistance on the matter. She emphasised that it is in the interest of saving that the registration process be completed in due time.
Ms Bester replied that the Eastern Cape is indeed one of the provinces concerned, but could not remember which the other one is. Assistance has been given to them at an earlier stage, in designing the re-registration process and in financial assistance. Some provinces do however seem to need more assistance than others.
Ms Gouws asked why as much as R6 million had been allocated to the Cluster Coordinators, since it seemed like a large amount of money in relation to their function.
Ms Bester replied that the formula used to determine the amount paid to coordinators was based on the size of the projects they are involved in. The money must be adequate to cover their travel and administration expenses. The coordinators are in fact an extension of the provincial Welfare Departments so that in relation to this, the overall amount is in fact not so big. She promised to go back and re-examine the issue, but added that the Members must realise that the coordinating project is also part of the job creation strategy.
Ms Witbooi (NNP Western Cape) referred to the Welfare priority of special attention to Older Persons in the community. She wanted to know in which way the elders will be accommodated in the process and how they will be informed when the programme is in place.
Ms Bester replied that the Carte Blanche programme is very important in this regard. A Committee of Inquiry had been launched and hearings will commence in the Free State today. The Committee will go on to visit all the provinces and spread information pamphlets as they go. She remarked that it would be useful for Members to know the dates of hearings in their areas and to interact in this very sensitive event. She offered to issue Members with these dates as soon as they have been finalised.
Reverend Moatshe (ANC North-West) was seriously concerned about the efficiency of the system for Child Support Grants. According to the Department of Social Service approximately 950 people are currently receiving these grants. The Reverend expressed his doubt as to whether these people really receive the money, since their names could not even be issued to him. He also referred to the number of meetings that had been held to establish a committee to assist the Department, but that there has been no positive results. He expressed his dismay at the fact that staff are receiving salaries while there has been no significant relief of poverty. He also asked about the two forms that must apparently be completed before grants can be received and wanted to know if this was really indispensable.
Mr Qokweni (UDM Eastern Cape) proceeded from the Reverend's argument, asking how the grants are being publicised and whether people actually know that they can receive these grants. He remarked that there is a great need for capacity building in rural areas where many people are illiterate and need assistance to apply. He also raised the suspicion that whilst the systems are being improved, application forms are set aside and this causes people to wait for months for grants to materialise.
Mr Qokweni further wanted to know how Anti-Poverty Projects are monitored, especially to prevent partisanship from influencing the issuing of grants. In this regard he concluded that financial management is not the isolated responsibility of the Chief Financial Officer, but that each member of the staff must be held responsible for the money that they spend.
In reaction on the comments and questions of both Rev Moatshe and Mr Qokweni, Ms Bester agreed that not enough is being done to publicise the grants, especially in informal settlements. There are also other related problems, for example in Gauteng, where positive action to publicity has been taken, but figures of dependents rise every month and keep putting pressure on the budget.
She ensured the Committee that application forms are not set aside while improvements are made to the system. If in some cases this is inevitable, the public will be notified and it will prevail only for a short period of time. This issue links to monitoring, which is a necessity in all areas. She admitted that the Social Security monitoring system is not adequate and needs to be improved. The Poverty Relief Programme specifically is monitored by the Cluster Coordinators and financially monitored by the IDT. Insufficiencies here are being dealt with, for example the training of Cluster Coordinators to do this evaluation commenced on Tuesday, 9 May 2000. In conclusion Ms Bester agreed that financial management is the responsibility of every manager in the Department and that they should be deliberately involved. The Budget Committee is dealing with these issues.
Ms Vilakazi (IFP KwaZulu-Natal) was very sceptical about the HIV/AIDS Programme. She doubted if the Department is dealing vigorously enough with this problem which is "devouring our nation". She also stated that the statistics which are available do not nearly indicate the full incidence of the disease. HIV/AIDS patients should have their partners tested just as is done in the case of other sexually transmitted diseases.
Ms Bester expressed her personal opinion that the Department can do much more in combatting HIV/AIDS. They are allying with other Social Sector Departments, which should multiply effect. The long-term implementation of the programme requires funding for the provinces and ground level access to these funds remains a problem. Ms Bester remarked that officials are still not adequately trained on the Aids issue. She also referred to the importance of estimating the impact of Aids on the Welfare Sector as a service provider.
The Chair asked if the Department has picked up on any savings through the re-registration process and what the extent of such savings is.
Ms Bester replied that it cannot be known before the audit is finished. The audit has started in those provinces where the re-registration process had been completed.
The Chair then referred to the 36 vacant but funded posts and asked in what categories they are, whether they are in fact management posts. She wanted to know what is being done to fill them.
Ms Bester confirmed that most vacancies are in the area of Management and that the situation will be addressed as soon as the skills audit has been completed. The problem originated when a sudden raise in the personnel budget followed the decrease of the previous year. Personnel will definitely improve and the financial and auditing sections will receive priority.
Ms Ntlabati (ANC Free State) pointed out the need for development workers on the ground level, since some officials seem unable to draw up proper business plans. She requested the Department to please deliver a plan at the next meeting as to how these people can be trained.
Ms Bester said that the Department has recruited about 300 people over two years from the community to serve as development workers. They will be funded from an IDT account. She admitted that 300 is not many when divided by nine provinces, especially since there are so many projects in each province. It is a slow process, but eventually the provinces will have these extra workers.
In the final instance Ms Vilakazi wanted to know exactly what the simple criteria is in applying for grants.
Ms Bester explained that any Governmental process has many steps and tends to be very slow. The application process for grants is for this reason in fact not so simple. She advised that information packages should be taken to people in rural areas by Members of the Committee. She offered to provide such information pamphlets to Ms Vilakazi. The Chair added that Ms Vilakazi could also find the relevant information from the Welfare Department in her province.
Before the meeting was adjourned, the Chair said that Members will be informed about the next meeting. She reminded them about the debate on 6 June 2000 and asked them to please be thoroughly prepared for it.
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