Social grants

Social Development

20 June 2000
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Meeting report

Social grants

WELFARE AND POPULATION DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
21 June 2000
SOCIAL GRANTS: BRIEFING BY DEPARTMENT OF WELFARE

Documents handed out:
Administration of Social Grants
Welfare Payments and Information Services
Child Support Grants
Strategy on Social Assistance to Persons with Disability

SUMMARY
Presentations were given by members of the Department of Welfare on the administration of social grants, on welfare payments and information services, on child support grants and on disabilities. Concern was expressed by some committee members over the large number of backlogs in some provinces of welfare payments, especially in the Eastern Cape, and on the resultant litigation pending against the department. It was acknowledged that more time would have to be devoted to these important issues and it was decided that a further workshop would be held.

MINUTES
Administration of Social Grants
Dr Makiwane said that the role of the national department in this process was that of policy-making, monitoring and co-ordinating. The effectiveness of social grants administration varied greatly from province to province.

The first significant problem in the administration of social grants was the slowness of the computer system. It was an old system, not designed for what it currently had to do. It suffered from a lot of downtime and was limited in that there was no financial reconciliation in the system at present. There was also a serious lack of capacity in terms of human resources. As with any IT system, the lack of infrastructure such as telephone lines was a serious problem. Beneficiaries were disadvantaged when rural areas relied on telephone communications instead of computer link-ups. For this reason and others, there was a significant disparity between rural and urban areas.

Since 1996 a re-registration process had been underway in order to validate beneficiary records and eliminate fraud from the system. The progress of this re-registration process was very different from province to province. The Eastern Cape had suffered some disasters in this process, which had caused them to start again in some areas, such as in the Matatiele area. Similarly, in Mpumalanga, natural disasters had affected the process in certain areas.

In the context of a general safety net, people were using the social grants for purposes for which they were not intended. This was a cause for concern and measures to address this problem had already been put in place.

Budget constraints had caused some of the grants to be unsustainable. The grants were legislated and as such, they were a function which needed to be fully budgeted. The lack of funding for social grants had resulted in high numbers of backlogs in the affected provinces and litigation cases as a result of the suspensions of grants. There were significant differences in the capacities of the various provinces to fulfil the social grants function. An example of why this was so, was evident in the fact that there was one official to every 300 beneficiaries in the Free State where the function was outsourced and only one official to every 1300 beneficiaries in the Eastern Cape where the function was not outsourced. As a result of the serious problems in the Eastern Cape, the department faced litigation in the form of class actions totalling R1.5bn.

There were significant backlogs in some provinces, mostly in respect of the Child Support Grant. Backlogs differed in numbers from about 30 000 in the Eastern Cape to as little as 100 in the Free State.

Efforts were being implemented to improve the administration and address the backlogs. The measures that were being taken, included the following:
(1) An audit of the re-registration process,
(2) An infrastructure roll-out,
(3) A policy of review of social grants and improved communication with beneficiaries,
(4) Improved collaboration with the Department of Home Affairs,
(5) Implementation of an interface system, and
(6) The setting up of a call centre.

A committee member asked Dr Makiwane how his department had obtained the percentages on re-registration? What exact criteria were used for instance, to get the figure of 3.6% in the Eastern Cape?

Dr Makiwane replied that the figures were obtained by monitoring ID documents. After certain criteria were met, a case would be flagged as a successful re-registration.

Welfare Payments and Information Services
The department had tendered for advisors for a new Welfare Payment and Information Service.

The department's vision for the Welfare Payment and Information Service was of one which met the needs of South African citizens for simple, easy access to social assistance payments and information services at all times and which supported an appropriate social assistance budget. Preliminary research had pointed to the need to re-engineer the grant payments service. Consultation ensued and an advisory service was tendered for. It was decided that the department should learn from the private sector where possible. The department did not have the capacity to manage the funds effectively and as a result the funds needed to be leveraged. A public-private partnership was one of various options being considered.

Interim initiatives were being taken such as quality assurance measures and call centre upgrades as well as the development of norms and standards to improve services in the short term. As far as the project outline was concerned, this would involve a business solution design incorporating value-added services and technology solutions. There would be increased overall efficiency and a customer service focus. The critical success factor would be effective national/provincial partnerships as well as public-private partnerships with NGOs, communities and beneficiaries.

In conclusion, the department aimed to use innovation and technology to ensure a better overall quality of service. The participation of stakeholders was essential and advisors would consult with communities.

Child Support Grants
The old State Maintenance Grant had resulted in an inequitable distribution which was inaccessible to many black beneficiaries. As a result the Lund Commission had been appointed to develop a new benefit for children and the State Maintenance Grant was phased out.

The new Child Support Grant is aimed at South Africa's poorest three million children under the age of seven years and implementation had commenced in 1998. The number of beneficiaries had differed substantially between provinces. There were some problem areas such as the age limit of seven years, administrative issues and developmental projects not being in place - but strategies existed to address these. Some regulations had been amended, draft procedure manuals had been written, mobile units working with a budget of R3.9m had issued 300 000 ID documents, and a massive communication strategy, particularly through radio, had proven very successful.

Disability Grants
Ms Pat Naicker said that the prevalence of disability in South Africa (5%) was very close to that identified as the international average by the United Nations Development Programme (5.2%). A 1996 census had established that 1 in 15 South Africans were disabled. Over 50 percent of the prevalence was amongst older persons. Disability was overall on the increase because of chronic illness, notably exacerbated by AIDS.

Some concerns had arisen, necessitating a new strategy. The current definition of disability was too broad. The assessment criteria were based purely on medical grounds and were unclear and subjective. There were duplications in the assessment process and the process was subject to bribery, fraud and threats to doctors.

The objectives of the strategy identified by the department were:
(1) To contribute towards sustainable living and to remove barriers for those who could work,
(2) to provide income benefits only to those who could not permanently provide for themselves,
(3) to increase the supply of accessible information to consumers on how to access benefits, the criteria for qualification and the availability of mechanisms to assist with problems.

The policy which would best achieve this strategy was underlined by the principles of recognition of people's basic rights, comprehensiveness, flexibility, accessibility and the promotion of active participation of people with disabilities in society at large. The definition that was to be used for people with permanent disabilities had changed to be more inclusive. Health status reports would change in that they could be completed by any physician, psychiatrist, psychologist or optometrist. The application process had been streamlined and the assessment process was fairer and more efficient. Social relief would also be available in the form of water and electricity allowances, food security, supplementary skills training, allowances for assistance devices and attendant care allowances.

Dr Makiwane said that it had to be borne in mind that the work Ms Naicker had just presented on was work in progress. It still had to be gazetted for public comments. The strategy that the department had followed was one which drew largely on international best practice, but the area that was being addressed was a sensitive one.

Discussion
Dr Jassat (ANC) asked whether the need for increased capacity had been taken into consideration? [It was not apparent that this question was answered directly].

Ms E Gandhi (ANC) asked why Kwazulu-Natal had been left out in some of the department's documentation? Did the class action of some 30 000 cases on the one hand, and the huge backlog of some additional 30 000 cases on the other hand, represent 60 000 cases in total in the Eastern Cape?

Dr Makiwane replied that the backlogs were a cause for concern because they pointed to inefficiency. However, an important reason for these backlogs were budgetary constraints. The department needed to identify which provinces had been under-budgeted for and by how much. The department was facing litigation but this was being addressed.

Ms P Cupido (DP) asked why it was that in some cases people would appear to qualify for benefits and then subsequently be disqualified? What was being done to address budgetary constraints and the discrepancies where the Free State had one official to 300 beneficiaries and the Eastern Cape had one official to 1300 beneficiaries?

Dr Makiwane replied that the Minister of Welfare had taken up this issue with the Minister of Finance and even the Portfolio Committee on Welfare could help in this regard. On the issue of the provinces' relative capacities, it had to be noted that the department had been recruiting new people and that various forums for discussion had been set up.

Another member of the department's team added that they were looking at replacing SOCPEN but that this would not happen in the current year and should be viewed as a process.

The Chairperson, Mr E Saloojee asked if the department acknowledged that SOCPEN had problems and that the department did not have a programme or a time frame for when a new system could be put in place.

The reply was that the department was at an early stage in the process and that full business processes had to be followed in this regard which could take time. Dr Makiwane added that in terms of its present functionality, there were current enhancements going on as interim measures, even while the system was earmarked to be replaced eventually.

Mr A Singh (DP) asked why people could not be told sooner that their grant application had been rejected. In some cases people had not been notified at all. Why was it considered to be a waste of time for them to appeal?

Dr Makiwane replied that social relief was a very under-budgeted function and for this reason was very difficult to administer. Large use had therefore been made of statutory grants, but this situation was being addressed.

Mr V Gore (DP) said that litigation seemed to be a serious problem for the department. In the light of this, was it possible for the department to give an indication of the number of cases which had been won or lost thus far, and what was the department going to do about the problem of litigation?

The department replied that all aspects of the litigants cases had to be investigated, which was why each case took some time. Previously, there had been many different identity documents and any one of these could give a person access to the grants. It had to be admitted that the suspension of disability grants had been done arbitrarily and this was the reason for the class action litigation being carried out by the Legal Resources Centre in the Eastern Cape. On closer investigation, some of those included in the litigation had moved away or failed qualification criteria for other reasons. It was for this reason that the department had decided to defend the case. It was not intended to deny payments to legitimate beneficiaries though.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) asked once again with respect to the backlogs, what would be done about old age pensioners who had put in applications a few years previously? Also, what would be done about the one-off social relief grant? Would people still get this grant?

The Department replied that it had to be noted that there were two types of backlogs. The first type was that which the department had not being able to process within 35 days and which was termed an administrative backlog. The other type was that which was three months or older which was termed a financial backlog. This second type was more serious because of the direct impact on beneficiaries. One of the main problems with re-registrations was that, in many cases, people were moving from one province to another without notifying the department. The department attempted to be fair on all re-registrations.

Ms Chalmers (ANC) asked whether Regulation 10 still applied to cases of financial backlogs?

The Department replied that they had acknowledged that there were problems with the Social Assistance Act and as a result, they were going to have a two-day workshop in the coming month to address this.

Ms Chalmers (ANC) said that she had heard that the Legal Resources Centre was representing only four people. Was this correct?

In response it was noted that the Legal Resources Centre had applied to have all the claimants grouped together as one class action and that this application was still pending.

Mr B Solo (ANC) asked whether there was any way that the national government could intervene or advise the provincial governments on the budgeting problems they were experiencing? How prevalent was the problem of beneficiaries moving between provinces? How effective had capacity building in the provinces been?

Dr Makiwane replied that there was a national technical committee tasked with looking at budgetary issues. However budgeting remained a provincial function and this was in fact where the anomalies occurred.

There had been a number of cases where beneficiaries had transferred between provinces. A document was being drawn up which would address the issue of payment for beneficiaries living in one province, but drawing benefits from another. This document would set down national norms and standards for dealing with these cases.

Ms Gandhi said that they had been told that amounts given to provincial social security departments would be ring-fenced. Had this in fact happened? If so, there should have been sufficient funds.

The Department responded that funds, which were supposed to be ring-fenced, were not in practice and this was the cause of many of the problems. The technical means to address this problem did however exist and steps were underway to address the problem.

An ANC member said that it appeared that there was a clear need for extraordinary intervention in the Eastern Cape. Although the province had a statutory obligation to pay grants, the National government would have to get involved. The national government should see the crisis in the Eastern Cape as a national problem, not just one for that province. Had the department given any consideration to this? It was necessary to kick-start a process whereby the committee and the department examined how budgeting was being adhered to. There had to be more involvement in addressing this issue than merely one minister talking to another.

Dr Makiwane replied that there was funding available for Social Security currently. The Minister had taken measures to address the problems in the Eastern Cape plus an audit was being carried out which would further help to address those problems. Furthermore, a project manager had been appointed. At the ground level some beneficiaries had in fact been reinstated. He acknowledged that where the national department was quite weak was in the area of capacity building and monitoring. But the Minister had already highlighted this specific issue and a norms and standards document was already being put together.

An ANC member asked whether or not the department had a real concrete policy on how to address the budgeting problems?

The Department replied that the budgeting process was the domain of the finance department. There were proposals that the budgeting function should be taken over at the national level, but this had not occurred. In the department, that approach was in fact supported, but was currently only at the stage of being investigated.

Ms S Rajbally (MF) said that the fact that there would be no automatic granting of Child Support Grants under the new policy would not be fair. Beneficiaries should not suffer the consequences of a policy change.

A representative of the department replied that letters had in fact been sent out informing people of the changes and that they had therefore not been applied without notification.

Ms P Cupido asked how it would be possible to reach 3 million children in the remaining two and a half years of the programme? Ms Chalmers asked for clarification on whether reviews of disability grants would no longer be as much of an issue as they were in the past? Ms Cupido asked what would happen with to children between the ages of 8 to 18 years? None of these questions were responded to by members of the team from the department.

The Chairperson said that he thought there were a number of issues that still needed to be examined and that there was a definite need for further interaction between the committee and the department. The committee had been shown how massive changes were afoot and how plans were in place which were very impressive. However, it had to be acknowledged that this was an early stage in the process.

Ms Rajbally commented that this was a very important subject and that she did not want to see the committee steam rolled because of time constraints. The issues needed at least a workshop to be fully addressed.

The Chairperson agreed that there was no doubt that a full day workshop would be held. Under no circumstances, would these issues be steam rolled. It was even possible that a weekend workshop would take place with all role players. The committee was receiving encouraging signals from the department on the basis of real information and this was what was significant about the meeting. There was a great urgency for addressing the issues and continued interaction with the department would be ensured.

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