National Poverty Relief Programme: briefing

Social Development

22 August 2001
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Meeting report

PORTORLIO COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
23 August 2001
NATIONAL POVERTY RELIEF PROGRAMME: BRIEFING

Chairperson: Mr. E Saloojee

Relevant Documents
Presentation on the
Poverty Relief Programme

Poverty Relief Projects (PRP) delegation: Ms Thembi Nwedamutswu: Director-General - Poverty Relief; Mr Tiro Holele: Deputy Director General - Poverty Relief and Mr Xola Nkwali from the IDT.

SUMMARY
The strategic objective of the Poverty Relief Programme of the Department of Social Development is to reduce vulnerability to poverty of households, families, groups and communities. The Department aimed to achieve this through sustainable social development strategies and institutional capacity development. The Committee, however, noted that the Department was weighed down by structural weaknesses, which made it difficult for it to impact positively on the alleviation of poverty. The Committee said that the sorry situation on the ground was a clear testimony to the Department’s shortfalls in this regard.

MINUTES
The Chair informed the Committee that this briefing was supposed to be presented by the IDT. He said that it seemed the IDT was unable to dispatch its CEO to the meeting. There was an IDT representative though, but the Chair was of the view that the Committee needed a higher level of representation in order to get to the bottom of the issues around the IDT work. The Chair suggested that the meeting with the IDT be rescheduled. The Chair, however, noted that since the Department had contracted the IDT, the Department would apprise the Committee on the nature of interaction it has with the IDT.

Department presentation:
Ms Thembi Ndewamatsu commenced her briefing by drawing the attention of the Committee to the Minister’s statement that "under-expenditure cannot be tolerated in the midst of such high poverty". She informed the Committee that the special allocation for Poverty Relief was started in 1997/98 as a special employment programme. It was broadened in 1998/99 to include a focus on short-term poverty relief and to help Departments re-orientate their delivery towards the poor. In the 1999/00 the government’s commitment at the Job Summit became an additional focus.

The Department had managed the Special Allocation on Poverty Relief allocating: 97/98 (R50 million), 98/99 (R203 million), 99/00 (R40 million) and 00/01 (R120 million so far). The three provinces most affected by poverty, KwaZulu Natal, Eastern Cape and Northern Province, had received the highest allocation of funding.

The average allocation per project in Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Northern Province had been R25 000, R55 000 and R97 000 respectively. However the Department had noted that the funding of small projects increases administration costs and yet the projects may have very little impact on the beneficiaries in the end. It had therefore moved away from funding small projects to increasing the size of projects in the subsequent phases.

In order to facilitate the disbursement of the allotted funds, the Department had contracted the IDT. The government had transformed the IDT into a public entity with a mandate to provide programme management support to development programmes, which accelerates delivery.

The Department in conjunction with the IDT conducts periodic site visits to the funded projects. These take place especially before any tranche is released to the project and the inspecting official prepares a report with recommendations to the Head of Department in the case of provincial projects or the Director General in the case of national projects

Ms Ndewamatsu stated that the major success of the PRP is the fact that it brings an element of hope to destitute communities. It also builds and strengthens democratic community institutions. She noted that these grassroot community institutions are becoming the bedrock for future campaigns against poverty and underdevelopment.

The Department with the assistance of the IDT, had embarked on a mid-term review in July/August 2000. The review revealed, among other things, that provincial projects had created 25, 956 employment opportunities, 16,800 of which were for women.

Ms Ndewamatsu noted that the main challenge facing the PRP was lack of a dedicated work force at both the provincial and national levels. It is only in the 200/01 budget cycle that there has been serious planning, with short-term staff being brought on board to assist with the implementation process.

Ms Ndewamatsu said that the lack of capacity at project level to manage project funds, remains a major challenge to the programme. This she added had a negative effect on the speed at which funds are disbursed.

She said that the Department is in the process of building a healthy mix of income-generating and welfare projects. The conceptual basis of the PRP acknowledges that it can never be possible to only fund income-generating projects.

The target group of the PRP is citizens most affected by poverty, those who are vulnerable and rarely served by institutions in the country. These include poor women, unemployed youth, children, child-headed households, the aged and people with disabilities.

In the next three financial years, HIV/AIDS was high on the list of projects targeted by the PRP. It will also support projects that broaden the skills base and provide employment opportunities and income-generatio, community-based child-care projects, initiatives to uplift the capacities of the disabled.

Discussion
Prof Mbadi (UDM) said that during the visit to the provinces by the Committee, members were confronted with the naked fact that people on the ground had never heard of the IDT nor were any of the IDT projects known to them.

Mr Nkali (IDT) replied that the IDT was merely a dispensing agency and offered project management systems. It was expected, therefore, that its contact with people on the ground would be minimal.

Ms Tsheole (ANC) sought clarification on the question of ownership of the PRP funded projects and what happened when the person running the project moved on.

Ms Ndewamatsu replied that there was a weakness in this area, which has been addressed by institutionalising projects so that they have perpetual inheritance. The projects now belong to the institutions in which they are registered and not to individuals.

The Chair asked if there are effective monitoring mechanisms in place.

Ms Ndewamatsu replied that the Department was looking into a tool that would be acceptable to all stakeholders so that monitoring can be administered at all levels of project implementation. She added that the Department had installed computers at the provincial level for effective monitoring of all projects in the field.

Prof Mbadi (ANC) noted that experience on the ground tended to show that instead of these projects taking people out of poverty, they were instead consigning them much deeper into poverty with this top-down approach.

Ms Ndewamatsu replied that the Department was in the process of implementing a number of measures to improve delivery on the ground. She said that the Department does acknowledge this weakness and had mooted a programme of social facilitation. This programme proposes to build on community experience and designs instead of introducing wholly new ideas. This she said would encourage genuine meaningful community participation.

Ms Chalmers (ANC) asked if the Department evaluates projects on the basis of viability in terms of market availability, quality assurance and sustainability – in what way do they measure success?

Mr Holele replied that not all projects deal with income-generating ventures. Some like the Aids home care centre in Mpumalanga were purely social welfare projects. He added that the Department’s challenge was how to enhance capacity at community level. The options with this group were limited and needed to be increased. There was a need for sustainability at both financial and operational level. The mid-term review is normally very scientific and that evaluation is based on basic economic fundamentals. The availability of markets is an issue that is adequately covered here.

Ms Rajbally (MF) asked about the frequency of visits to project sites.

Ms Ndewamatsu replied that it was impossible to visit all the projects every month. What happened was that project co-ordinators are obligated to prepare a monthly report on the status of their projects. Where the Department suspects foul play or senses that all is not well, personnel are despatched to inspect the project.

The other method of monitoring is that shortly before the next tranche is released, the project must be inspected first to evaluate its progress. She lamented that the Department was grappling with a severe shortage of personnel which hampers the PRP’s effectiveness in this regard.

Ms Ndewamatsu pointed out that the main handicap is that her office is mainly nationally based yet most of its constituents were rural-based. This reality makes it difficult to capture a good overview of the provincial establishment.

Ms Kasienyane (ANC) asked if the PRP supports the pauper funeral scheme.

Ms Ndewamatsu replied that for the present the PRP budget does not cover this item. She however noted that the Minister was looking into ways for the PRP to get involved.

Prof Mbadi (UDM) requested that the questionnaire form be made available to Committee members. He then asked why the PRP orphan-care programme seem to be biased towards children bereaved through Aids yet there are other orphans who are not affected by Aids but in need of help.

Ms Ndewamatsu replied that the PRP policy was non-discriminatory. She said orphans are dealt with on the basis of need and not on whether they lost parent thorough Aids or otherwise.

The Chair wanted to know at what level, if at all, the local councillors get involved in the PRP-funded projects.

Mr Nkwali replied that involvement of local councillors was very critical and that the PRP was looking into ways as to how best to maximise their involvement. He admitted that the partnership in the past has not been that satisfactory.

The Chair asked Mr Nkwali to elaborate on the issue since in most countries that the Committee had visited, local councillors played a critical role in this venture.

Mr Nkwali replied that, indeed, local councillors are involved in the PRP programmes to the extent that they have a big say as to which projects are to be funded at the local level.

Ms Ndewamatsu added that 30% of the PRP budget would be implemented through local councils. She noted, however, that in rural areas, the structures of local councils are not well developed. This needs to be addressed urgently.

Mr Bhengu (ANC) said that from what had emerged in the discussion, it seemed imperative that the Committee should interact further with the departmental units to acquaint itself with the obviously endemic shortcomings manifested here.

He added that it is apparent that the Department is in dire need of assistance to build its capacity to acceptable levels. Oversight in the provinces was critical yet it was the most undeveloped. This state of affairs, he concluded, impacts negatively on the PRP mandate of poverty alleviation.

Ms Chalmers (ANC) inquired as to how many of the funded projects are still in existence since it seems that some no longer feature in the reports.

Mr Holele replied that some projects might appear to have disappeared from the report yet that may not be the case. Some have merely changed their names, others have amalgamated whilst others have graduated to fully-fledged independent entities that do not require to be listed for funding anymore.

Ms Southgate (ACDP) noted that, indeed, some projects seem to have fallen by the wayside and wondered what might be the cause for this.

Ms Ndewamatsu replied that some projects suffer from capacity deficit and may fall away. Others are eliminated due to financial impropriety while others are amalgamated.

Ms Rajbally (MF) asked whether the eliminated projects are lost altogether. To which Ms Ndewamatsu clarified that in such a case, the Department would salvage whatever is left and count its losses.

Ms Mars (IFP) pointed out that the Committee could only effectively lobby funding for the Department when it is clear that there are projects on the ground that require such funding. This is why this interaction with the Department was crucial. She wondered whether the PRP qualifies for the national lottery funds to which Ms Ndewamatsu replied that it did not.

Ms Tshoele (ANC) wondered why the PRP does not qualify for the lottery funds.

The Chair promised to take up the matter with the Minister. He was of the view that the entire lottery system needs to be restructured. At this point, the Chair thanked the Department and adjourned the meeting.

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