South African Social Security Agency Annual Report 2007/08: briefing

Social Development

27 January 2009
Chairperson: Adv T M Masutha (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African Social Security Agency  focused on the question of enhancing the integrity of the social grants process and this was thoroughly discussed by the Committee. There was also an emphasis on strategies developed to minimize fraud. The grant statistics and trends were reported on, and the slow take-up of the Care Dependency grant was raised as a matter of concern.

Members were pleased hear that 40 mobile units existed which allowed access to under-serviced areas in the country. The challenges faced in enhancing the integrity of the grants system were outlined. The key challenge was finding a credible way to manage information about grant applications. Members were informed that a National Information Management System was being developed and would be rolled out in the country after June 2009.

Payments in cash or ‘in kind’ were explained and clarity was provided about the recent confusion about ‘Social Relief of Distress’ by the public. The Committee questioned why a large amount of money was initially made available which had raised false hopes amongst beneficiaries. SASSA explained that a sudden R500 million injection into their funds had caused an upsurge in applications but that there had been only a three-month period in which to use the money.

The high turnover rate of staff was raised as a cause for concern, but assurances were given that a retention strategy was being developed. The Committee asked for guidance on how they could assist SASSA to achieve their mandate, and were informed that a National Call Centre would be in operation soon to allow for proper communication with the public.

Members bemoaned the fact that implementation was not up to the required standard and many deserving beneficiaries were being sidelined. The importance of the presence of security at paypoints was emphasised to ensure the safety of beneficiaries.

The Committee was briefed on the backlogs at the Appeals Tribunal and SASSA reported on their relationship with the Tribunal. The Tribunal representative assured the Committee that the co-operative relationship with SASSA would definitely assist to alleviate the 59 000 appeals backlog. The matter of deductions was discussed extensively and the Committee advised the Department of Social Development to weigh their options carefully and proceed in a manner that was legal and constitutional.

 

Meeting report

South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) presentation of their 2007/08 Annual Report
Mr Daniel Plaatjies, SASSA Executive Manager Strategy and Business Development, highlighted the implementation of the Norms and Standards and development of a Customer Care charter as being some of their key achievements. The quality of service delivery had been improved with the deployment of 40 mobile units thoughout all the regions and the development of Social Relief of Distress processes and their implementation.

Enhancing the Integrity of the Social Grants Process
Ms Dianne Dunkerley, SASSA General Manager: Operations, briefed the Committee on “Enhancing the Integrity of the Social Grants Process”. One of the challenges faced with grant applications was the lack of a credible way to manage information related to grant applications. A management information system was operating in the Eastern Cape and the Free State, and the lessons learnt in these two areas were being used to develop a national management system which could be rolled out together with the improved grant administration process. In the current financial year the pilot process in the Free State would be completed by June 2009 and would then be rolled out to the rest of the country.

Ms Dunkerley said that together with the improved grants administration process, SASSA was looking at improving the turnaround time for grant applications. This has been accomplished to a large extent and most offices were already working on a one-day turnaround time. SASSA was hoping to build additional efficiencies into this process to accompany the current improvements to ensure that applications could be tracked at every step in the process.

She said that the other project SASSA was busy with was making sure that there was integrity in the system and in the records already in existence. A service provider has been brought on board to assist with integrity issues, and to ensure that the current information was and remained valid.

Minimizing Fraud
Ms Thandi Sebanyoni, SASSA Executive Manager, outlined the strategies developed by SASSA for minimizing fraud. A hotline currently existed where members of the public could report fraud and irregular practices relating to social grants. 1000 fraud hotline cases had been profiled and investigated.

An attempt was being made to regulate behaviour within SASSA and a whistle-blowing policy was being implemented.

Ms Sebanyoni said that a draft Risk Management strategy had been developed, as SASSA was attempting to be pro-active in detailing areas of susceptibility to fraud and corruption, and develop a holistic approach to fraud management.

Grant Statistics
Ms Dunkerley reported on grant statistics and trends within SASSA. There had been an overall growth of 3.4% in the number of recipients of grants. The statistics reflected a decrease in disability grants and an increase for Grant in Aid. There was a need for active communication around grants that were not well known. The War Veterans grant applications had decreased in number, but the number of applicants for child support had increased. There had been a slow growth rate in the Care Dependency grant which raised the concern that targeting was not as effective as it should have been (see document for further detail).

Budget and Expenditure and the Auditor General Report
Ms Sebanyoni reported that R4.5 billion, which was only the administration budget, had been spent.

Ms Sebanyoni outlined the reasons for SASSA’s unqualified audit opinion by the Auditor General, but added that SASSA was able to get its house in order eventually to receive a clean audit report.

The method of reporting had changed in the current financial year, as SASSA was now expected to report as a public entity on the gaps rather than on a modified cash basis. Ms Sebanyoni said that SASSA had been able to meet all the requirements in terms of the Public Finane Management Act (see document for further detail).

Mr Plaatjies said that even though SASSA had some recruitment and retention of staff problems and inadequate funding, it was starting to look at the efficiency gains needed to access services. There was continual activity regarding access to disadvantaged areas through the outreach programme. SASSA was planning to start working on the National Computerised Call Centre and finalising the litigation of outstanding cases.

Mr Plaatjies concluded by saying that the Social Grants programme had expanded, but there was still the understanding that more work needed to be done.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked about the 40 mobile trucks, and what this entailed in terms of the services rendered and whether other departments were involved.

Ms Dunkerley responded that there were currently 40 completely mobile units to allow access into areas that were under-serviced or where a specific need existed so that a complete grant application could be processed. The complete grant process from start to finish could be executed in those units. Where possible, an attempt was made to have certain partners within the social cluster, such as the Departments of Home Affairs and Health, deal with issues of identity documents and disability to make the process as holistic as possible. This service was working very well, but was very expensive and there was a need to target the areas for those mobile units more effectively and really get them into areas where this service could be accessed more readily.

The Chairperson enquired about social relief in terms of payment in cash or ‘in kind’, and the nature of and access to this kind of support.

 Ms Dunkerley said that social relief was short-term material assistance that was given to people experiencing very dire conditions. It was initially given for a period of three months and could be extended for an additional three months if necessary. This amount of money was limited but did at least address the immediate needs of people.

Mr J Schippers (ANC) said that when he had spoken with officials from the regional office in Paarl, they were not aware of the arrangement that payment for social relief of distress could be made in cash or ‘in kind’. People could not access money to register at universities or tertiary institutions. He asked for an explanation as to how regional and provincial officials could be informed about these kinds of payments as soon as possible.

Ms Dunkerley responded that one of the challenges related to the payment in cash or ‘in kind, was that social relief was not completely standardised throughout the country, so the region where a person came from dictated the kind of assistance that was received. The Western Cape, for example, gave cash with an extra allocation which was paid through a payment contractor. In other regions like Kwa-Zulu Natal they gave a voucher for food that was redeemable at specifically identified service providers. Ms Dunkerley said that one of the projects underway dealt with additional allocations of social relief money for assistance to children for school uniforms and this was the ‘in kind’ method of payment. SASSA was still limited by the amount that was stipulated by the regulatory framework.

The Chairperson said that the problem regarding social relief and education was raised in the past week and the Committee had written a letter to the Minister in this regard. The problem was that the Department of Education were allocating their funds from the 1st of April and universities and tertiary institutions could not wait for this date.

The Chairperson asked if SASSA was the distribution agency for these kinds of grants.

Mr Plaatjies stated that SASSA was the distribution agency, but communication had been quite slow as there were different dynamics in each of the nine provinces. Social relief was not available for access to higher education, but for social relief of distress for those who were not currently in the social relief system. Mr Plaatjies said that according to his understanding, all regions were informed about how the programme would be rolled out and the processes involved, but people were confused about the roles of the SASSA officials and Social Development officials. Mr Plaatjies emphasised the need for better public communication as funds were limited to R500 million for social relief for the whole country.

Mr B Solo (ANC) said that the answer to the question on social relief of distress was not satisfactory, as people were already distressed and the programme was not clearly defined. He added that what triggered the problem was that a huge amount of money was given in the beginning, and this money was defined as relief for poor people who needed this kind of relief for educating their children. The huge campaign that was launched created expectations which were not always met.

Ms Dunkerley explained what had transpired about the large amount of money and the increase in social relief given in December 2008. SASSA was given an allocation of R124 million in the current financial year, and then towards the end of November were given an additional allocation of R500 million, that had to be spent by the end of this financial year. By the end of November 2008 R103 million of the R124 million had been spent. Then R500 million needed to be spent targeting the right people and staying within the regulatory framework, in a three month period. There was a sudden upsurge in terms of the numbers of people who needed assistance with the additional allocation, but the additional allocation did not come with any change in terms of the regulatory framework within which to distribute the money. That was why there was an increase in the number of people coming forward for assistance but SASSA could only assist those who met the criteria set in the regulations.

Ms Gumede (ANC) stated that implementation of the programme was only on paper because there was confusion at paypoints and SASSA officials should avail themselves at particular paypoints to ensure that people were made aware of the grants.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee had a duty to contact the relevant persons when they came across deserving persons who were unaware of available grants. SASSA should have a meeting in all the regions to inform people about the grant.

Mr Plaatjies requested the Committee to find ways to help keep SASSA accountable to the public as an added challenge was that there was no infrastructural budget.

The Chairperson asked what was meant by the value of the grant, and which grant was being referred to?

Ms Dunkerley said that a grant for an adult was R960 per month. If the application was for a child support grant then it was limited to R230. If the grant applied for was for a child already in foster care or dependency, but who was waiting for payment, then social relief was given at an amount equivalent to the value of the relevant grant. These amounts were paid according to the terms of the regulations.

Mr Zane Dangor, Chief Operations Officer, Department of Social Development (DSD), referred to the R500 million matter. There were two projects between SASSA and the Department of Social Development in the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal which were currently seeking to fast track the expenditure of this money. He felt that this experience would provide lessons for the next financial year, as procurement systems would have to be changed and undue hardship needed to be redefined. There are many policy issues that have to be addressed given the additional money. He added that the big campaign regarding the projects in the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal were also constrained by the regulations.

The Chairperson asked if it was known how much of this money had already been rolled out, and if SASSA was able to keep track on a month to month basis of spending.

Mr Plaatjies said that there was a system that generated reports on this matter.

Ms I Direko (ANC) expressed concern about the current situation where different methods were used in different areas and there was a lack of consistency in approach to grant applications.

[Mr Schippers (ANC) took over as Chairperson]

Mr Solo expressed his pleasure at seeing that SASSA was trying to reach all deserving persons. However, he was concerned about the lack of mention being made of a research unit in the operational plans, because the issue of poverty was central to the survival of any country and a system should exist to soften the hardships faced by suffering people. Mr Solo asked what strategies existed to address the high staff turnover at SASSA.

Mr Plaatjies said that recruitment had increased at SASSA since last year and was continuing. It was hard to get the right set of skills within the organisation because social security administration was not an area that many persons were qualified to do.

Mr Plaatjies added that SASSA was looking seriously at competencies in terms of research, but within this environment, an important question was what to focus on in terms of a research agenda as it was not consequential to the strategic priorities of SASSA.

Before the end of today the Committee would be given an outline of the requirements for Social Relief of Distress, to enable Members to assess what was being communicated to SASSA officials.

Ms Ledula Bosch, General Manager Monitoring and Evaluation, SASSA, responded that regarding the high turnover rate, it was found that this occurred at all levels of management, especially middle and lower level management at head office and the regions. It has been attributed to career pathing, movement and promotions which resulted in people leaving all departments. When persons had a certain level of expertise, they were taken by other departments. SASSA has the capacity to train, but people tended to leave and go to academic institutions or the corporate sector. SASSA was trying to develop a retention strategy.

The Chairperson asked if SASSA could provide quarterly reports of their activities.

Mr Plaatjies said that quarterly reports could be provided as they were submitted to the Ministry, and a way would be found to discuss this matter further with the parties concerned.

The Chairperson asked for clarity about the court case against the Department dealing with alternative identification for children.

Mr Plaatjies said that SASSA had been implementing the court decision.

Mr Dangor responded further that the court had ruled against the Department. The Department had then developed a directive to instruct SASSA, through the Minister, to comply with the findings of the court. The issue of identification was important but should be dealt with by the Department of Home Affairs.

Ms I Mars (IFP) asked how, as public servants, the Committee could assist SASSA by bringing to their notice the problems encountered at paypoints or those reported, to ensure feedback when dealing with people on the ground. She asked what the contractual obligations were regarding provisions at paypoints and if certain provisions were not made available why was this the case.

Ms Sebanyoni addressed the question of parliamentary liaison, and stated that there was a parliamentary liaison office in Cape Town. This office could answer questions and give advice. If information was needed immediately, then SASSA’s contact details could be given and the Committee should feel free to make consultations about service delivery.

Ms Mars said that the concern was not so much about the applicant or pension, but about observations made by Committee Members at paypoints that it was felt SASSA should know about and investigate.

Ms Sebanyoni said that SASSA was hoping to establish a National Call Centre to allow for free consultation which would allow for better feedback.

Ms P Naicker, General Manager Beneficiary Efficiency Maintenance, SASSA said that SASSA did have Norms and Standards for paypoints, which ensure that paypoints do not exist without providing the minimum standards regarding shelter, security, water, toilets and seating. There were a number of paypoints that did not provide all these services. A mobile infrastructure was provided on the day of payment, but this was an expensive exercise which was not sustainable. SASSA was trying to negotiate with local authorities to move paypoints to into community facilities where possible and available.

Ms Naicker said that for new applications, SASSA was on a major drive to move payments to banks, where a banking infrastructure existed. SASSA was also engaging with banks to put this kind of infrastructure into those areas, to avoid contractual obligations regarding the needs at paypoints.

The Chairperson asked for clarification about the differences between Social Development, Social Services and SASSA

Mr Dangor responded that essentially the Department of Social Development dealt with Comprehensive Social Protection. Regarding Social Security, SASSA provided social assistance through the allocation of grants, and the Department was responsible for the policy around what forms of social assistance should be in place. SASSA therefore administrated for the Department. The other component of social security was social insurance. There was a strong possibility that SASSA could also become part of social insurance. Mr Dangor stated that provinces and non government organisations (NGOs) acted as delivery agents for welfare services. The relationship between the Department and SASSA was that both were part of the value chain, the Department developed policy and SASSA implemented that policy.

Ms J Semple (DA) queried the term ‘Mandela Money’ and asked what it meant.

Mr Plaatjies said that officials in this forum, which included himself, had no knowledge of ‘Mandela Money’.

The Chairperson asked what SASSA was going to do about the people like loan sharks and traders who loiter around paypoints.

Ms Naicker said that at the paypoints, communication mechanisms were provided, one of which was a help desk. There were also two telephone lines for complaints and one was related to the service provider. SASSA also has its own customer toll free line to lodge complaints. If these methods were unsuccessful, one could write to the SASSA General Manager or the CEO. On the issue of security, the norms and standards necessitated that a service provider was supposed to provide security within 100 metres of the paypoint, hence the South African Police Service would be outside and there would be the security system inside the paypoint to provide security to beneficiaries

Ms Semple asked what the situation was regarding refugees and social relief of distress.

Ms Dunkerley said that refugees for social assistance had been defined as adults with disabilities and foster parents. There was no allowance in the regulations for a wider definition of refugees for social relief.  

Ms Semple asked for more information about the small take-up reflected in the Grants in Aid category, and if people were aware of this grant.

Ms Dunkerley said that the Grant in Aid was an additional amount of money that was paid to someone who was already receiving one of the adult grants. This grant was paid to the beneficiary although it had to be paid by that beneficiary to a carer. This grant was not very well known and required better communication to the public.

The Chairperson asked how the Department and SASSA co-operated in dealing with the backlogs, and what were the timeframes envisaged for the appeals process.

Ms Naicker responded that in terms of Sections 18 and 16 of the Social Assistance Act, the role of SASSA was extremely limited, as the appeals process was largely a competency that rested in the Minister’s office. SASSA had the responsibility to inform beneficiaries of the reasons for the rejection of their applications, give information to beneficiaries on their right to appeal, assist with the applications to appeal, physically collect all applications for the appeals process and make sure that the applications were delivered to the Department of Social Development. SASSA maintained a register of all the application for appeals. Once the applications were with the Department or at the Minister’s office, the process was outside the jurisdiction of SASSA.

Mr Plaatjies asked the Deputy Director General to address the issue.

Ms Patricia Maloka, DSD Deputy Director-General: Independent Tribunal, presented a synopsis of the collaboration between the Department and SASSA and provided a sense of the number of appeals involved. The Independent Tribunal was an institution that was currently being established. It sought to decisively consider all social assistance appeals. The dependency was on SASSA to execute that mandate and provide the information for consideration at the time of the application. This necessitated close collaboration between the Tribunal and SASSA. This required the joint utilisation of the Management Information System that had been developed during the transitional establishment of SASSA. This information was received timeously to improve the turnaround levels. On the macro level, the Minister issued a determination on the management of appeals. SASSA’s role was slightly administrative, to ensure that critical information like medical reports were received. SASSA also assisted the Tribunal with the administrative preparation when hearings, particularly oral hearings, were being held.

The role of the Tribunal was to bring about competencies for adjudication, and this was done through independent panel members, and was comprised of a medical doctor, a legal person, and a member of civil society. SASSA administered and assisted with all the administrative procedures and processes to support the endeavours of the Tribunal. Hearings were held throughout provinces, and the Tribunal was planning to propose to National Treasury that systems between SASSA and the Tribunal were streamlined to promote a more efficient approach.

Ms Maloka drew the attention of Members to the statistics which reflected a sharp decline in Disability grants as SASSA had articulated the need to stop all temporary Disability grants. She emphasised that when temporary Disability grants were stopped, persons entered the area of appeals and this was where further co-operation with SASSA was important. She recommended that SASSA introduced quality assurance mechanisms before stopping temporary Disability grants.
 
Ms Maloka noted that the timelines in terms of the backlog were slightly dependent on budget allocations from Treasury, and if the Tribunal had been allocated adequate funding, a 12 month period would have been possible to level the appeal numbers. The backlog was currently at 59 000 appeals countrywide. She hoped that the backlogs would be levelled over time.

[Mr Masutha returned and took over as Chairperson]

The Chairperson asked for more information on the issue of deductions, as the understanding was that there had been a deadlock between the Department and Treasury around the underlying function of finance to regulate those service providers as financial service providers. There was also the issue of Social Development as a policy regulator with regard to the social grant. The concern of the service providers related to the shrinkage of the pool due to a lack of new entrants in the system, the depletion of funds and the negative impact this would have on the policies of beneficiaries. He asked for an indication of the status of this process regarding the regulatory framework and whether at a policy level this matter had been resolved between the National Treasury and Social Development.

Ms Dunkerley replied that on the operational side, new deductions were not being approved because the regulatory framework was lacking.

Mr Selwyn Jehoma, DSD Deputy Director-General: Social Security, said that there had not been much progress in engaging Treasury, as Treasury was of the firm view that providing for deductions within the regulations to the Social Assistance Act fell under the purview of regulating the financial industry. From the social security policy section, no instructions had been given to SASSA to stop any new deductions, and this could open the door to legal challenges.

The Chairperson advised the Department to weigh their options carefully and ensure that any policy decisions made were legal and constitutional.

Ms Dunkerley emphasised that SASSA was doing everything in its power to ensure that people were informed about the temporary nature of their temporary Disability grant and when it would cease to be in operation.

The Chairperson asked for information about the responsibility for quality assurance of this process and who oversaw the entire system.

Ms Dunkerley replied that a centralised system existed for the processing of grants and generated standard letters. Its content had been recently adjusted to ensure that it complied with the Social Assistance Act , the regulations as well as the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.

The Chairperson asked Ms Dunkerley how one could ensure that communication at the first port of call with the client was accurate, and what quality assurance measures existed to make sure that people were aware of all aspects of the application.

Ms Dunkerley replied that the biggest challenge was training people to deal with the public in a committed way. She appealed to the Committee to pick up on individual cases and inform SASSA as it was looking at retraining staff to ensure that they knew the procedures and could follow the policy manuals.

Mr Schippers asked for information about the misconduct case in Beaufort West.

Ms Sebanyoni responded that a disciplinary hearing was held the previous week. SASSA was awaiting the report from the presiding officer, to decide on how to proceed.

Mr Schippers asked about the numbers of people coming across South African borders from countries like Botswana, Lesotho and Mozambique. This occurrence was due to the porous nature of the borders and they came across the borders to apply for grants in South Africa. He asked how the budget was affected and if the numbers regarding this occurrence could be provided.

Ms Sebanyoni responded that SASSA had entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Department of Home Affairs. This would enable SASSA to receive information, do the appropriate analysis and pick up on trends regarding those who entered the country only on payment dates. Most of those people had dual identity documents. The Special Investigations Unit had also been included in the process to assist with investigations.

Mr Schippers asked about gender mainstreaming in SASSA and if a gender desk existed. What was SASSA  doing about gender mainstreaming and gender sensitivity. He asked further if SASSA was providing any training to staff about gender mainstreaming.

Ms Sebanyoni responded that SASSA was in the process of setting up a gender mainstreaming desk, as gender mainstreaming and the training thereof was part of the broader issue of change management. This matter was not only about gender mainstreaming, as the issue identified was the different understanding that existed around the different concepts within the organisation, which sometimes created problems. This was probably related to people’s backgrounds and upbringing, but SASSA was trying to address the matter holistically through the issue of diversity within change management in the organisation.


Ms Semple asked for clarity on the 2007/2008 cash flow deficit reflected in the SASSA Annual Report.

Mr Thuli Matusi, SASSA General Manager: Financial Accounting, said that there was an overdraft of approximately R43 million and this was the reason why a deficit was reflected for the current year 2007/08. Regarding the interest, Mr Matusi said that when amounts of money were deposited, there were different amounts of interest involved with those amounts of money.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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