ATC221201: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Social Development on a petition from the residents of Tembisa, Gauteng province, calling on the National Assembly to investigate the provision of proper and safe offices for the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) in their area, dated 30 November 2022
Report of the Portfolio Committee on Social Development on a petition from the residents of Tembisa, Gauteng province, calling on the National Assembly to investigate the provision of proper and safe offices for the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) in their area, dated 30 November 2022
The Portfolio Committee received a petition referred to it from the Office of the Speaker on 11 October 2021 (ATC No. 136–2021; 11 October 2021). The petition was submitted to Parliament by Ms B Masango, a Member of the PC on Social Development on behalf of the petitioners.
The Constitution in Section 56 (d) and 69 (d) provides for petitions to be brought to Parliament. It provides for the National Assembly (NA) and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) to receive petitions, representations or submissions from any interested persons or institutions.
Chapter 14 of the Rules of the National Assembly (9th edition), Rule 337 (d) makes provision for the Speaker to table written instruments including special petitions and other petitions of a general nature.
Similarly, Rule 347 (1) of the Rules of the National Assembly states that a petition must be lodged by a member with the Secretary for approval and tabling by the Speaker, and must be signed at the beginning thereof by the member. Rule 347 (2) further states that a member may not lodge a petition on his or her own behalf, but such a petition may be lodged by another member.
On 14 September 2022, the Committee received a presentation on the petition from a representative of the petitioners. In addition, the Department of Social Development and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) were invited to respond to the petition after which Members of the Committee engaged on the contents of the petition.
2. Presentation of the petition
Ms B Masango (DA), the petition’s sponsor, informed the Committee that the Tembisa community invited her to visit SASSA offices in the area. The community expressed their concerns on the state of the buildings following which a petition was signed by over 2 000 people. She then submitted to Parliament on their behalf.
Ms Nombulelo Dubula, the petitioners’ representative and a resident of Tembisa, reported that Parliament was petitioned because of the poor condition of SASSA offices in Tembisa. Buildings were not conducive for rendering of services to such large areas, as Tembisa, as this could lead to the spread of the Covid-19 virus. There was overcrowding in a cramped space and lack of adherence to social distancing. She further reported that the building was due for an upgrade, but six years later no upgrade had happened. She had previously noted that when Democratic Alliance members raised questions in Gauteng Legislature regarding the buildings, they were informed that they were a national competency. The residents of Tembisa needed functional SASSA offices.
4. Presentation by South African Social Security Agency in response to the petition
Ms Memela-Khambule, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), informed the Committee that the procurement of SASSA offices was guided by SASSA’s Immovable Properties Management Policy which stated that procurement of property could only be of state-owned property and, if privately owned, then through the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI). SASSA experienced high irregular expenditure due to expired leases and lengthy DPWI procurement processes.
The Gauteng region has a total number of 42 leases, 27 out of 42 are direct leases between SASSA and private landlords and 15 out of 42 are leases entered into through DPWI. SASSA had recently awarded six (6) lease agreements for office accommodation which it advertised as part of intervention to curb irregular expenditure. These offices included Benoni, Springs, Alexandra, Lenasia, Fochville and Vereeniging.
Mr Themba Matlou, Gauteng Regional Manager, SASSA, reported that the Tembisa office was housed in as very small building and therefore not adequate for Tembisa residents, especially the elderly and the disabled. The location of the facility is accessible to citizens but the challenge is that this was the only office serving the community of Tembisa. The office space was not adequate and beneficiaries had to wait for a longer period before they could receive service, due to the inadequate size of the building.
He further reported that it was difficult to keep the building clean which compromises the safety of both the beneficiaries and the SASSA officials due to overcrowding.
Complaints had been lodged on the service provided and SASSA had started searching for alternative space but none was available at that time. In consultation with the municipality, SASSA had built a waiting area and additional toilets, and other renovations were completed. Additional office accommodation was found within five kilometres of the Rabasotho office in 2018.
In 2014 SASSA had requested DPWI to procure new offices for Kempton Park and a tender was advertised. But this tender had lapsed and SASSA had submitted a revised project execution plan to DPWI. Progress update meetings were held with DPWI in Johannesburg and Pretoria and SASSA had received paperwork from DPWI indicating that the procurement process was now underway.
Ms Memela-Khambule, reported that while DPWI was searching for suitable properties, SASSA itself was also searching for suitable properties in Gauteng, Rabasotho and Kempton Park in particular, and SASSA was providing feedback to the community on the progress made.
5. Committee deliberations and findings
The Committee noted with concern that SASSA seems to depend on the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure when it comes to office accommodation and this has proven to be problematic. It therefore, requested the Minister to engage with the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure to urgently provide space for the Tembisa office. It wanted to know if it was possible for SASSA to use mobile trucks in the meantime?
It also noted that the challenge of office space is country wide as was seen in Khayelitsha where the office had to be closed down. It wanted to know how often does SASSA conduct a cost comparison in the market because SASSA spends a lot of money on leasing of office space.
The Committee also sought clarity on how often does SASSA conduct cost analysis and ensure that office spaces are conducive.
The Committee commended the people of Tembisa for bringing the issue of office space to the attention of the Committee. It also appreciated the response from SASSA that acknowledged and confirmed the issues raised by the petitioners.
The Committee advised the petitioner that people of Tembisa could make suggestions to SASSA if they know of any possible buildings that SASSA can use.
It also cautioned SASSA to make sure that the office spaces that DPWI makes available are in good condition.
6. Responses by SASSA and the Department
It was reported that SASSA had engagements with DPWI on execution of their plans. DPWI had committed that by November there would be progress on the supply of office space. On using mobile trucks as offices, Ms Memela-Khambule reported that SASSA uses the trucks when it visits communities. It had stopped because of Covid 19 but would consider the suggestion of using them again.
On SASSA getting its own properties in the rural areas, SASSA did have that opportunity and it built and owned eleven properties on the land it was given by provincial governments. For instance, in the Northern Cape it had built two properties. A challenge had been that it had received buildings from DPWI that did not serve the people very well.
Ms Lindiwe Zulu, Minister, noted that the CEO had been striving to find a suitable office space, which would be conducive to both beneficiaries and SASSA officials. SASSA had made attempts to meet with the Minister of DPWI.
On the question of petitioners looking for suitable building, she cautioned that due processes of government procurement regulations had to be followed. She called for the processes of acquiring suitable office space to be expedited as the poor conditions beneficiaries and officials continue to be subjected to is a matter of serious concern.
- The Minister should engage with the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure to find an intervention to the challenge of office accommodation for SASSA offices. The Minister should also ensure that SASSA develops a strategy or a plan to address the challenge of office accommodation by building or procuring its own office spaces and involve communities.
- The Minister should ensure that the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure and SASSA prioritise interventions for the short, medium and long-term, or alternatively, SASSA should look at using its own office spaces.
- The Minister should ensure that SASSA considers the possibility of using a mobile truck as an interim measure while looking for office space. SASSA should indicate to the Committee the timelines for seeking office space.
- The Minister and SASSA should ensure that the office accommodation allocated by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure is of good quality.
- The Minister and SASSA should also engage with traditional leaders in rural areas to find suitable land for SASSA office spaces.
Report to be considered.