Department of Social Development 2022/23 Annual Report

Social Development (WCPP)

13 October 2023
Chairperson: Mr D Plato (DA)
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Meeting Summary


Department of Social Development

The Standing Committee met with the Western Cape Department of Social Development (DSD) to discuss the Department's operations, performance and challenges during the 2022/23 financial year as part of the Annual Report process. The discussions touched on various issues, including underspending, implementing the Older Persons Act, gender-based violence (GBV) programmes, and the impact of COVID-19 on the Department's work.

Members raised concerns about the underspending in some of the Department's programmes, specifically around transfers and subsidies. They inquired about the reasons behind this underspending, seeking clarification on the service implications.

The Committee sought information on the steps taken to ensure that the Older Persons Act was effectively implemented, and how older persons were benefiting from the services and programmes provided by the Department.

Gender-based violence (GBV) programmes and initiatives were a key focus of the meeting. The Committee questioned the Department about its efforts to combat GBV, the allocation of funds to GBV campaigns, and the alignment of these campaigns with the national strategic plan on GBV and femicide.

The impact of COVID-19 on the Department's work was also addressed. Concerns were raised about the increase in the number of vulnerable children and the challenges in gathering accurate data on GBV due to under-reporting.

There was discussion on topics such as specialised vehicles for persons with disabilities, the funding for GBV campaigns, the absence of a separate GBV policy, legislation for the closure of illegally operating substance treatment centres, and employment equity within the Department. Questions were also raised about the funding of GBV campaigns, and whether they were supported through donations or the Department’s budget.

The absence of a separate GBV policy was a point of concern for the Committee, and they asked for clarification on how GBV was addressed within the existing sexual harassment policy, and why a separate GBV policy had not been developed. The Department emphasised its alignment with the national strategic plan on GBV, and provided insights into its approach to addressing GBV.

The discussion covered legislation related to the closure of illegally operating substance treatment centres and the impact of COVID-19 on social services, including child protection systems and challenges in providing services. Members asked about staff wellbeing and safety, employment equity, child and youth care centres, expenditure on GBV campaigns, and the status of local drug action committees in municipalities.

In conclusion, the Committee requested additional information and clarification on various aspects, such as recruitment processes, malnutrition rates, safety plans, and support for non-governmental organisations.

Meeting report

DSD's "tough year": Annual Report 2022/23

Ms Sharna Fernandez, Western Cape Minister of Social Development, indicated that it had been a tough year, coming out of COVID-19. There had been huge constraints, but despite these, the Western Cape Department of Social Development (DSD) had delivered, thanks to the dedicated team who had adapted to doing more with fewer resources. This would continue to be a recurring theme in the Department.

Dr Robert Macdonald, Head of Department, DSD, echoed the Minister's opening remarks, and indicated that the Department faced multiple budget constraints despite the increased demand for social services, and the situation was worrying.

Apart from the budget cuts, during COVID-19 there had been a lot of operational redirection to assist with the aftermath of COVID-19, including humanitarian interventions. It had been a year of adjusting to a post-COVID response, and a lot of work had been done.

Discussion on DSD's 2022/23 annual report

Ms N Bakubaku-Vos (ANC) agreed with the Minister that it had been a tough year. It should be noted that when questions were asked, the Department's difficulties were not being ignored. However, the Committee just wanted the Department to do well. Overall, the work of the Department was commendable.

The Chairperson said that when looking at all the issues faced by communities, based on the report, the main issues seemed to be hunger, malnutrition, and people losing their jobs because of COVID-19. What was the extent of the Department's relief to the public regarding these issues?

Dr Macdonald responded that the Department received funding from the Provincial Treasury to assist with food relief, which had been in the form of supporting community kitchens in the province. This included working with formal non-government organisations (NGOs) and semi-formal NGOs. The COVID-19 relief grant from the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) also continued to be disbursed, and the Department worked simultaneously with various stakeholders from the private sector donors, including municipalities, to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. There was more that the Department did, and was still doing, to ensure food relief.

Mr C Fry (DA) welcomed the report and echoed the sentiment that the Committee was not questioning the Department because it was aware of the realities on the ground. The Department was working under a constrained environment. The Committee wanted to ensure that there was oversight and accountability, thus working together with the Department to find a solution to the challenges.

Ms Bakubaku-Vos asked the Department's actions regarding the recent South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) crisis. What concrete steps had the Department taken to assist beneficiaries? How many SASSA grant beneficiaries were there in the province, and did the Department maintain a database of the beneficiaries to ensure better preparation in response to any future payment issues?

What were the estimated costs of providing for each beneficiary? This was important, because it would prevent a crisis, where beneficiaries did not receive their due benefits.

Minister Fernandez responded that the recent SASSA fallout did not form part of the report. However, she said the Department maintained a good relationship with SASSA in the province. What was important to understand was that SASSA was tasked with the social relief of distress, and not social development.  

She was of the view that SASSA needed to undertake a policy review, especially in disaster situations like the recent floods. SASSA was not swift in responding to disasters to provide relief as far as administrative compliance was concerned. For example, in cases where someone's shack was destroyed, they were required to leave for another place so that their details were taken, but most people were reluctant to leave. Therefore, it has been recommended that SASSA reconsider and review its policy framework.

The SASSA database opens at 7:30 a.m. and closes at 4:30 p.m., and the Department did not have sight of the database. There had been glitches with the SASSA system, where the system would indicate that a beneficiary had been paid, only for the beneficiary to find when collecting their payment from the post office that there was no money. It was hoped that SASSA would come up with a contingency plan to respond to these issues, instead of trying to fix a system that was already faulty.

These were glitches that were beyond the Department. The humanitarian aspect was that there were older persons who had to borrow money to get to a post office, only to be told there was no money. The press briefing had not indicated that the post office had also run out of money at that time. More information on this was still outstanding.

SASSA’s payment platform needed to be reviewed because currently, it was not responding to the millions of beneficiaries in the country.

Ms R Windvogel (ANC) said the report indicated that the Department had taken the lead in introducing the Western Cape Government's transversal gender-based violence (GBV) media campaign. She therefore asked what the reason for the change in the email address had been. Was the change because of the low number of GBV reports?

Minister Fernandez replied that when reading the report, one would see that the number of GBV cases had increased to 24 388. The challenge was that many victims of GBV did not have access to the internet connection, so the preference was to have a telephone number, although the email address would remain intact. This was to ensure that the public could access the needed services without being barred because of a lack of access to the internet. 

Dr Macdonald said the contact details provided in the GBV campaign were for the GBV National Command Centre. This was a national central contact number for all provinces. This was provided because the line came directly to the DSD if there were enquiries from the national level. This was in addition to the already established DSD call centre that was available. Nothing had been changed, only further details had been provided.

Mr Fry asked how the GBV intervention was measured, and whether it was working. Was it measured by the recorded cases and people accessing psychosocial services? What about people who had not asked for help?

Minister Fernandez said that GBV was underreported. What was being seen was only the tip of the iceberg – there were bigger underlying issues. For example, after the Department opened a GBV help desk in Delft, there had been a noticeable increase in the number of people who had reached out for help.

The Department had initially planned for 18 525 for psychosocial support, but 24 388 had been seen. The more awareness created, the greater the demand for these services. This was, however, still not an accurate reflection of what was happening in the communities.

Ms Leana Goosen, Chief Director: Social Welfare and Restorative Services, said that there were two aspects. One was the GBV strategy which runs across all the provincial departments, and the DSD coordinated it. Much more work was done in the GBV field and certain indicators were being measured, including geo-mapping where people access services and how many there were. The findings currently showed that only 22.5% of people reporting domestic violence in the province at police stations did access the services. Secondly, a number of unemployed women had gone back to employment, and it had been noted that economic risks determined whether women reported domestic violence or exited violent relationships. Another metric looked at the number of people taking out protection orders.

From the Department's side, the focus was on the safety component, specifically the support that was provided to GBV victims, such as psychosocial support, the provision of shelter and other support efforts. What had been noted was that with all the campaigns going around, there had been an increase in these types of services.

Ms Bakubaku-Vos asked if there was any reason that the Minister had not mentioned the work of the Children’s Commission in her response. Could she provide a brief on the work of the Commission?

Dr Macdonald said that the Children’s Commission was under the Department of the Premier (DotP), and serviced all the departments in the province. Any progress would be in the annual report from the DotP. The DSD had a positive relationship with the Commission, including the referral of cases. The Department also attends working workshops organised by the Commission.

Ms Bakubaku-Vos said that she understood that the Commission was under the DotP, but since the DSD also worked with children, it would have been worth mentioning the work done.

Mr G Bosman (DA) said the report indicated that there had been an increase in the number of children placed in foster care. The current challenges faced in the foster care system included fiscal challenges and recruiting suitable parents. How did the Department foresee the difficult period ahead, and how would it impact the foster care system? Could the Department share any initiatives allowing the Western Cape to handle the foster care system better? Were there still any challenges regarding the support from the national DSD and the Department of Justice?

Dr Macdonald responded that the budgetary situation would require reprioritisation to protect essential services like foster care. This was regrettable, as it meant other social services would suffer. The foster care system was currently unstable due to the rapid closure of several NGOs that were rendering child protection services. The DSD had been engaging the NGO sector to support it, to avoid further closures. In some cases, the Department had had to take over some caseloads from NGOs that had closed, which put a strain on the Department's staff and local offices.

The foster care numbers had increased by about 10% within a space of a year. This meant more pressure was on the Department’s staff, which was already overburdened even before this increase. The reality was also that funds would have to be cut in other areas to meet the Department’s constitutional mandate.

To try to improve efficiency, the DSD has tried to roll out the electronic Foster Care Management System, including the electronic Child Protection Register. Therefore, there was full electronic data for the children in alternative care.

The national legislation had been changed, especially the Children’s Acts and the Social Systems Act. which had been changed to try and streamline the foster care system. The idea had been to reduce the number of children who must be placed in foster care to access financial support. Unfortunately, this did not seem to have impacted the numbers, as the number of children entering the foster care system had increased.

The additional allocation for food relief involved funds already in the Department’s budget – this was additional money that the Provincial Treasury had made available for the Department. The DSD’s role in food relief was quite a specific one in the sense that the main social relief and social support system was driven by SASSA, which had a bigger budget for supporting people. In addition, there were also programmes such as the school feeding schemes, so the DSD's allocation for food relief was focused on the gaps where people were not being assisted or had fallen off the safety nets that already existed, such as people who were having difficulty in accessing mechanisms for social services. The DSD was one of the role players in a transversal food security group led by the Department of Agriculture. However, there was not enough to reach all who needed the assistance.

Ms Windvogel said that previously, the Committee had held meetings to discuss the backlog in the foster care system. What had the Department done to engage with different role players to respond to the backlog in the foster care system?

Dr Macdonald said there had been engagements with the Department of Justice and the magistrates about the backlogs. There were some courts where they were having difficulties in terms of having enough court dates or foster care extensions, which resulted in delays. When reporting to the national DSD, it had been agreed that the Department of Justice would work to identify where there were delays at the court level.

A lot of the backlog was being generated by a combination of the case overload on DSD staff, and the number of vacancies, especially in the NGO sector. The workload versus the capacity that was available made it hard to attend to foster care cases swiftly. The DSD was working with the NGOs to increase the resources to clear the backlog.

Ms Bakubaku-Vos referred to the unresolved case of Mia Botha, a five-year-old who tragically fell victim to rape and murder in September 2022, and to two seven-year-olds who were raped but had not yet received the essential psychiatric services that they urgently required due to the shortage of critical staff. What role did the Department play, and how could it assist in responding to these issues?

What was the safety plan to address GBV and femicide in the province, particularly in non-metropolitan areas?

In July 2022, it had been suggested that the transversal sexual harassment policy would encompass all forms of harassment and GBV, including sexual harassment. Had the revision of the policy been completed and put into effect, and how would it contribute to the resolution of the aforementioned cases? 

What were the resolutions of the Western Cape GBV Summit? Had they been implemented, and how was the DSD responding to the issues of funding raised by the delegates?

Given issues such as drug addiction, youth involvement in gangs and criminal activities, were the Department's activities effective? What collaborative initiatives have been undertaken with other departments to tackle these problems?

How did the Department plan to invest in youth in the province?

The case of a mother who lived in an abandoned building with her son had been referred to the Minister, and this had been pending since 2021. What steps had been taken to respond to this case? When visiting the house, the Committee found that the family lived in inhuman conditions.

Dr Macdonald said the DSD's role, in the case of those who were victims of sexual assault, was to provide psychosocial support services in partnership with NGOs and stakeholders such as the Department of Health and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

Ms Goosen added that the Department provided support from the local offices to the victims of sexual assault and violence. There were GBV social workers deployed across the province. The Department had also contracted various non-profit organisations (NPOs) in the province to assist with the provision of shelters, or court services such as protection orders. There was also support for children who had access to alternative care. The support provided was on a case-to-case basis, based on the needs of the individual.

Regarding the GBV Summit, DSD had taken the resolutions to the National Summit, where it had lobbied for further funding and other assistance. All the resolutions relevant to the province have been considered in the revised GBV strategy. The Department had quarterly reports on the outcomes of the strategy.

On the Department's role in terms of safety, it was tracking the protection orders. This was currently being processed in cases where the perpetrator had not honoured a protection order. The DSD also kept track of victims across the province who accepted the services provided, such as where they are, especially in hotspot areas.

The GBV programme was one of the programmes that had not experienced budget cuts. There had been a R5 million increase in funding for GBV services in the Department.

Dr Macdonald said that the summit had been used as a platform to influence the deliberations at the national summit. It had also been used to help the Department update the province's implementation plan, based on the inputs received.

He admitted that the Department was not meeting the right target regarding the youth. It currently had an overload at the secure care facilities for youths and children who were exhibiting risky behaviour, and children who were in conflict with the law. There was an increased demand for these services, and the Department was working to expand the infrastructure to further absorb these pressures.

Regarding the case of a mother who lived in an abandoned building with her son, he indicated that the latest report he had was that there had been several visits to the home. The family was still struggling to find accommodation, and had met with the municipal manager to get improved housing. Currently, it lived with another family, and the children were at no risk that required the DSD's intervention. The primary issue at present was accommodation, and this was an area where the Department could intervene. Support had been provided to the family, however.

Ms Windvogel said that government should start thinking out of the box when it came to these kinds of challenges that were faced, such as engaging with other departments on the social challenges that the DSD was experiencing.

Minister Fernandez affirmed that there were platforms where the DSD worked transversally, including having a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the municipalities where issues could be raised. The big question in this instance was, did the family want to be separated or not? This was because as much as the Department would want to help a person living with a disability, if the family did not want to be split, this was out of the DSD's control. One needed to understand what was happening in the family dynamic. The Department had made follow-ups on all cases brought before it.

Mr Fry asked about the compensation of employees (CoE) across the programme, and for a breakdown by region of staff exits. This was important so that there was an understanding of how this was impacting the outlying areas outside the metro.

Given the fiscal constraints, how had the DSD begun prioritising services? Where would the compromises be made in the Department’s budget?

Dr Macdonald said the regional breakdown of staff exits could be provided to the Committee. He added that staff exits inevitably impacted the province, including the outlying areas. The strain was largely in areas where there were rapidly growing informal settlements, where the caseload increased. The Department had been trying to bring in social work graduates to help, including engaging with NGOs to take over such spaces so that the DSD could balance the caseload.

In light of the budget cuts, the Department would have to re-prioritise funds towards services that were essential, like child protection. There were no firm figures for next year yet, but a budget cut of approximately 10% for next year has been proposed. This would have implications such as freezing appointments and cutting funds to some NGOs, especially those in preventative services. Although this would help the Department to use the saved money for other critical services, the long-term impact would be devastating.

Mr Bosman asked about the R1.2 million that had not been spent on transfers and subsidies due to the delay in operationalising the specialised vehicles for persons living with disabilities. Were these the same specialised vehicles that the Committee had been talking about since 2020, or was this a different issue altogether?

Dr Macdonald said this involved a different set of vehicles, because each year, the Department had been receiving and delivering these vehicles. There were operational and capital costs that were associated, so when there was a delay in finishing the specialised vehicle, there was an underspending on the operational costs until the vehicle had been delivered.

Ms Windvogel asked the Department to clarify the amount that the Department spent to fund GVB campaigns, or if the campaigns were funded through donations.

She added that the case of the family with a son living with a disability who did not have a house, must be looked at by the Department.

Minister Fernandez said that when it came to housing, local government would need to provide the necessary housing. Although the Department wanted to assist the family that required housing, it could only urge the municipality to hasten this process.

Ms Esther Lewis, Deputy Director: Communications, DSD, said a budget had been allocated for the GBV campaign that the Department carried out last year. Since the campaign was during the 16 Days of Activism against GBV, the campaign had generated interest among various stakeholders who had come on board as part of their social responsibility, hence the donations that were received.

Ms Windvogel referred to the national strategic plan on GBV and Femicide (2020), and said that the Minister should remember the replies she gave on 8 July last year on the updates on the revision of the sexual harassment policy, and the need to inform GBV policies in the province. It was mentioned that the Department did not intend to develop a separate GBV policy, so GBV would be addressed under the new sexual harassment policy – the wider regulatory framework. Therefore, the Department should elaborate on how GBV had been addressed in the province in the sexual harassment policy, and whether any unique provisions specifically looked at GBV. How would it ensure the protection of GBV victims?

Why was the Department reluctant to develop a GBV policy which would have similar aims addressed in the national strategic plan?

Minister Fernandez responded that the Department’s GBV implementation plan emanated from the national strategic plan.

Ms Goosen added that the harassment policy had at first been just a sexual harassment policy, but it was then broadened to include other types of harassment. It was relevant for employees within the government sector. It had been implemented and rolled out across the province.

The GBV strategy focused on six pillars which involved accountability within the leadership. All departments in the Western Cape had been tasked across the six pillars with various responsibilities. The DSD reports quarterly on the work that the various departments are doing. It directly reported on pillar two and three, which was the psychosocial support and services to GBV victims.

The DSD had adopted the review of the strategy and incorporated the recommendations from the national strategic plan, following the GBV Summit.

The Chairperson said that the GBV issue was serious, and the impact of COVID-19 had heightened this due to the complex social environment. How far was DSD in the legislation that would make provision for the closure of illegally operating substance treatment centres? Was this legislation at a national or provincial level?

The Department responded that currently, the legislation did not support the closure of illegally operating substance treatment centres. There was an amendment act that the national government was currently discussing to include such provisions, as this issue was important. In the meantime, the DSD had taken unregistered centres to court and there had been successful outcomes, though this was an incremental process.

On the impact of COVID-19 on societal issues, Dr Macdonald said that the number of vulnerable children had sharply increased. The GBV figures were difficult to precisely tell because of underreporting, thus making it hard to have reliable data. Nonetheless, the reports of GBV had significantly increased post-COVID-19.

The Chairperson asked about the Department’s organisational structure, specifically on the two acting officials, and what efforts had been taken to fill these vacancies. Were there plans in place to recruit more Africans into senior management positions in the Department?

Dr Macdonald said that the recruitment of the regional director was currently in the recruitment and selection process. The children and families' post had become vacant because the individual who was in the post had been ill, and it was also in the recruitment and selection process.

The DSD had a fully developed employment equity plan that was in the process of being implemented.

Ms Windvogel asked how many children were at Child and Youth Care Centres (CYCCs), and how this compared to the previous financial year. During the engagement with the Department in June, the Minister highlighted that the number of CYCCs had decreased by 11 due to fewer children being accommodated at the request of the CYCC. What was causing this decreased demand for CYCC services, and what was the impact of the reduced number of centres?

Ms Goosen said that the report reflected that there had been a reduction, but what that meant was that children stayed longer in the CYCCs, thus limiting the intake despite the increased demand. This was creating a problem, as the waiting list was quite extensive.

The current number of children in CYCC NPOs was 2 578, while at the Department's centres, the number was around 700, which was more than the children in conflict with the law.

Dr Macdonald said that the expenditure on the GBV campaign had been R444 155, which was the DSD's allocated budget.

Ms Windvogel said that when the Committee had posed questions to the Minister about the Drug Master Plan earlier in the year, it had come to the Committee's attention that 30 municipalities did not have local Drug Action Committees. Was there any work that the Department had done to support such municipalities?

Ms Goosen confirmed that 18 local Drug Action Committees were active. All 21 sub-councils had been given the green light in the City of Cape Town. There were challenges in other municipalities, especially municipalities where there was political instability or budgetary constraints. The DSD was working to ensure that more municipalities were on board.

Ms Windvogel said that in addition to the challenges of unemployment, it was disheartening that social work graduates were unable to fill critical positions in the Department. What had been the reason for this gap? Were there any social work vacancies that had not been filled in the 2023/24 financial year? In various Committee meetings, it had been insisted that the DSD and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) must engage and agree on a joint project to respond to the issue of unemployed social work graduates so that they were placed in schools to offer psychosocial support. What was the progress on this?

Mr Fry asked for an update on the wellbeing of staff members at DSD. What was being done to ensure staff wellbeing? Also, what was being done by the Department to ensure the safety of staff members who were working in hostile environments that were impacted by gangsterism and violence?

In response, Dr Macdonald indicated that at any given time, there were always social work vacancies in the Department as staff members left the profession. The Department had been working to recruit more staff members. People could leave their posts with one month's notice, but it could take up to six months to fill the vacancy, as the recruitment process was quite extensive.

Given the strain on the Department's existing structures, social work graduates had been taken on board to help with additional capacity. The WCED did not have many social worker posts in their Department, so there was not much scope to take on more social workers, especially social work graduates. The Department of Health (DoH) had social workers and the NGO sector. The overall picture was that when the DSD was recruiting social work graduates, they were usually already appointed in the NGO sector.

The DSD had a contracted service provider for employee wellness. That service provider provided wellness programmes for staff members that included medical testing, therapeutic support, counselling, and other kinds of benefits. The provider reports to the Department on emerging issues in staff wellness. Some of the notable issues that have emerged include issues of safety, family, and interpersonal relationships at work. This service was well utilised by the staff members of the Department.

The issue of safety was increasingly becoming serious, and there had been major concerns about staff safety in areas such as Khayelitsha, Gugulethu and Philippi East. There had been cases of hijackings of government vehicles. This was a new thing in the Department, and it had responded by alerting staff members on the red zone areas they should not go to without a police escort.

Ms Windvogel asked why the targets on services to persons with disabilities had not been achieved.

Dr Macdonald responded that the budget cuts had resulted in reduced outputs in the Department. It was a similar pattern with the older persons programme, where there were also budget cuts.

Mr Bosman said there had been an over-performance by the Department in the social relief sub-programme, including an increase in the numbers who had experienced undue hardship. How many households that the Department had engaged with had been referred to SASSA, and was there a mechanism through which the DSD could monitor if SASSA was assisting the same beneficiaries? Noting that the Department was under a fiscal strain, what was the plan to continue providing social relief?

Mr Fry referred to the number of boxes of sanitary packs dispatched to identified schools and facilities as part of the social relief programme. He said that the provision of sanitary packs was crucial. Was there any collaboration with other organisations that worked in distributing sanitary packs? Had the DSD done any work with the WCED to distribute sanitary packs to targeted schools?

In response, Mr Mzwandile Hewu, Chief Director: Community and Partnership Development, DSD, said that, as mentioned earlier, since the approval of the R350 COVID-19 relief, SASSA had reduced its interventions in terms of food parcels and other social relief interventions. Therefore, whenever there were undue hardships, these were referred to SASSA, and those who were unable to meet the requirements then got assistance from the Department. This did indeed add pressure to an already strained fiscal space in the DSD.

On the sanitary packs, the Department was trying to collaborate with relevant stakeholders, including NPOs and private sector organisations working on this issue. Its focus was on working with school-going girls who needed sanitary packs.

Ms Windvogel said that during the Committee’s oversight visit in Paarl, there was a storage facility where the sanitary packs were being kept. Was this facility still full, or had it become empty?

What was the reason for the underspending on social welfare services, specifically regarding services for persons with disabilities and older persons? When making the adjustments to the budgets, why were resources not redirected to avoid an underspending?

Dr Macdonald confirmed that the storage facility was empty, as all supplies had been distributed.

The underspending on the vehicles for persons living with disabilities was because this involved funds earmarked by National Treasury, and there was no discretion to redirect them to other programmes. The money had to be paid after the provider had completed modifying the vehicles.

Concerning the logistical challenges that had prevented completion of the training of the child and youth care workers in the current financial year, he said the child and youth care workers within the Isibindi implementing agencies had faced several challenges. Another issue was that the Department of Health was also implementing the Isibindi model, which resulted in many child and youth care workers shifting to that because the remuneration was better, compared to the DSD's. Overall, the DSD's implementation agencies still had child and youth care workers, and they were getting regular training.

Ms Windvogel wanted to know why the Department underspends on substance abuse prevention and rehabilitation programmes, when this was a serious issue in the province. Could the money that was underspent be allocated to other programmes?

Dr Macdonald responded that this had been mainly because staff members had left, and it took time to fill the posts, hence the underspending in these programmes. Unfortunately, there was a restriction by the National Treasury on reallocating earmarked funds to other programmes without permission.

As a follow-up, Mr Fry asked what the way forward was regarding staff exits and the vacancy of posts.

Ms Windvogel said it seemed that the funds could not be moved from one programme to the other, and asked if this applied only to specific programmes. If that was so, what was the necessity of the adjustment budget?

Mr Juan Smith, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DSD, said that National Treasury puts a restriction in terms of the free transfer on the compensation of employees (CoE). The Department could shift funds from one programme to another, including sub-programmes, but only for the COE. COE money could not be used for goods and services, and the like.

The Chairperson said it was a highlight to see the Department making an effort to support NGOs, NPOs, and the like. Was the capacity support provided by the Department beneficial?

Just like GBV, poverty was a serious issue in the country. In the Department's provision of support for food insecure households, were more households making use of this support out of their free will?

Mr Hewu responded that the evidence the DSD had was that a growing number of people were benefiting from the social relief services of the Department. The beneficiaries were largely members of households. Unfortunately, the budget cuts were putting tremendous pressure on the Department.

Dr Macdonald added that the social relief grant had been helpful, and the Department had been filling the gaps where necessary. The demand for these services continued to grow.

Mr Hewu said that the Department did provide training beyond funded NPOs. The demand for these training programmes was growing. There were no service providers for these programmes -- they were run by the Department. Officials of the DSD had also been trained so that they could also train the NGOs they were working with.

Referring to the challenges in the NPO sector, he said there were 280 000 registered NPOs in the country, and in the province, there were 28 000 registered NPOs, with a noncompliance rate of 58%. The Department was working with a lot of partners, but the challenge was enormous.

The Chairperson asked why, with all these interventions in place, there were still deaths due to malnutrition.

Dr Macdonald said that in the Western Cape, the death figures due to malnutrition were quite low. They had not increased in the last five years. There were, however, cases that fell through the cracks, including cases of child neglect, hence the child protection systems that had been put in place to respond to such instances.

The Chairperson cited the report on the temporary work for the 1 048 participants in the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) -- was this figure provincial, or was it within the City of Cape Town?

Dr Macdonald said that these were just the DSD’s EPWP participants. The Department did not have a huge number of EPWPs compared to other departments. A chunk of EPWP numbers had been lost when the Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme was moved to the Department of Education.

Ms Windvogel asked if there was a reason why the Department had not met its EPWP target. Why had the Institutional Capacity Building (ICB) programme in support of NPOs been withdrawn? What were the details of the non-compliant NPOs? Did the Department lose any funds, and if so, what were the plans to recover those funds?

In response, Dr Macdonald said that the ICB programme was for both funded and non-funded NGOs. When the unfunded NGOs pulled out of the programme, that did not have any financial implications for the Department. However, if NGOs were non-compliant and misused funds, the DSD had mechanisms to recover those funds with the assistance of the State Attorney and legal services.

Mr Hewu said that the Department had selected 12 NPOs to mentor NPOs so that they became compliant. A lot of work had been involved in the process. Therefore, because of the amount of work, some NPOs decided to withdraw as they had indicated that training other NPOs with limited resources took a lot of time.

Ms Windvogel requested more details of the assets that were in fair condition.

The Department responded that as per the report, the DSD had an annual evaluation of assets. The evaluation concluded that 45% of the Department’s assets were in a good, usable condition, 50% were in a fair use condition, and 5% were in a poor condition. The 50% were assets that were still usable, though they were not brand new.

Ms Windvogel asked why the Department had not filled the vacancies indicated on page 111 of the report.

Dr Macdonald said that this was because of the same issue referred to earlier in the meeting -- that the staff turnover was usually shorter because of the one-month notice period. However, filling a vacant post could take up to six months, as the recruitment process was extensive. This therefore meant that there would be challenges in filling those posts. Sometimes, the issue was within some units, especially child and youth care workers, where it was often hard to find suitable candidates when applications included people with a criminal background, thus making it hard to appoint them to work with children and vulnerable groups.

Minister Fernandez added that until there was a finality about what was going to happen in the future, especially with the proposed budget cuts, it was quite hard to robustly make appointments. Even when the process started, the process took a long time to complete.

Ms Windvogel said it was disappointing to see the Department employing a low number of persons living with disabilities. The Department could surely do better in this area. What were the plans to create more opportunities for persons with disabilities?

Dr Macdonald said that the employment of persons with disabilities was built into the Department's employment equity plan. However, there were employees in the Department who would form part of persons with disabilities, but chose not to declare their disability. The Department had been trying to encourage staff to declare.

Ms Windvogel sought clarity on what was being done by the Department to achieve the employment equity targets as far as promotion was concerned.

Dr Macdonald said that people could not be promoted in public service -- it was a recruitment selection process, where people apply for the post, and applicants were appointed based on the outcome of the process. Employment equity considerations formed part of this process.

Ms Windvogel cited a table on page 134 of the report on four foreign workers, and asked if the Department provided more information on their countries of origin, including the skills they had brought in. Were there no qualified South Africans to fill these posts?

The Department responded that three were Zimbabwean, and one was from the Democratic Republic of Congo. One was a child and youth care worker, another was an administrative officer, and two were social workers. Considering that the DSD had over 2 400 employees, appointing four foreign nationals did not significantly impact the Department.

Closing remarks

In her closing remarks, the Minister thanked the Committee for the engagement, indicating that the questions had been robust and transparent. It was important to mention that the achievements of the Department were attributable to the team, including the staff in the ministry.

Dr Macdonald closed by thanking the Committee for the oversight, including the Department and the team from the Department.

The Chairperson congratulated the Department for achieving a good audit outcome. Despite working in a difficult and complex environment, he appreciated the Department for being present to account before the Committee.

Committee resolutions/action

After requesting the delegation from the Department to leave, the Chairperson requested feedback from the Members of the Committee.

Ms Windvogel said she was trying to get a response from the Department about filling vacant posts. This was an issue that had been going on for way too long, and should be responded to. The high vacancy rate had a direct impact on the delivery of services.

The Chairperson indicated that this recommendation could be placed as a question as to why the Department's recruitment process ranged between six and nine months.

He added that the Committee would need to receive information about the radio programme referred to on page 20 of the report.

Further, there seems to be an inconsistency, as previously, there had been a presentation about the increasing prevalence of malnutrition in the province. However, in the meeting, the DSD indicated that malnutrition was not so high. Therefore, it was recommended that the Department provide a malnutrition rate in the Western Cape. How was this coupled with the current socioeconomic challenges faced in the country and the province? What was the Department doing to respond to this issue?

How did the safety plan address the current rape issue in the province, as the rape figures were quite high.

Mr Fry recommended that the Department provide a breakdown of the staff exits by region so that it was known where the gaps were. If the posts were frozen because of budget constraints while the staff exits were growing, the Department would have a serious problem with its capacity.

Mr A Bans (ANC) asked how many GBV NGOs were budgeted for by the Department.

The meeting was adjourned.


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