Image Credit: https://www.news.uct.ac.za/article/-2018-06-26-sa-must-focus-on-kids-to-meet-sdgs

Virtual Debate on Vote 13: Social Development

by: Hon. P. GOVENDER, MPL
IFP Spokesperson on SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT, KZN
KwaZulu-Natal Legislature
Thursday, 04 June 2020

Thank you, Honourable Chairperson,

Greetings to the Hon MEC, Hon Leader of the Official Opposition, Hon Members and all who have joined us in this virtual sitting.

Presenting this debate during the COVID-19 lockdown boggles the mind, with many serious social and economic concerns that face our people daily. I am indeed pleased that Honourable Members of this Legislature and staff have thus far remained safe from the virus. Communities across our Province are being devastated, if not by the fear of the virus, by the fear of hunger, as we move into the winter months.

When we welcomed the new decade, none of us could have predicted the situation that we now find ourselves in. Social interaction as we have always known it has now been reduced to social distancing. This is the decade in which we were to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, as well as our country’s 2030 National Development Plan, which include social issues such as universal access to healthcare, sanitation, poverty alleviation and quality education.

Being members of this Legislature, we carry with us the responsibility to ensure that citizens are taken care of and protected. In this regard I must express sincere thanks and appreciation to MEC Khoza and our frontline workers, who are engaging with communities across our Province. Having said that I must hasten to condemn in the strongest possible terms those officials and political appointees who are alleged to be involved in fraudulent activities regarding the procurement and distribution of COVID-19 relief to those in need. I will come back to this later.

Honourable Chairperson,

It is indeed appropriate that we are debating the Social Development Budget as we are observing Child Protection Week. It therefore saddens me that a mother on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal appeared in court yesterday, charged with the murder of her 6-year-old daughter, Alexia Nyamadzawo. The IFP sends its condolences to all who are grieving this sad loss. Just this morning a newborn baby was left wrapped in a blanket on a pavement in Chatsworth. One wonders whether these are just callous acts of cruelty or acts of desperation. I urge social workers to ascertain the reasons behind such inhumane acts so that we can address the underlying causes and not just respond after the fact.

As we engage with this Department’s Budget for the 2020/21 Financial Year, I am mindful that this budget will need to be revisited in order to cater for spending pressures brought about by the onslaught of the COVID-19 virus and its attendant ills.

The IFP notes the Budget of R3.8 billion in this financial year allocated to the Department. The IFP regards Social Development as one of the key government departments mandated to care for the wellbeing of the most vulnerable people in society, while combating those ills that threaten the social fabric of communities.

With regard to Programme 1, Hon Chairperson, the IFP notes that the Budget has been reduced by R3.674 million but to mitigate this, I see that R5.457 million will be reprioritised from Programmes 2 and 4 to cater for the filling of vacant posts. This is important, since vacant critical posts have an adverse impact on audit findings, especially with regard to internal controls and compliance with legislation. The IFP will be monitoring the filling of the 37 critical posts that the Department has promised to fill in this Programme during this financial year, since on page 599 of the Green Book it is stated that “the Department has a history of slow recruitment processes”.

In Programme 2 we note that the Budget has been reduced by R3.9 million. I implore the Department to ensure that this cut does not negatively impact on sub-programmes such as Services to Older Persons, Services to Persons with Disabilities and to HIV and AIDS services.

We note that the Department plans to fill 128 vacant posts this year. This programme conducts the core business of the Department and the IFP is deeply concerned about the high level of vacancies over a prolonged period. It is simply baffling as to how it is that vacant social worker posts are not being filled when there are qualified social workers sitting at home, most of whom having received state bursaries with the promise of employment. When I raised a question around this issue at a Portfolio Committee Meeting, the response from the Department was that most vacancies are filled internally. Whilst I understand the desire for upward mobility and personal progression, I argue that once a person moves out of a post, a vacancy is created in the post that was occupied previously. This then begs the question: Why are those lower level posts not being filled when there are qualified social workers wanting to be employed? The unemployment rate in KwaZulu-Natal is at 25% but this Department is dragging its heels in filling vacant posts for which it has funding.

Hon Chairperson, the COVID-19 lockdown has unfortunately seen an increase in gender-based violence. A key contributor to this is the scourge of substance and alcohol abuse, as well as a total disregard of the rights of women by many men.

The IFP is concerned that not much has been said about the protection of people with albinism. Their plight is highlighted only when one of them is killed. We urge the Hon MEC to provide a clear plan on how the Department intends to help people living with albinism.

In Programme 3 that deals with Early Childhood Education and Partial Care, we welcome the increased budget in this financial year. We will be closely monitoring this programme, as we have found that spending patterns in this sector are erratic and there is a lack of accountability. The Department needs to capacitate people who are in charge of ECDs and other such centres. Funding provision is made in Programme 5 that deals with Development and Research, to provide institutional support in terms of financial management and administrative capabilities.  The IFP acknowledges with thanks the work that is being done by NGOs in many communities across the Province. Many of these organisations are managed by volunteers and they complement the work that the government is charged with. Whilst I say this, I urge the Department to ensure that there is accountability with regards to funding.

According to a report on the “Plight of the ECD Workforce” it was found that 68% of ECD operators, including playgroups, day mothers and early learning programme facilitators, are worried that they will not be able to reopen after the lockdown. The report is based on a survey of 3 952 ECD operators, conducted in mid-April 2020. As the IFP we are calling on the government to include ECD personnel in the R500-billion COVID-19 relief plan. Absence of this support will result in massive closures of these service providers, which will have dire consequences for the ECD workforce, the children who attend these programmes and the caregivers who rely on them to cater for their families.

Hon Chairperson,

This Department has a history of underspending on its budget. I really cannot understand why a department will not be able to spend on its budget priorities, since the Annual Performance Plan is conceived by the department. What we find in previous Quarterly Reports is that those time frames are not adhered to and funds meant for a certain project are unspent and diverted to other projects, or not spent at all.

The IFP is not surprised by this Department’s underspending, as it has under-spent on its budget from as far back as 2015/16 and over the years used the same excuse of the non-filling of posts and delays in infrastructure projects.

As the IFP we implore the Department to do all that is necessary to improve its poor track record. I say this because in March this year the Department reported under-achievements in 18 out of 48 performance indicators in the second quarter of the 2019/2020 financial year. This is a sad indictment on the administration of this Department.  We call upon the Hon MEC as the political head to address this culture of underspending. It cannot be business as usual while we face this COVID-19 pandemic.

This pandemic forces us to become creative in terms of how we do things and how we address social issues, but it seems as if there are those who are using this global pandemic as an opportunity to abuse public funds to enrich themselves and certain connected companies. I’m saying this because the Department has admitted to procuring R22 million worth of blankets, allegedly without following proper tender processes. Blankets that would normally cost between R150 and R200 each were purchased at a cost of about R600 each. When I questioned this in a Portfolio Committee Meeting, the response was that people need to be treated with dignity. I do understand this but I do not believe that dignity comes at such a high price nor that dignity should be associated with corruption. We appreciate the swift action by the Hon Premier to institute an inquiry into this matter and welcome the input by Hon MEC Pillay this past Tuesday that the report will be ready to be handed to the Hon Premier by 15 June 2020. Let me remind the Department that the IFP will not forget such transgressions and will follow this until those responsible are charged and convicted. Let’s not go on protecting corrupt individuals especially when indigent people are crying out for help from the government.

In this regard, Hon Chairperson, The Active Citizens Movement, The Ahmed Kathadra Foundation, Corruption Watch, among many other institutions, wrote a letter to President Ramaphosa in which they say:

“We remain wary of the vultures waiting on the sidelines to use the suffering of people to steal, loot and manipulate policy procedures and democratic processes for their own benefit. These vultures do not care if the economy collapses, if we head towards a kleptocracy, if repression and disorder indeed become the order of the day, or if millions of children go to bed hungry. Their sole interests revolve around securing a power base from which to operate and stuff their greedy pockets.

If we fail in our duties to protect the public from these corrupt vultures during this time, we lose the last fragment of hope that we can offer to people.”

At a meeting of the Portfolio Committee held on 17 March this year, I asked the Department and SASSA whether there are plans in place to ensure that the payment of social grants in April will be done taking into account the safety of grant recipients, especially the elderly. The Committee was given the assurance that there are meetings to address contingency plans in this regard, but what we saw in April and May was that there was chaos at pay points. We are concerned about the failure to ensure that social distancing guidelines are adhered to during social grant payments.

The National Department of Social Development and SASSA have really frustrated our people with their poor planning and roll-out of the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant. The contact numbers and email address given often crashed. I understand that there is a long and thorough verification process involving SARS, the UIF, NSFAS and SASSA before applicants are approved and I hope that deserving people will now begin to receive the SRD grant during this month.

We must acknowledge with thanks the increased social assistance in the form of additional benefits for six months in pensions and grants, as well as the R350 SRD grant.  Whilst speaking about assistance to destitute people in our Province, the IFP is deeply concerned about the alleged political interference in the distribution of food parcels. Allegations of councillors and their so-called volunteers distributing food parcels to members of a certain political party cannot and must not be tolerated.

I again refer to the letter to President Ramaphosa that I mentioned earlier wherein the writers state:

“Already in communities, there have been numerous reports of how simple food parcel distribution processes are being manipulated – not by hungry people who desperately need food, but by political actors who want to use humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip.”

Whilst communities are struggling with the COVID-19 virus many government departments have been infected with the virus of corruption, greed and maladministration. In this regard the IFP seeks answers as to what has happened to the former HOD of this Department, Ms Khanyile? Why was she suddenly and without explanation removed, and where is she now? Consequence management must not just be a phrase that is loosely bandied about but it must become so tangible that we begin to see guilty persons wearing orange overalls.

We must record our thanks to Mr SG Ngubane who acted as HOD for a few months and was found to be very efficient and hands-on. The IFP welcomes the new HOD, Ms Nelisiwe Vilakazi, with the hope that she will be able to improve the performance of this Department.

The IFP believes that as public representatives, we must deliver a social system in KwaZulu-Natal that protects people from extreme poverty and we must ensure accountability by officials and the executive arm of government. This pandemic has exposed the great divide that exists between the haves and the have-nots in our province. This is not a divide that can be plastered over but it needs creative thinking, diligent and honest administrators driven by a political will to improve the lives of our people.

I thank the Hon Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee for conducting our meetings in a fair and non-partisan manner.

The IFP supports the Budget.

I thank you.