KZN 2010/2011 Budget Debate -
Social Development (Vote 13)

 

By Roman Liptak MPL
 

KwaZulu-Natal Legislature
Pietermaritzburg : 15 April 2010

 

Chairperson, let me state at the outset that the budget of this department reflects a commitment to the plight of the poor, the vulnerable and those in need of special care despite persistent budgetary pressures and a slower than expected recovery from the economic recession.

 

But in order to fulfil its mandate under the difficult circumstances and the related cost-cutting measures which affect the entire provincial government, this department is yet to re-organise itself in terms of the way it conducts its business; it has yet to identify more areas of efficiency gains, and it has yet to modernise the way in which transfers to its partners such as civil society organisations are done. We are here to offer practical suggestions.

 

Chairperson, our appeal is that the department shifts its focus from acting as an election winning machine for the ruling party to become much more attuned to the service delivery needs of communities. We urge less focus on self-promotion and more on issues such as efficiency and effectiveness, accessibility, customer care and satisfaction as well as creative inter-governmental partnerships.

 

In this regard, I would like to express my party’s relief that the Hon. MEC has escaped without injury after the helicopter he had in travelled to the scene of a recent tragedy in eDumbe caught fire. But there are pertinent questions relating to this trip that must be answered in this House. It has been reported that accompanying the MEC on this helicopter trip were several members of the media. Is this true?

 

If it is true, we would like to know, if - given the background of the ongoing cost-cutting measures and the MEC’s rather liberal use of state resources in general - this mode of transport was justified for the occasion. We are just as curious to learn about the exact role of the journalists on board of this helicopter other than to provide a photo opportunity for the MEC. I don’t imagine journalists are co-opted by government departments to console victims of tragedies and disasters as unfortunate as these tragedies and disasters are.

 

Chairperson, the measures and services of this department aimed at children and families have tended to be both random and have a narrow focus. Part of the reason why the current system often fails children is because there are not enough social workers to conduct follow-up visits.

 

The low staff complement also means that social workers are overworked. And their administration workload keeps social workers desk-bound in offices rather than being out on the ground doing field work.

 

The new Children’s Act, which is being implemented from the 1st of April this year, should change this. Mindful of the limitations of the freeze on the filling of non-critical posts, we would like to know what measures the department has taken - or is about to take - to increase the number of social workers to comply with the provisions of this Act. We would also like to know what measures - in the context of this budget - are being implemented to reduce the workload of existing social workers.

 

Furthermore, we would like to know what the department is doing to improve its internal systems to monitor and manage caseloads of social workers to ensure they remain within acceptable limits and that children entrusted to them receive adequate care through foster and adoptive parents.

 

I am sure the Hon. MEC will agree that the retention of social workers as a scarce skill is critical to the development of human capital within his department. But expanding on the number of social service professionals will be futile without investing in their capacity building, job enrichment, education about new service delivery demands, and staff support networks. We are happy to see progress in the belated implementation of OSD in this department, which was a concern to both social development and fin tees last year.

 

I would like to appeal to the MEC to look for ways to engage more volunteers as social workers through an active recruitment drive. While cost-cutting measures are a factor in this, volunteers add value to any initiative based on civic responsibility. They are available outside of normal office hours and have an intimate knowledge of communities, families and individuals. They are also able to immediately respond to crisis and vulnerability. They can complement service delivery in ways that paid employees never will.

 

We are glad that this department has long taken a co-operative approach to child protection and the current budget reflects this. Our appeal to the department in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup, during which incidents of child trafficking, sexual exploitation and substance abuse are expected to rise, is to work even more closely with child protection organisations and the host cities in the province, especially eThekwini, to ensure that children are protected. I note that Hon. Mdlalose made a similar call to parents and legal guardians in a letter to The Witness yesterday.

 

Chairperson, a few comments about the Sustainable Livelihoods Programme. This programme is one of the key interventions in the national Poverty Reduction Strategy. But it is also a frequent target of fraudsters as a number of ongoing forensic investigations has shown.

 

I would like to appreciate the press briefing we received on this matter from the Hon. MEC and I hope we will hear more when there is more to report on. The outcome of these investigations should present a clear prospect of recovery of missing funds so that these investigations can act as a deterrent for the future.

 

Chairperson, we urge this department to communicate as efficiently with its partners among civil society organisations as it communicates with the media. NGOs, CBOs and FBOs are the backbone of service delivery in this department.

 

While the national ministry provides policy direction and oversight for service delivery, the responsibility for service delivery on the ground is left to provincial departments, mainly in partnership with civil society organisations. How the department sustains and, more importantly, accounts for these partnerships, will ultimately determine how it will effect changes in the lives of the vulnerable and the poor it serves.

 

Throughout the whole of last year, the department failed to communicate adequately with a number of its service providers, many of whom found themselves in limbo as a result of the investigations into fraud and misappropriation of state funding. In some districts subsidies stopped, often without explanation, leaving many deserving NGOs in charge of facilities such as crèches to their own devices. I am sorry to say that some of these crèches suffered major setbacks after subsidies from the department dried up.

 

Chairperson, we urge the department to place more emphasis on customer care and, in doing so, start treating the recipients of its services as clients who deserve respect rather than pity. Customer care could be mainstreamed through the establishment of a dedicated unit at head office. It would ensure that feedback on service delivery is improved through a citizen scorecard and a tracking system for complaints and queries.

 

With the necessary information at its disposal, this unit could truly reach out and help relieve the backlog in the approval of applications for social grants by the SASSA. Out of the backlog of nearly 28 000 applications not approved by the SASSA at the end of March, more than 6000 hailed from KwaZulu-Natal, with almost half of them applications for child support grants.

 

The Hon. MEC has repeatedly indicated that communication with the SASSA remains difficult. We in the IFP have consistently objected to the ANC government's tendency to centralise provincial government departments, of which the SASSA is a prime example. But taking principled positions will not help while we are trying to resolve practical issues such as payments on the l equipment and other costs, which the department is battling to recover from the SASSA.

 

We are aware that the Department of Health and the provincial Treasury are in the process of renegotiating the terms of obligations towards the National Laboratory Services and we propose the Department of Social Development should emulate this approach.

 

Chairperson, in setting out a response to poverty, this department has prioritised short- term relief through social grants system, feeding schemes and transfers to welfare organisations. We all need to acknowledge today that within the context of an economic recession, immediate pressures on the social safety net are mounting exponentially. The imbalances in insufficient job-creation and growing social grant dependence have alarming long-term fiscal consequences.

 

This department is central in charting the way for the poor and vulnerable from dependence to self-help and self-reliance. Driven by principles such as personal responsibility and accountability, it must lead the way away from poverty relief interventions towards real social development and contributing to social cohesion. In doing so, it will have our support.

 

I thank you.



Contact:
Roman Liptak
078 302 0929