KZN Social Development: Poor financial administration blocking department’s success

Dr Rishigen Viranna, MPL

DA KZN Alternate Spokesperson

As a nation we are united in our diversity. This should be celebrated not vilified. As the DA, we recognise that there were severe injustices that occurred in the past and that the legacy of this injustice is still present today.  DA policies are specifically aimed at changing this. And it is the duty of KZN’s Department of Social Development to assist in correcting these injustices.

The department has achieved some successes, including the roll-out of ECD centres and priority being given to protection and empowerment of children and victims of crime.  But on the whole it has let down the people of our province through poor administration. What the people and communities of KwaZulu-Natal need is not just a safety net but a safety trampoline – a department which will catch them at their lowest point and raise them up to new heights in their personal development.

And this is where the department has failed. It does not have a large budget which makes it crucial that every cent is put to good use. Sections from the Auditor General’s report for 2012/13 state;

  • The department achieved a qualified opinion
  • Irregular expenditure incurred was R170,22 million
  • Under-spending on the service delivery programme amounted to R21.53 million primarily on maintenance of buildings and delay in filling posts
  • 53% of total planned targets were not achieved
  • Financial statements and the annual report were submitted late and the MEC did not produce any written explanation. Both in contravention of the PFMA
  • Poor Supply Chain Management protocols with goods and services procured without inviting competitive bids
  • No action was taken against moon-lighting officials

The most damning finding is that the accounting officer did not take steps to prevent irregular expenditure and did not exercise adequate oversight over transfer payments and supply chain management. The MEC must ultimately take responsibility for poor administration in her department. The DA also requests that the MEC report back on the outcome of the two investigations into irregularities in supply chain management.

We commend the strides taken to open offices throughout the province, bringing services closer to the people. We note that the department still has an obligation under GIAMA (Government Immovable Asset Management Act) to maintain all their offices. In light of this, let me inform the MEC on the state of the department’s Phoenix office:

  • Metal roof sheeting regularly falls off endangering people and vehicles
  • Numerous roof leaks requires staff to use buckets to prevent internal flooding
  • The air-conditioning has not worked for years resulting in people fainting during our very hot summers
  • A flower ‘pit’ in the main waiting area has become a danger to children
  • Only one male and female toilet for public use at an office dealing with 1 000 clients per month

Despite numerous complaints by the staff and community about the state of affairs, nothing has been done.  The DA is very concerned that the department’s infrastructure maintenance budget, previously highlighted by the AG as being under-spent, has now been slashed from R75m to R29m. This will result in more departmental offices becoming like those in Phoenix.

The scourge of drugs has hit KwaZulu-Natal hard. It has affected the province’s poorest communities the hardest. The Department of Social Development plays a vital role in the battle against drugs with its involvement in treatment programmes. Many of our poorest communities rely solely on three state-run rehabilitation centres; Newlands Park, Madadeni and Khanyani Treatment Centres. However, these centres suffer huge capacity problems; only able to treat a combined 134 in-patients. Drugs such as Whoonga and Sugars leave drug addicts with severe withdrawal symptoms, which require medical and psychological in-patient care.

Let me share an experience on an addict from Pietermaritzburg. I will not reveal his name but I can pass it on to the MEC after the debate:

  • He has been addicted to Whoonga for 2-3 years
  • After being involved in minor crimes to feed his addiction, in July 2013 the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate Court referred him to a NICRO programme and DSD to be referred to Newlands Park. He is still awaiting an interview.
  • During this period, his addiction has worsened. He was convicted of cable theft in November 2013 and when he was released on parole in February he had tattoos of the 28’s gang
  • He is still visits the Pietermaritzburg DSD office regularly for updates but he is still awaiting an interview for admission. He is committed to becoming drug-free but the system is failing him.

Speaking to social workers, it is alarming that these stories are becoming more and more common. It is within the department’s mandate to assist these individuals. Yet the budgetary allocation for Restorative Services does not support this. This important programme has half the budget assigned to administration. Where is the department’s commitment?

The DA commends the hard work of the scores of social workers who daily enter stricken communities to try their best to improve their circumstances. Earlier I described social development as a social trampoline, these social workers form the springs of this trampoline propelling communities out of the poverty trap.

If social workers form the backbone of our social development system then NPOs are its hands. They form the important service delivery mechanism where the department lacks capacity. The department however still faces massive difficulties in oversight of its NPOs as highlighted again by the Auditor General’s Report;

  • Transfers to NPOs were in excess of signed Service Level Agreements to the value of R26,33m with no measurable service delivery outcomes achieved
  • Funds were transferred to NPOs without ensuring that they had the appropriate financial management and internal controls to ensure fraud was avoided
  • The accounting officer did not put appropriate measures in place to ensure that transferred funds were used for their intended purposes

The department was not providing proper oversight or up-capacitating NPOs to perform their duties. The Democratic Alliance thus welcomes the MEC’s announcement of capacitation plans for NPO’s. But the budget is not in line with this commitment. Programme 5 dealing with Institutional Capacity Building and Support for NPOs receives the smallest budget allocation. Is the department truly committed to NPO capacity building when it has not allocated it sufficient budget?

Now for the incredibly sensitive issue of food parcels. According to SASSA and department officials, these are given to people in severe social distress requiring emergency social relief. During portfolio committee meetings, the department and SASSA revealed there are protocols whereby food parcels are distributed. This is a deeply emotional issue in our poorest communities where not receiving a food parcel results in families starving. This is not a process that should be politicised. Yet this is exactly what occurs. Every election or by-election massive food parcel drives occur in vulnerable communities as was seen in the recent by-elections in Phoenix and Chatsworth.

I want to ask the MEC whether social worker social distress reports were done on every person who received a food parcel during these by-elections, as per DSD and SASSA protocol.  If so these reports should be presented to this House for oversight. Votes are won through good governance, and not through food parcel sweeteners.

Another very emotional issue in vulnerable communities is the allocation of disability grants. The department plays a very important oversight over SASSA. There is an outcry within the Phoenix community that, despite providing validated medical reports from hospitals and clinics, people are being deemed unfit for employment and their disability grants denied by the district surgeon. This is being done without a proper medical examination being performed. The MEC has to present a report to this House on the situation at the Phoenix office as it is rapidly becoming a divisive issue.

A DA budget would be geared towards supporting social workers and creating a proper social trampoline. We would ensure:

  • Children born into poverty are able to obtain food, healthcare and education to develop and grow
  • Support to young people to develop their talents and live lives they value
  • Provide the treatment needed and framework required for betterment for people who have become addicted to drugs
  • Provide a support framework for the elderly when they can no longer support themselves
  • A DA budget would ensure that there is a proper anti-drug strategy in place and more drug rehabilitation centres are built
  • A DA budget would ensure that youth development is made a priority through proper youth centres that develop entrepreneurial skills.

These are our commitments to improve the lives of our communities.

The MEC needs to show leadership over her staff to ensure that proper financial administration and allow the department to become the social trampoline it has to be in order to improve the lives of the poorest.

As KZN’s Official Opposition the DA is here to provide solutions. Our communities need to be lifted out of the sea of poverty.