by DA Media –
Date: 26 June 2017
Note to editors: The following speech was delivered in the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature today by the Democratic Alliance’s provincial spokesperson on Social Development, Dr Isak Fritz MPL, during the debate on the budget of the Northern Cape Department of Social Development.
Hon. Speaker, the Department of Social Development was established with a noble cause in mind. Its job is to provide services that act as a safety net for all the vulnerable people in our society and to ensure that the most basic rights of our people are met.
In this regard, the words of Martin Luther King Jr could serve as an appropriate mission statement for this department and I quote:
“Never, never, be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the wellbeing of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
Hon. Speaker, at the core of the National Development Plan, which should guide the everyday actions of all government departments, is the aim to ensure the achievement of a “decent standard of living” for all South Africans by 2030. This includes “achieving a better future…. where no one goes hungry”.
And so, when there is no money to put food on the table, this department must provide daily food packages and operate soup kitchens.
When the aged are left alone and neglected, this department must put a roof over their heads.
And when women become the victims of domestic violence, this department must help facilitate their escape from the cycle of abuse.
Hon. Speaker, these are very serious tasks indeed. They not only improve lives, but they also sustain life.
The department does have programmes to address all of these social ills, and more. But, given the economic crisis and unprecedented levels of unemployment and poverty that we are facing as a country, the work of this department is becoming increasingly more important and more challenging.
Hon. Speaker, it is for these reasons that this department, which is performing commendably in terms of astute financial management as is evident from consecutive clean audit reports, still needs to up its game on the ground.
In this regard, I believe that there are two things that demand attention in order to adequately improve and increase the delivery of services on the ground.
Hon. Speaker, the two key areas that I am referring to are “social workers” and “Non Profit Organisations” (NPOs) – they are the core ingredients of a targeted social service system and, if optimized and efficient, they could go a long way towards expanding the department’s services within the limitations of its budget:
1. Hon. Speaker, just like doctors and nurses are the lifeblood of the health system, so too are social workers the lifeblood of the social system. They are the foot soldiers who bring social services to the people.
In this regard, the DA welcomes the implementation of the nationally instituted Social Worker Employment Grant, which will enable the appointment of two additional social workers in the Northern Cape. However, given the temporary nature of grants, this department must make provision in future budgets to ensure the sustained employment of the new employees in question.
Hon. Speaker, it is clear that this department urgently needs to do some planning in respect of bursaries, exit strategies for its bursary holders and skills development programmes for its social workers.
It also needs to start facing its real challenge head-on. This is not a challenge in respect of a shortage of social workers, but rather a lack of experienced social workers.
The department concedes in its APP that it has an exceptionally high turnover rate of social workers. Its ratio between the supervisor and social workers is now 1:20 making supervision of the social worker to be ineffective.
Hon. Speaker, if this is ever going to be remedied, we need to start seeing the results of the elusive Retention Policy that was already approved in June 2015.
2. Hon. Speaker, more than R231 million, which translates into 28% of the total allocated departmental budget for 2017/2018, goes towards the funding of NPOs.
NPO’s have the expertise and flexibility to do what the department cannot do and, by outsourcing services to NPO’s, they become invaluable in filling the large gaps in the provision of services offered by the department itself. These are critical services such as victim empowerment services, substance abuse services and ECD services.
There are, however, a few very serious issues regarding the funding of NPO’s that need to be highlighted:
• First and foremost we must consider that the department has again failed to submit to the legislature a breakdown of its intended allocations to NPOs.
In fact, the department thought it appropriate for the portfolio committee to vote in good faith of its budget, despite us having a blind spot of more than R231 million.
This is not acceptable and serves to expose a gross lack of responsibility and accountability on the part of the department.
Hon. Speaker, there must be absolute transparency with regards to transfers to NPOs, otherwise this committee is in effect signing a blank cheque for the department to do as it pleases with public funds.
In this regard, the DA will provisionally support this budget vote on condition that we receive the mentioned breakdown of funding to NPOs.
I do this on the basis that I do not want payments to NPOs to be delayed because of a delay in tabling this budget vote, as a delay in payments to NPOs means a halt in services to poor and vulnerable beneficiaries in dire need of assistance.
Hon. Speaker, in as much as I am therefore prepared to make a compromise for this department, I likewise urge this department to go out of its way to ensure that internal financial controls are strengthened to ensure timeous payments to all NPOs in the province.
Hon. Speaker, I am nearing the end of my debate but I cannot justifiably conclude without making reference to the construction of the new substance abuse centre.
It is indeed disturbing to learn that there is a shortfall of at least R28 million with regards to the completion of the centre.
At the start of this project, I appealed to the MEC and the Department of Social Development to ensure that this project does not become like the never ending mental health hospital project.
Hon. Speaker, substance abuse in the Northern Cape is out of control. There can be no denying that we need our own state-run inpatient centre for addiction but I am starting to doubt the value of this project.
Every day that this project goes beyond its scheduled due date, is another day that services to our drug afflicted citizens is denied.
Hon. Speaker, the values of this department include human dignity, respect, integrity, fairness and equality. I appeal to this department to do more to achieve a caring and self-reliant society without delays.
Dr Isak Fritz MPL
DA Northern Cape Spokesperson on Social Development
082 395 2737
Shelley De Witt
082 847 1387