Editors: The Social Assistance Amendment Bill will be debated in the Eastern Cape Legislature this afternoon (Tues: 24 Aug)

While the Democratic Alliance welcomes proposed new changes in the Social Assistance Amendment Bill to expedite welfare in the Eastern Cape, we are concerned that lack of capacity in the department will scupper the new plans.

As the debating of this Bill affects the lives of thousands of grant beneficiaries in this province, the DA will ask that it be referred back to Parliament for thorough investigation into the capacity of the department before supporting this legislation.

Once a thorough plan to address capacity constraints has been put in place, the DA will then support the Bill.

It is well known that inefficiency, lack of capacity, long grant queue lines and non-payment of grants cause anxiety and heartache to beneficiary recipients.

The problems of over-expenditure of R2,8 million by the Department of Health in the last 2009/10 financial year and the current chaos in this department to fulfil its mandate further adds to the distress of beneficiaries.

While new aspects of the Bill include allowing applicants and beneficiaries to appeal against social welfare grant decisions and increasing the number of welfare offices, this must be coupled with a staff capacity that can carry out this function efficiently.

The plea by the public to have independent tribunal committees filled by members of the local community to reconsider appeal cases for welfare grants is a welcome addition to involve the broader public in decision making that affects their lives.

In order to access greater opportunity for grant recipients, the DA will propose that a full skills audit be done in the department to verify and populate the department to allow for greater efficiency.

Furthermore, the DA believes that the creation of two social welfare training colleges with students funded by a massive bursary drive will attract much needed staff to complement the chronic staff shortages in this department.

In addition, the creation of one-stop welfare centres that would allow for a holistic service of grant payment, counselling, medical facilities, restrooms and the like would go a long way to making the grant process more pleasant and efficient.

For further information contact Dacre Haddon on 079 694 3788.