The new minister inherited a department plagued by ongoing social grants payment problems and an administration that has battled to secure clean audits since 2016.
Zulu, the former small business minister, has been relatively anonymous during her seven months in her new post, despite the ministry being responsible for providing grants to 17-million South Africans and taking the second largest slice of the national budget.
The responsibility of paying grants was last year shifted to the South African Post Office after the contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) was cancelled. But the move has not been without problems.
When 80% of the CPS payout points were closed recipients collected their grants from post offices, banks and retailers. The closures have had a “devastating” effect on social grant beneficiaries, particularly in rural areas, because the number of payout points has been reduced to only 20% of the previous number, which means people have to travel long distances to get them, queues are long and recipients become targets of criminals, according to a report released in October by the University of the Western Cape and Black Sash.
The department and its entities — the South African Social Services Agency (Sassa) and the National Development Agency (NDA) — received qualified audit opinions from 2014 to 2018. Little changed this year, with the auditor general giving Sassa an unqualified opinion with findings and the NDA a qualified audit. The department regressed from an unqualified opinion with findings to a qualified opinion.
Wasteful expenditure increased from R2-million in 2017-2018 to R78-million in 2018-2019, the bulk of which was incurred by Sassa paying contractors for services that were not delivered. Irregular expenditure decreased from R517-million to R180-million, with the bulk again incurred by Sassa as a result of unapproved contract extensions.
Foster care grants are a major problem area. About 128 000 foster care orders, which are issued for two years, have lapsed because they were not reviewed in time and so the grant payment falls away. The department is also failing to clear new foster care applications. This has resulted in a drop of 60 000 children receiving grants between 2016 and 2018, a matter of huge concern to civil society organisations. Last month the high court in Pretoria gave Zulu two years to come up with a new system, that would resolve the review problem.
Key causes of poor performance in the department and its entities, identified by the auditor general, include inadequate oversight and ineffective leadership by management, a failure to follow policies and procedures and no consequence management for bad performance by employees.