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Dept sets up food parcel complaints hotline

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A hotline where members of the public can report incidences of irregular handling of Food Relief for Distressed Persons has been established.

THE DEPARTMENT of Social Development in the Northern Cape has established a hotline where members of the public can report incidences of irregular handling of Food Relief for Distressed Persons.

The number of the hotline is 072 095 2884. All information will be treated with strict confidentiality.

Department spokesperson Gamiem Abrahams said yesterday that the hotline had been set up after numerous complaints were received from members of the public regarding food parcels.

“Most of the complaints related not so much to theft of food parcels but were more about allegations of irregular distribution. For example, community members complained that their names had been put on the list for a food parcel but they had not received one, while their neighbour, who receives a social pension or grant, had received a parcel,” said Abrahams.

‘It wasn’t serious allegations that required the involvement of the Hawks for investigation, for example stealing of food parcels by councillors. It was more complaints from people who felt that they should have received a parcel and did not.”

Abrahams added that while a number of complaints had been received, he could not estimate how many there were.

“A lot of the complaints were also picked up from social media. As a result we weren’t able to keep track of the number of complaints. However, with the establishment of the hotline, we will be able to determine the exact number of complaints as well as the specifics involved. Up until now, the complaints were more hearsay.”

He stated that the large number of complaints had also resulted in the department taking over complete control of the distribution of food parcels in the Province.

Abrahams appealed to residents to allow department officials to do their work and to remember that there were set criteria in place regarding eligibility for the parcels.

“With the recent announcement by the president of additional aid, more assistance will be made available and the process will be electronic, which will also remove the human element.”

During his announcement earlier this week, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government had realised that the food distribution capacity of the government was not adequate to meet the huge need that has arisen since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic.

“The South African Social Security Agency – Sassa – will implement a technology-based solution to roll out food assistance at scale through vouchers and cash transfers to ensure that help reaches those who need it faster and more efficiently,” the president said on Tuesday night.

The Department of Social Development has also partnered with the Solidarity Fund, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community-based organisations to distribute 250 000 food parcels across the country over the next two weeks.

Other relief measures announced by Ramaphosa will see the child support grant being increased, with support grant beneficiaries receiving an extra R300 in May and from June to October they will receive an additional R500 each month. All other grant beneficiaries will receive an extra R250 per month for the next six months.

In addition, a special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant of R350 a month for the next six months will be paid to individuals who are currently unemployed and do not receive any other form of social grant or Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) payment.

The Department of Social Development will issue the requirements needed to access and apply for this funding.

The DA meanwhile called on the Department of Social Development (DSD) and Sassa to urgently provide the public with clarity regarding the special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant of R350.

“Since President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on Tuesday, millions of South Africans are still in the dark about the full details of this grant,” the DA’s Bridget Masango said in a statement issued yesterday. “While we understand the enormous pressure and capacity constraints Sassa is currently working under, we must equally be alive to the desperation and need that is currently facing our communities.”

The DA called on Sassa and the DSD to provide clarity on the the application process and whether there would be a dedicated phone number or e-mail address for applicants to use; whether Sassa would reopen and capacitate its offices to meet the influx in applications; what was the criteria for unemployed individuals to apply for the grant; how long will the application process take to finalise; and what will the payment process look like – whether the applicants would need a bank account and whether funds would be paid out in cash or in the form of food vouchers?

“We have received numerous requests from the public on how they can apply and access the special grant. It is, therefore, critical that Sassa utilises its channels to provide the public with all the relevant information they need,” Masango added.

She added that while the party welcomed this much-needed relief for those who have lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic, the public needed urgent clarification on what the application process would entail to ensure that those who desperately needed this assistance would not wait any longer for relief.