Food parcels fiasco affords state a chance to fix systems

An integrated centralised database would have ensured that the food parcel response is better coordinated, the writer says.
An integrated centralised database would have ensured that the food parcel response is better coordinated, the writer says.
Image: Gino Santa Maria/123RF

The biggest challenge that the government is facing is the need to ensure that every family has access to food in the form of food parcels and social relief grants as part of the response to the Covid-19 national lockdown.

Many South Africans are surviving on informal trade and with the introduction of the national lockdown, more have joined the welfare sector.

There are also people who were employed by small businesses that can no longer afford to pay salaries and whose staff are now dependent on UIF payments to survive.

South Africans are generally struggling to access the "Business in Distress Fund" and the UIF and as a result, many families are relying on food parcels.

The government has responded haphazardly to food relief due to the lack of an integrated strategy to assist vulnerable people during this critical period. This is as a result of uncoordinated databases in different departments and across different levels of government.

Many South Africans were already on welfare in one form or another, including Sassa grants, municipal indigent register lists, provincial social development departments' poverty alleviation and food relief programmes.

All these systems are not integrated. There is no central database that consolidates these efforts. The government, therefore, cannot understand its population dynamics because of the different databases.

Many people often exploit this deficiency by applying to various government departments across the different levels of government in order to improve their chances of maximising their food parcel benefits.

For example, a person would apply through a ward councillor for a food parcel, but also apply to the Gauteng department of social development as well; this will result in many others who need assistance being left out.

It is easy for people to double-dip because there is a major backlog and delay in food parcel delivery. Government is not pro-actively addressing food shortages but is now compelled to reactively address requests from various communities on a "first-come first-serve" basis.

In an ideal world where government is proactive, there would be a central database which integrates the following databases: Home Affairs (births, deaths, foreigners arriving and leaving the country, health (all people arriving at hospitals), UIF (all people who are registered), Municipality rate-payers databases, municipality indigent databases, Sassa grant recipient database , Sassa food parcel database, provincial Departments' of Social Development Databases and Municipal Departments of Social Development databases

All South Africans and foreigners have a unique identifier - ID numbers and passport numbers are biometric identifiers. All this information could also be cross referenced with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research .

The database would need to be live because people are born and die daily, and they come in and leave our country regularly as well.

An integrated centralised database would have ensured that the food parcel response is better coordinated. Government would have known where there are gaps in terms of people who now need to receive food parcels because of this Covid-19 pandemic.

They would have also been able to determine where there is double-dipping and prevent it. The current messy in the distribution of food parcels to the needy should also act as an opportunity for the government to fix its systems.

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