A crisis has developed in the ECD sector in South Africa related to Covid-19, lockdown measures put in place since March 2020, and the October ECD Employment Stimulus Relief Fund released by the Presidency, and currently being managed by the National Department of Social Development.
The proposed ECD Stimulus Package is going to miss the mark as the ECD stimulus package must be paid out in less than 6 weeks, before the financial year ends 31st March 2021, whilst the looming deadline for applications from ECD workers ends this Friday 19 February (with only a two-week window having been made available for applications).
The ECD sector is calling on the Government to urgently extend the deadline for applications to the ECD Stimulus Relief Fund, as well as address the bureaucratic challenges thrust upon ECD principals trying desperately to apply for this relief funding; a process which is currently exclusionary in nature for the most impoverished communities. It is urgent that this process is altered to include informal unregistered ECD services in the rollout of this relief fund.
Current Issues with the ECD Stimulus Package:
The two-week deadline to complete the application process is too short. The majority of ECD principals/owners only have time to apply for this relief at night or over the weekend because they are operating centres and programmes with reduced staff members because of not being able to pay salaries. What is worse is that the Central Supplier Database registration system (an additional requirement for unfunded ECD services) goes down for maintenance after 7pm on most days. There is less than 2 days left. The ECD workforce needs an extension beyond this Friday, 19 February. An additional two weeks is requested, pushing the deadline to Friday, 5 March 2021.
DSD has failed in disseminating the information to all ECD services especially the most vulnerable as many principals on the ground are not even aware of the rollout of the ECD stimulus package and the fast-approaching deadline.
Applications are done via a digital application platform only. This excludes those who do not have access to the internet or a computer/laptop, or do not have high levels of computer literacy. People are struggling to work through the application process using their phones. Data is expensive. The application process is currently only free for MTN users; this should be extended to all cellular networks.
The two application platforms (the Central Supplier Database registration and govchat process) are predominately English using terminology that is unfamiliar and difficult to understand for the vast majority of South Africans. English is not even a first or second language for many applicants, especially the English used in the application.
The requirement to have a bank account in the name of the ECD centre/programme excludes the majority of ECD services that operate on a cash basis or have a bank account in an individual’s name, which is allowed for registration as a partial care facility with DSD.
Intended sanctions to be imposed on currently unopened ECD services that are unable to re-open within sixty days of receiving the funds; as well as the requirement that unregistered ECD services must agree to register, showcase the exclusionary, bureaucratic nature of this rollout, marginalising the most vulnerable in the ECD community who need these funds.
The limit of 4 staff members for ECD centres and 1 staff member for non-centre based ECD programmes to determine the funding per centre/programme is far too little. If there are more staff members at an ECD centre/programme, then each staff member receives only a portion of the R4470 pay out, bearing in mind that this stimulus package is supposed to be income support for 6 months and that some ECD workers have not received any form of income for 11 months.
When the number of applications exceeds the funding available, a process of prioritisation will be used; this is problematic. In this case, ECD programmes that are registered and/or participated (unregistered) in the Vangasali identification process that operate in the poorest wards will be prioritised. What about unregistered ECD centres and programmes that operate in the poorest wards but are not on the Vangasali database? It is important to note that it was not a legal requirement to take part in the Vangasali campaign.
The current ECD stimulus package of R496 million (according to DSD’s media statement on 5 February 2021) is insufficient. The Minister of Social Development, Ms Lindiwe Zulu announced on 30 July 2020 that the President’s economic stimulus package will be allocating R1.3 billion to the ECD sector, where is the outstanding R804 million?
According to DSD’s media statement on 5 February 2021, the ECD principal/owner is responsible for paying their ECD workers. Therefore, the ultimate payment to the ECD workforce is based on a trust relationship between the principal/owner and their staff. How do the ECD workers know that their principal/owner has received the funds and they should be paid? How can ECD workers hold their principal/owner accountable and what are the reporting channels in the event of non-payment?
The requirement for unfunded ECD services to be loaded on the Central Supplier Database (CSD) is complicated, inappropriate, and unnecessary. The ECD stimulus package is emergency relief funding. There is no reason for ECD workers to be part of a supplier database to access relief funding.
Furthermore, and more specifically, the govchat process (for all ECD services) and CSD registration process (an additional requirement for unfunded ECD services) are cumbersome, they are not user friendly, they require additional external waiting periods, and are overly technical, such that even ECD principals and owners who are able to apply for the ECD stimulus via this online platform experience a multitude of practical and technical issues that stop the application process in its tracks.
The statistics on the ground are indicative of the above-mentioned complications. As at 15 February 2021, out of 29 836 ECD principals/owners who have started the application process, only 9 717 people have successfully completed their applications. This is not to mention the thousands of ECD centres and programmes who have not been able to start the application process.
What is worse is that the ECD stimulus package aims to pay 108 833 ECD workers, but only 46 661 or 43% of the targeted ECD workers have been registered so far to receive this funding. This is shockingly low.
In view of these facts, it is therefore clear that the current application process is exclusionary. Despite intentions, the process as it stands precludes ECD workers in informal unregistered ECD centres and programmes from accessing the much-needed funds. Simply put, this emergency relief funding will not reach those ECD workers for which it was intended and those in desperate need. The ECD community urgently needs an inclusive and fair rollout of the Presidency’s ECD Employment Stimulus Relief Fund.
The first step (and by no means the last step) towards creating greater access to the Presidency’s ECD Employment Stimulus Relief Fund is extending the application deadline beyond this Friday, 19 February. The ECD Employment Stimulus Relief Fund will not reach the targeted 108 833 ECD workers if the Department of Social Development does not extend the application deadline. An additional two weeks is requested, pushing the deadline to Friday, 5 March 2021. Given the unnecessarily complex and onerous process, the current two weeks which were given is not sufficient for ECD workers to complete an online application.
Clearly, the overall application process is not fit for purpose. The ECD community is currently calling on the President, the Minister of Social Development, and all government officials to act now and impact “real lives and real livelihoods” as President Ramaphosa stated and was seemingly intended.