Editorial: Don't short-change the poor
South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) chief executive Virginia Petersen breathed a visible sigh of relief on Tuesday morning as North Gauteng High Court Judge Elias Matojane finished reading his order.
He ruled that, although a massive tender to manage social-grant disbursements that the agency had awarded to Cash Paymaster Services in January was illegal and invalid, it should not be set aside.
In a statement the following day, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, to whom Sassa reports, stiffly massaged the judge's very damning findings. She told the country: "The court ruled that there were irregularities in the supply-chain management processes. The court acknowledged that those irregularities did not warrant the continued provision of the payment of social grants to be aborted or disrupted."
This summary makes it sound as if Matojane downplayed the seriousness of his findings.
He did no such thing: "Illegal and invalid," he said of the award to Cash Paymaster Services.
Nevertheless, he gave two reasons for allowing the company to continue to benefit.
Firstly, without evidence of corruption or wrongdoing on its part, setting the tender aside would be prejudicial to the company.
Improved living standards
Second, and more importantly, the payment of social grants is too important for South Africa – they simply cannot be interrupted.
In 2001, for example, 11% of adults battled to survive within the lowest Living Standards Measures bracket. In 2011, this had been reduced to 1%, a shift the institute attributed in part to increased social grant payments.
Their figures show just how badly South Africa's most vulnerable people need Sassa to deliver cleanly and efficiently.
Yet, since 2007, two consecutive attempts by the agency to outsource social grant payments have failed. The first was rejected on the advice of the bid adjudication committee. The second has now been accepted, warts and all, because this service must go on.
Clearly, however, heads need to roll and Sassa needs a serious shake-up if it is to shield South Africa's poor from destitution in future.