Ruling party MPs on Parliament’s social development committee on Wednesday rallied behind Minister Bathabile Dlamini as she was questioned about the department’s readiness for April 1.
They were critical of how the opposition had labelled the process of finding a new service provider to pay social grants a disaster.
“I don’t see a natural disaster here. We [the ANC] have been paying grants for 23 years and we have not stopped paying grants. I don’t see how that will stop in April,” MP Hope Malgas said.
Opposition parties criticised Dlamini for being negligent and unprepared, during yet another meeting to detail the department’s plans regarding grant payments.
The department was briefing the committee on its readiness for the March 31 deadline, when Cash Paymaster Services’ contract to pay grants would end.
Dlamini told the committee the department had not officially started negotiating with CPS to extend its contract, which the Constitutional Court had declared invalid in 2014. The court instructed the social development department to insource the administration of handling the distribution of all the country’s grants.
There had, however, been talks with and correspondence to CPS, and they had responded positively, the department told Parliament. They would present a report to the Constitutional Court in March.
Dlamini said while it might look like they had done nothing since the ruling, they had started the tender process. Two bidders had pulled out and the remaining ones had not had the capacity to do the job.
Democratic Alliance MP Evelyn Wilson said all the department was presenting was what they had done or were planning to do. There was no indication of what was being done at present.
“You have no plan,” she told the department’s officials.
Inkatha Freedom Party MP Liezl van der Merwe asked the department to explain exactly where it was in negotiations with CPS, and how much extending the contract would cost.
Dlamini replied that she did not want to commit to a figure and would be pre-empting negotiations.
“We are trying to negotiate in good faith. We are going there with our plan, going to negotiate, and if we think the conditions are compromising and unreasonable, we will have to go back to the drawing board,” she said.
They would be guided by the available budget.
ANC MPs including Malgas and committee chairperson Nokuzola Capa defended Dlamini and often answered opposition party questions.
The media was painted as being economical with the truth and “writing what they want”. Capa cautioned against “alarmist tendencies” in reporting on the Sassa grant deadlines.
“Stop terrorising the poor and saying they will wake up without a plate of food,” she said. – News24