Sassa boss: Belamant tried to 'coerce us'

Sassa chief executive Thokozani Magwaza outside of Concourt. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Sassa chief executive Thokozani Magwaza outside of Concourt. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) chief executive Thokozani Magwaza has revealed that Sassa’s relationship with Cash Paymaster Service (CPS) may have some rocky moments ahead in the year to come.

Throughout this week, CPS boss Serge Belamant has insisted that if a contract with Sassa is not signed with near immediacy, grants will not be paid on time.

But moments after a judgment was delivered at the Constitutional Court on Friday ordering CPS and Sassa to contract for 12 months, Magwaza accused Belamant of lying.

READ MORE: CPS contract to be extended, Dlamini must cough up explanation or pay

“I do not want to argue with Serge Belamant, I don’t think that he was talking the whole truth, because he knows that the processes start on the 20th of each month, but the money is transferred from Treasury three days before we pay the money over to the beneficiaries,” Magwaza said.

Belamant had insisted that a contract must be signed by March 15, and Treasury should send money by March 16. Magwaza said, however, that Belamant is well aware that the process to pay grants starts later in the month.

Belamant’s rush to secure a contract was an attempt to coerce Sassa, according to Magwaza.

“He was just playing the ball as a businessman trying to coerce us into a space where I don’t think that we wanted to go,” Magwaza said.

Sassa had not before now made any public remarks to counter Belamant’s claims that grants could not be paid if a deal was not signed this week.

Net1, deductions, and contradictions
In 2016, President Jacob Zuma stood before Parliament and declared that illegal deductions were occurring with increasing frequency.

That year, the Social Assistance Act was amended to prevent money being debited from the accounts of grant beneficiaries. However, in order to receive a Sassa card to retrieve their grants, beneficiaries sign terms and conditions on the card that allow their personal details to be sent to third parties who then market and sell their products.

Magwaza reminded people outside the court on Friday that Sassa had pressed criminal charges against Net1 for deductions from beneficiaries’ accounts.

“I myself have been co-chairing the MTT (ministerial task team) with the Black Sash and the civil society on the issues of the deductions. You know, its open secret that we went to police stations and charged those companies that were not doing what they were supposed to do,” he said.

However, CPS filed a draft version of the contract it had planned to sign with Sassa prior to the delivery of the Constitutional Court judgment. In that draft contract, a paragraph states that Grindrod Bank – which holds the beneficiaries’ accounts – will own their personal data and that data “shall be shared with the parties for their intended purposes”.

The Concourt judgment prevents beneficiary data being shared to other parties, but Magwaza has yet to explain why even is he is “not happy with Net1” using beneficiaries’ data, a clause allowing data sharing was allowed to slip into the draft contract.

No coffee between old contractors
Magwaza said that despite some of his unhappiness with Net1 and Belamant, and the pressing issue of deductions, CPS has a done a good job as a service provider for Sassa.

“On the other side of CPS, to be honest with the country, CPS has done very well for us. Not a single time that we have failed to pay the beneficiaries and going forward, I don’t think that is going to happen,” Magwaza said.

He also said that he continues to be “proud” as the chief executive of Sassa but apologised that the agency had not corrected its error when it realised it would be unable to pay grants itself.

“But on the issue that we are told that Sassa may not be able to pay grants this year and we did nothing on this side, we apologise to the nation.” 

The Constitutional Court order came with strict terms that Sassa will report to the court every three months and that Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini could be held personally liable for the costs if she does not come forward with an explanation. CPS will also have to provide an audit to the court in 30 days.

The judgment has created a framework that would require Sassa to keep it regularly updated in such a manner that it may prevent another crisis of who will pay grants such as the one experienced over the past few months.

Magwaza says that Sassa’s relationship with CPS will be purely professional in the coming year of their extended contract.

“CPS is a company that is making profit, we are constitutionally obliged to pay the beneficiaries so our relationship is the service provider-client relationship. We do not drink coffee together, we do not do all those things,” he said.

The Sassa chief executive is unsure as to when Sassa will insource grant payments but said that the Post Office is a viable alternative to CPS.

 
Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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