/ 12 May 2017

Social grants solution: R6bn, five years

South Africa’s Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini with President Jacob Zuma.
South Africa’s Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini with President Jacob Zuma.

It will cost “plus minus” R6-billion and take five more years for the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) to insource the payment of social grants, the social development minister, Bathabile Dlamini, told a committee of Parliament on Wednesday.

Sassa itself has been coy about the details, saying it would only have a plan, with estimated costs, ready for the portfolio committee on social development next week.

But Dlamini took it upon herself to explain that Sassa had none of the critical skills necessary for the job and had too many junior employees. Sassa also had managers who fought change because they feared they would lose their jobs – as they should, because they did not have the necessary qualifications.

Dlamini has been responsible for Sassa for more than six years, since she was appointed to her post in 2010. According to its own court statements, Sassa has been working on insourcing payments for the past 18 months.

“Biometrics, we don’t have staff that understand it, at Sassa,” Dlamini said. “Banking, we don’t have officials that understand banking at Sassa. Payment, we don’t have that staff. Costing and modelling, as well as cyber risk assessment.”

Most Sassa staff are “entry level”, she added, and others “have not amassed the type of experience that you would need at such an institution”.

In October 2015, Sassa said it would be ready to take over grant payments from its outsourced provider Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) by March 2017. As that date neared Dlamini and the agency went quiet, then refused to answer questions, and only admitted they were not ready for the job two months before the deadline.

The Constitutional Court found Dlamini responsible for the delay, and the crisis it caused.

In terms of a judgment with which it put Sassa and Dlamini under close supervision, the Constitutional Court is due to name a panel of individuals who will monitor its progress towards taking over grant payments.

On Wednesday Dlamini questioned the ConCourt’s independence in that process.

“One judge said ‘we read what is in the newspapers’, which means they are influenced by what is in the newspapers. That automatically says whatever decision is coming up will be influenced by what is in the public, and therefore public opinion that is not tested is sometimes used as part of arguments because it was said by a judge.”

ANC members of the portfolio committee praised her and Sassa for their performance, and chairperson Rosemary Capa alternated between blocking pointed questions from opposition MPs and answering questions on Dlamini’s behalf.

In a pattern rarely broken by Dlamini throughout the social grants crisis, she became vague in the few instances that she was pushed for specifics.

In answer to a blunt question on whether experts she had hired, and apparently already paid R40-million, were still reporting directly to her, she explained that political heads did not always get what they wanted, urged MPs to read legislation pertaining to Sassa and declined to “discuss affidavits of other people”.

She never answered the actual question.