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MPs accuse Sassa of ‘delay tactics’

Come March 2018, the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) may find itself in a “mad dash” to secure grant payments once again. According to MPs in Parliament on Tuesday, Sassa may be paving the way for yet another extension of its contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS).

It’s been five months since the Constitutional Court ordered Sassa to find a new method for the payment of grants, but the social security agency still has not assessed the services the South African Post Office (Sapo) can provide to it.

Sassa interim chief executive Pearl Bhengu and chief financial officer Tsakeriwa Chauke appeared before Parliament’s public accounts committee to explain the progress the agency had made since the Concourt judgment. Sapo has been seen as the most promising candidate to provide services from grant payments after Sassa’s contract with CPS ends next year.

Sapo is supposedly in a partnership with Sassa, but a contract between the two has yet to be signed. Bhengu said that Sapo should be awarded a tender by August 31 and the contract will be signed by September 8. Currently, tender bidders are being reviewed.

But MPs were unimpressed. ANC MP Nyami Booi accused Sassa of dodging questions and “misleading” Parliament by not fully explaining why the agency had taken this long to secure a contract with Sapo. Economic Freedom Fighters MP Ntombovuyo Veronica-Mente agreed with Booi, saying that Sassa was opening the door for an extension of its contract with CPS.

In the past year, former Sassa chief executive Thokozani Magwaza resigned from his post shortly after the Concourt judgement, which heavily implicated Sassa for contributing to the grants crisis earlier this year. Social development director general Zane Dangor also resigned, as well as former CPS chief executive Serge Belamant.

Earlier this year, millions of grants beneficiaries awaited to hear how grants would be paid as Sassa’s contract with CPS neared its expiration date. The contract had earlier been declared unlawful by the Concourt, but it remained in place until March 31 2017 – Sassa’s deadline to find a new service provider. The contract was extended this year by the Concourt after Sassa failed to secure an alternative service provider.

Bhengu assured MPs that Sassa would be able to pay grants without CPS by April 2018. Sapo chief executive Mark Barnes has also expressed that the Post Office is ready to service grant payments.

But at the moment Bhengu is still uncertain of Sapo’s capabilities. Sapo’s services will be tested in November 2017. If there are services it cannot provide, Bhengu said that the social security agency will then issue tenders to fill those roles. Successful bidders will only be tested in January 2018, leaving three months for Sassa to ensure it performs its mandate to grant beneficiaries in time before the Concourt deadline.

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini was not present in Parliament on Tuesday. Dlamini wrote to the public accounts committee to excuse herself as she had another event to attend. 

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