Sassa a mess on all fronts, experts warn

The panel of experts brought in to ensure the South African Social Security Agency can pay social grants on April  1 is so concerned about the mess Sassa is in that it has suggested taking this function away from Sassa and giving it to the treasury.

The panel and the auditor general filed their third report to the Constitutional Court this week on the progress made by the agency in ensuring that the grant payment system is seamlessly handed over from Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) to the South African Post Office and Sassa.

But it seems that even with help and supervision, Sassa won’t be able get its act together in time.

The panel has flagged many concerns, alleging that Sassa is dragging its feet and is not adequately addressing how and where beneficiaries will be paid come April.

The panel has also considered proposing legislative changes to restructure the agency. It recommended that the court should instruct the department of planning, monitoring and evaluation to investigate ways in which Sassa and its chief executive could be more autonomous and whether having a board would lead to a better governance structure.


This comes in the light of Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini’s alleged meddling in the agency, which contributed to the grant crisis last year. During an inquiry last week, she testified that she has overarching powers to hire and fire executives and that all decisions need to be sanctioned by her.

But the panel’s most startling recommendation, which comes just two months before the April deadline, is that the investigation would also look into whether Sassa should continue paying grants.

“DPME [the department of planning, monitoring and evaluation] should investigate and consider the desirability of moving the payment function of social grants to the national treasury, leaving the registration, verification and administration of social grant beneficiaries with Sassa or the department of social development,” reads the report.

The expert panel wants the planning, monitoring and evaluation director general to submit a report on this recommendation within six months, after receiving direction from the Constitutional Court.

Though the payment of grants is the core function of Sassa, it has been an uphill battle since the agency was established 13 years ago.

Other Sassa shortfalls flagged by the experts include:

  • The current system of recourse and redress for beneficiaries who experience problems with their payments is inadequate;
  • Sassa reports to the court are vague on timelines and on the extent of actions to be taken to ensure grants are paid come April 1; and
  • There are still no service-level agreements in place with the Post Office, and the agreements that do exist are not enough to ensure that the agency is adequately protected and money is not wasted.

“Sassa has complied with the court’s directive with regards to a communication plan to be developed by the government communication information services, but the panel has concerns regarding its effectiveness,” reads the report.

It also raises the possibility that Net1’s partner, Grindrod Bank, could continue servicing many grant beneficiaries; it is still marketing its Easy Pay Everywhere (EPE) bank accounts to them. CPS is a Net1 subsidiary.

Two weeks ago, Sassa told the panel that it was concerned that CPS and Grindrod were aggressively rolling out bank accounts to beneficiaries and the agency was trying to take steps to address this problem.

But according to the panel’s report, Sassa has been ineffective in informing the beneficiaries that they can choose any bank through which to receive their grants. Grant recipients could find themselves in contracts that they can’t easily get out of.

“The panel remains concerned about Sassa’s seeming inability to stem the misinformation about the EPE card as the new Sassa card, and to investigate and take action.”

The Grindrod bank accounts are also a major source of complaints about illegal deductions and financial products that beneficiaries claim they did not purchase.

“Opening an EPE account is a prerequisite for applying for a loan from Net1 and, once opened, beneficiaries can no longer use their Sassa cards to access their grants,” the panel noted.

It said grant recipients are finding it difficult to close their Grindrod accounts and Sassa has not properly explained the process to them. Two weeks ago, the Mail & Guardian reported that Sassa intended to ask the Constitutional Court for the invalid CPS contract to be extended for another six months. This has still not been done.

It was also reported that a tender for cash payment services was advertised in December. The contract would be for five years, servicing more than 2.5‑million beneficiaries, with Sassa hoping to take over thereafter. This process was meant to be completed by July 2, but with the constant setbacks, more delays are expected.

The lack of progress in the tender process concerns the panel as it jeopardises the continuation of cash payments to beneficiaries.

“In addition, any delay in the proposed evaluation of tenders and awarding of a contract to a new service provider will delay even further the date a new service provider can take over fully.

“While Sassa acknowledges these risks, it does not appear to have a firm contingency plan,” said the experts.

They are also concerned about the costs that the agency does not seem to have taken into account.

“Sassa has no immediate plan to properly audit the number and locations of cash pay points in the near future, and has seemingly no intention of limiting the costs by restricting cash payments at pay points.”

The Constitutional Court is expected to make a determination on the recommendations shortly.


‘Sassa can still be saved’

The South African Social Security Agency’s (Sassa) only job is to distribute social grants on behalf of the department of social development and the state. It has not managed to fulfil this role, and a panel of experts wants this to be looked into.

Sassa was established to take the grants function away from the provinces, which were beset by delays in approving payments, fraud, corruption and the inhumane conditions beneficiaries had to endure at pay centres. The financial burden was huge and Sassa was meant to assist by centralising the process.

The problem, said Dr Mashupye Maserumule of the Tshwane University of Technology, is that the Act that established Sassa had given the agency huge responsibility and very little power and autonomy.

“Sassa was deliberately created as an agency which would optimise the grant payment system. But due to how it was structured, it has ended up outsourcing the only function it has to a private entity. This question should have been addressed ages ago: How can a government agency outsource a constitutional duty to a private company?” said Maserumule.

He says Sassa’s structural arrangement may be flawed but believes “the agency can be saved and it can do the job it was established to do”. — Athandiwe Saba

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Athandiwe Saba
Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.

Related stories

Zondo tightens his grip with criminal complaint against Zuma

The state capture commission’s star witness now faces a criminal complaint and another summons

#CR17 fight heads to the Constitutional Court

amaBhungane’s arguments about the disclosure of campaign funding are also expected to be heard

Citizens win case for safe childbirth

In Uganda 16 women in labour die each day. One woman, backed by a civil society organisation, took the state to court

Constitutional Court ruling on restructuring dispute is good for employers

A judgment from the apex court empowers employers to change their workers’ contracts — without consultation

The living nightmare of environmental activists who protest mine expansion

Last week Fikile Ntshangase was gunned down as activists fight mining company Tendele’s expansions. Community members tell the M&G about the ‘kill lists’ and the dread they live with every day

SA justice delays extradition of paedophile to UK

Efforts to bring Lee Nigel Tucker to justice have spanned 16 years and his alleged victims have waited for 30 years
Advertising

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

Sudan’s government gambles over fuel-subsidy cuts — and people pay...

Economists question the manner in which the transitional government partially cut fuel subsidies

Traditional healers need new spaces

Proper facilities supported by well-researched cultural principles will go a long way to improving the image and perception of the practice of traditional medicine

Limpopo big-game farmer accused of constant harassment

A family’s struggle against alleged intimidation and failure to act by the authorities mirrors the daily challenges farm dwellers face

Did Botswana execute ‘poachers’ ?

The Botswana Defence Force’s anti-poaching unit has long been accused of a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. Over 20 years the unit has killed 30 Namibians and 22 Zimbabweans
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…