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President must move grant payment to Treasury to ensure payment on April 1

The panel of experts set up by the Constitutional Court to look into the social grants debacle wants the president of the country to move the payment of grants to the Treasury or else there is a possibility they won’t be paid, as things currently stand.

The panel also lashes South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) officials for withholding crucial information from the panel.

The experts, which include the auditor general, filed a “special report” last week to the constitutional court less than a month after its last report. In essence it states that there is no guarantee, with less than two months before the deadline for Sassa to find an alternative to Cash Paymaster Services, which currently pays grants, that grant beneficiaries will receive their grants during April 2018.

In the new report the experts are exasperated that a special report was necessitated by the failure of the acting Sassa chief executive, Pearl Bhengu, to provide all relevant information concerning the progress of plans.

“The purpose of this report is to alert the court to the panel’s deep concern that, due to the recent developments and implications, the processes and mechanisms providing for the payment of social grants after 30 March 2018 are in doubt and the possibility of a breakdown in payments after that date appear to be increasing to unacceptable levels,” reads the report.

In its recommendations, the experts state: “The Panel recommends that the president of the republic in terms of the Constitution of South Africa by proclamation transfers the administration of the South African Social Security Agency and Social Assistance, to the minister of finance or the minister in the presidency for planning, monitoring and evaluation.”

In essence the panel foresees Sassa reneging on its Constitutional mandate to pay grants to over 10-million recipients.

“It is regrettable that this information was not made available to the Panel when it finalised the third report to the court….Sassa’s acting CEO made no mention of correspondence from CPS notwithstanding that it had been in the hands of Sassa and presumably the minister for over three weeks,” reads the report.

The panel has had difficulty with obtaining information from Sassa since the beginning of the process to the point where the court had to specifically direct the agency to “fully comply with any present or future request by the panel of experts.”

After this directive Bhengu assured the panel that the agency would cooperate, yet once again has withheld crucial information from the experts which need to advise the court.

According to the report Bhengu simply stated that it was a mere oversight that she had failed to keep the panel abreast.

“It is also a reflection of the lack of appreciation by both Sassa and the Minister of the crisis ahead and the need to urgent and singular focus on ensuring their ability to pay grants without disruption from 1 April 2018 onwards.”

The reasons why the panel wants the payment of social grants moved to treasury include the fact that Cash Paymaster Services informed Sassa that it does not wish to extend its contract beyond the end of March, despite the agency depending on CPS because no alternative is currently in place.

“Sassa has failed to conduct a proper and thorough audit of existing cash pay points with a view to minimising the number of social grants beneficiaries who need to be paid through this particular channel as from 1 April 2018, thereby reducing the cost of providing social assistance,” reads the report.

READ MORE: Sassa a mess on all fronts, experts warn

Another reason for the panic that is brewing is that the post office has not received specifications for the work it is meant to do from Sassa. According to the report Sassa has not completed and finalised the specifications and Sapo has informed the Inter-ministerial Committee that it won’t be able to meet the timelines because of this lack of cooperation.

The experts also raised concerns that Sassa appointed consultants Rangewave at R11-million as a work stream, without following proper processes and not getting approval from the Treasury.

After the Mail & Guardian reported on the irregular appointment of the work stream and the Sassa’s blatant disregard for the processes and the directives from the panel of experts, Rangewave’s services were terminated at the end of January.

Sassa has failed to pursue discussions with banks and has not adequately focused on cash pay points. “The panel, having raised this in previous reports to the court, is concerned therefore that Sassa seemingly does not view this as a priority.”

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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.

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