The state has just six weeks to finalise how more than 10-million social grant recipients will be paid come April 1. But even with the ongoing supervision of the Constitutional Court and interventions by Parliament, it seems everything is still up in the air.
And as yet another crisis looms, the minister of social development, Bathabile Dlamini, who is responsible for the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), is posting juvenile tweets in which she takes no responsibility for the impending crisis.
Sassa officials say they are in the dark. The agency should by now have a system in place to ensure cash payment are secured.
The South African Post Office has told Parliament that it is ready to take over the grant payments on April 1 for beneficiaries who have bank accounts. But the post office did not say what will happen to the 2.5-million beneficiaries who are paid in cash.
The panel of experts appointed by the court to investigate the social grants debacle has submitted another report to the Constitutional Court to say there is no guarantee that everyone will get their grants when Sassa’s contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) ends. The contract was found to be invalid by the court in 2014. In March last year the Constitutional Court extended the CPS contract to March 31 to ensure that social grants would continue to be paid.
In December, CPS sent a letter to Sassa saying it did not want a continuation of the invalid contract because it has other plans. It wants to bid for the cash payments tender and has approached the Constitutional Court to clarify whether CPS can do so.
The installation of a new system for the payment of grants for the most vulnerable people in the country has been terrifyingly slow. Sassa is being held hostage by an individual and a company with ulterior motives, who refuse to put the beneficiaries, whose lives depend on these grants, first. Instead, Dlamini has been tweeting about how the latest crisis is everyone else’s fault and CPS wants a lucrative contract.
The fear of a new crisis is so real that the panel of experts wants the president of the country to move the payment of grants to the treasury.
This mess has been brewing for a year but, instead of co-operating, Sassa has hidden information from the panel of experts and the Post Office as recently as last month. The Sassa acting chief executive Pearl Bhengu failed to mention the CPS letter to the agency or the work being done by the agency to move beneficiaries to banks. This resulted in the panel compiling an incomplete report to the Constitutional Court.
There are three main concerns that have still not been addressed adequately by any of the parties involved.
The first concern is the five-year cash payment tender for the 2.5-million beneficiaries, which closes on February 28. This leaves a month for these payments to be made by April 1. It will be difficult for this deadline to be met.
The second problem is whether there are plans in place if the court decides not to extend the invalid CPS contract for another six months, as requested by Sassa, for a new cash payments process to be phased in.
The portfolio committee on social development has rejected this extension, leaving Sassa possibly without a back-up plan.
And, third, what if Sassa can’t keep to the six-month deadline? It is well known for missing them.
At about the same time that Sassa was compiling its request to the court to extend the CPS contract, Dlamini was sending a volley of tweets about how the Post Office was not able to take over the payment of grants to those who have bank accounts and that it was the interministerial committee (IMC), set up last year to ensure grants were paid on April 1, that decided Sassa should extend the CPS contract.
“The decision of extension comes from the IMC and not from me as an individual. It is shocking that the very people that were prescriptive on who we should use for this are quiet,” she tweeted.
“We must also ask them [the Post Office] about corporate account, emv [chip card technology], biometric, card body production. We must also not forget what people said in court, they said they could do this within four months it was easy at the time to claim easy victories.”
The Post Office’s chief operating officer, Lindiwe Kwele, assured Parliament this week that it was ready to take over the payment system for those with bank accounts, now that Sassa has signed off on the specifications.
Kwele said the migration of beneficiaries to Postbank accounts has commenced and is being prioritised and monitored weekly. Also, more than 10-million Sassa-branded bank cards will have been manufactured and disbursed by June.
The Post Office seems to be working hard to ensure a smooth transition but Sassa’s delays have meant that deadlines to ensure grants are paid have been missed and much needs to be done to catch up. There are also many processes that still have to be ruled on by the court, including on whether CPS will have to stay on for a six-month hand-over period as requested by Sassa and whether it can bid for the five-year cash payment contract.
Another investigation into what caused the current delays — under the watchful eyes of the panel of experts, the IMC, the department of planning, monitoring and evaluation, the treasury and the parliamentary committees —seems unavoidable.