Acting South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) CEO Pearl Bhengu has revealed the Constitutional Court will on March 6 rule on the agency’s request to extend the Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) contract by six months.
Bhengu and new Social Development Minister Susan Shabangu appeared in Parliament on Wednesday to update MPs on Sassa and the department’s state of readiness to migrate the nation’s social grants scheme from CPS by April 1.
Sassa has 31 days in which to migrate core components of the grants scheme from CPS, as ordered by the Constitutional Court, to the South African Post Office (SAPO), as agreed in December last year.
Bhengu told Parliament on Wednesday that there had been very important developments since last week, after Sassa requested an extension of the CPS contract earlier this month.
“The date has been set for March 6, of which the court will be sitting for that. We are waiting to hear if the court will grant us that six-month phase-in, phase-out of CPS. The court will say yes or no.”
Bhengu assured MPs that all payments starting from April will come from Sassa’s corporate account, not CPS’. This includes payments to the 5.7-million people who had Grindrod Bank cards.
“On April 1, everyone will be paid, whether CPS is here or not. The only problem may be at the [cash] pay points.”
Cash payments at risk
Sassa’s key concern is for the 29% of grant beneficiaries, most of whom live in rural areas and depend on cash deliveries of their social grants, a service that is currently provided by CPS.
In case the court says no to the six-month extension, there is a contingency plan in place, she continued.
Bhengu said beneficiaries who use cash pay points, roughly 2.9-million people according to the inter-ministerial committee, had already been categorised.
“We are busy with that process so we can make sure those people get that money. We will have to give them pin numbers, and we do have some merchants that have biometric [security features].
“On paydays, we will calculate how many people are there, and take them to a place where they can get their money at the nearest ATM, merchant or store.”
This is all in the event that the Constitutional Court does not allow an extension of the invalid CPS contract.
‘Head still spinning’
MPs across the political spectrum registered their unease at CPS overstaying its welcome.
“Whenever CPS gets mentioned, I get so sceptical. The attitude we saw last year, I get very uncomfortable,” said ANC MP Sibongile Tsoleli.
“If we have to be with them for six more months [so be it], but after [that] we must bury them.”
SAPO chief operating officer Lindiwe Kwele told Parliament two weeks ago that, whatever the court’s decision, in principle, SAPO would still be in charge of the scheme come April 1.
The “phase-in, phase-out” period was merely to ensure smooth transition, she said.
The second important development was that the Constitutional Court ruled on Friday that CPS may participate in future Sassa tender processes, as allowed for by the law.
CPS had argued it was not consistent to bar the company from bidding for all future tenders as a result of their current contract being declared invalid.
The March 2017 judgment “did not render CPS ineligible to participate in Sassa’s tender process”, the court’s notice read.
Shabangu made her first appearance before the portfolio committee on Wednesday, where she admitted she has been thrown into the deep end.
Shabangu swapped portfolios with former minister Bathabile Dlamini, now minister of women in the Presidency, in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet reshuffle on Monday.
“My head is still spinning, but we have started to do briefings with the minister (Dlamini),” she said, before committing to ensuring the work gets done. — News 24