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Sassa wants ‘unlawful’ grants contract extended, MPs ‘staggered’

By News24 1 February 2017

Cape Town - The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) says the best hope for citizens dependent on social grants to get paid from April 1 is to extend the invalid and unlawful contract with the current service provider.

Given the timeframe, extending the contract with Cash Paymaster Services and Net1 for one more year while Sassa finalises its medium-term solutions is the best option, the portfolio committee on social development heard on Wednesday.

Sassa official Raphaahle Ramokgopa said the department wants to approach the Constitutional Court, which ruled in April 2014 that the current contract was invalid, to extend it for one more year.

She said that the department can utilise a hybrid system between the banks and the Post Office going forward, but that it won’t be achievable in two months.

‘Money stolen from South Africans’

Opposition MPs tore into Sassa.

IFP MP Liesl van der Merwe said the committee must disregard what Sassa was proposing, because it all depends on whether the Constitutional Court grants them the chance to extend an unlawful and invalid contract.

“Today we must ask serious, serious questions. Since 2013, up until today, what has the department been doing, where the only option we have left is to extend an invalid contract?”

She said Treasury is on record that it will not provide the department more money to extend an invalid contract.

“What are you going to tell South Africans? This is the very same company that has stolen money from them for years illegally. Pensioners and grant beneficiaries have said that there were deductions on their grants.”

She labelled the current service providers a “bunch of crooks”. CPS was on record as saying they will only do business with Sassa under “favourable” conditions.

She also wanted to know if Sassa was under political pressure to extend the contract.

‘We have not moved an inch’

DA MP Bridget Masango wanted to know why the Reserve Bank, Treasury and other national departments were not brought on sooner.

“We are sitting no further than in November last year when we already discussed the options. We have not moved an inch.”

She also said the Social Development Department accused the committee of being “naive” and “creating panic” in June last year when they raised the same objections, and now they admit they have failed and have no time.

DA MP Evelyn Wilson said the most honest thing the presenters had said was that they had failed.

She considered the proposal “staggering”, and that Sassa had failed the Constitutional Court’s seven deliverables.

“You have known for months that you could not deliver grants by Sassa on the April 1, and to this date, you still have not gone back to the court. Why are we sitting in this situation?

She accused them of “forcing an emergency”. She said the Constitutional Court has no choice now but to extend an unlawful contract.

“How has this situation been manipulated, and why?” she asked.

‘National interest’

Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza said they had not approached the Constitutional Court yet as their legal team was still advising them. They have been advised that the ConCourt will grant the option as it is in the national interest.

He said they followed the Constitutional Court’s objectives in time, including re-advertising the tender, but that no suitable companies applied.

Sassa also engaged the Treasury, the Reserve Bank and other stakeholders, who have been working with them.

The Reserve Bank has already gone out to banks and discussed the option of using biometrics as security protocols.

“It’s not that we have been resting on our laurels and have not been doing anything.”

He also said they have not had any political pressure at all, and will finalise the options on Monday.

‘The country cannot burn’

“As CEO responsible for Sassa, I’ve got to make a decision,” Magwaza said.

“The fact remains, the decision needs to be taken. Come April 1, people need to get paid. How we pay is the issue.

“If we got to choose between paying the grants, or irregular [processes]; if the country is going to burn on April 1, or irregular [processes], I choose that the country does not burn.”

He agreed that CPS is arrogant, and that it was not Sassa who was approaching the media.

He did not want to “dwell” on the scenario that the Constitutional Court would reject their requests.

Proceedings continued on Wednesday. DM

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