South Africa

South Africa

Sassa: Switchover will now cost R6bn and take five years, says Bathabile Dlamini

Sassa: Switchover will now cost R6bn and take five years, says Bathabile Dlamini

Tensions between Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini and Sassa officials bubbled beneath the surface at Wednesday’s presentation by the agency of its strategic plan and budget vote to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Social Development. While Sassa CEO, Thokozani Magwaza, said it would take 12 months to phase in the in-house payment of social grants, Dlamini claimed it would take at least five years and cost around R6-billion which taxpayers should view as an investment. An unrepentant Dlamini also suggested that the Constitutional Court had been “influenced” by media reports in making its judgment criticising her conduct and that of Sassa officials in the SassaGate saga. By MARIANNE THAMM.

Minister Bathabile Dlamini sketched a worrying picture of an apparent lack of capacity within Sassa to handle the takeover from CPS of the payment of social grants in 10 months time when the current arrangement comes to an end.

We don’t have the expertise and we don’t want to compromise the process. We don’t have staff who understand banking, payment, costing, modelling or cyber risk assessment. The balance of staff now does not represent what we expect of Sassa. Most are entry level managers and 40% of people are in finance,” Dlamini told committee members.

Dlamini’s assertions were contradicted however by Sassa CEO, Thokozani Magwaza, who said the agency would abide by the Constitutional Court’s instruction to phase out CPS in 12 months and that “an organisation” would be phased in. He added however that this would take between two and three years. He added that Sassa would be attending a workshop with the South African Post Office next week and that the agency might also go on tender for a new service provider to provide partial services to the Post Office.

But I can assure you that in 2018 there will be no CPS,” Magwaza reassured the committee.

Dlamini, in her response to the ConCourt in March this year, had pinned the blame for the SassaGate debacle with Sassa officials and Magwaza specifically. This was challenged, however, in a replying affidavit by former Social Development DG, Zane Dangor, which revealed that Dlamini had set up “workstreams” that circumvented Sassa officials and reported directly to the Minister.

Dangor said that he, Magwaza and other officials had been of the view that the workstreams “may have been deliberate to ensure a continued relationship with CPS under conditions favourable to CPS, through a self-created emergency.”

On Wednesday Dlamini was reluctant to discuss the issue of the controversial workstreams and that implied Dangor had been tasked with the responsibility to dovetail the workstreams with the Sassa executive.

But I am not going to respond to affidavits here,” she snapped.

Asked by the DA’s Lindy Wilson whether the workstreams were now reporting to Magwaza or to her, Dlamini responded enigmatically that “work is done in the way that each political head would like it to be done”. She later suggested that MPs and the media should “go and read the Sassa Act”, implying she was well within her mandate to circumvent Sassa executives.

Dlamini’s statement on Wednesday that it would take five years prompted questions from opposition members including the IFP’s Liezl van der Merwe as to whether the CPS contract would have to be extended for a further period in violation of the ConCourt’s judgment.

But will CPS still be around after a year? Will we use the South African Post Office and an open banking system?” Van Der Merwe asked.

Committee chair Rosemary Capa said these details would still be provided to the committee.

Presenting Sassa’s strategic plan, Sassa’s payment transition project manager, Zodwa Mvulane, said Treasury had confirmed that R11-million had been set aside to enable the agency to become the social grants paymaster. Mvulane said Sassa would present its first report to the Constitutional Court on progress so far by June 17.

The agency was considering various options including insourcing some services as well as Sassa establishing its own special accounts for beneficiaries. She said Sassa would collaborate with other government agencies to collect and store the biometric data of recipients.

In the meantime the names of independent legal and technical experts the court had requested be appointed to oversee Sassa’s transition had been submitted to the ConCourt.

Dlamini seemed irritated by questions by opposition members as to whether any of the names submitted were those of individuals who currently headed her workstreams.

The court has not pronounced on who is appointed. But we are worried. There are issues coming up now that could influence the whole process,” she said, adding that ConCourt judges are influenced by the media.

The court said that it had ‘read’ which means they are influenced by what is in the newspapers,” said Dlamini.

Magwaza however assured MPs that the independent practitioners who will oversee the process had been nominated by Sassa and the Black Sash.

No workstream person has been nominated,” said Magwaza.

The agency did not present its annual performance budget on Wednesday as this had to be altered to take the Constitutional Court ruling into account. DM

Photo: Minister of Social Development Ms Bathabile Dlamini addRessing the Disability Rights Summit taking at Saint Georges Hotel, Centurion in Gauteng Province. 10/03/2016.

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