The Post Office’s role in grant payments is unclear. By Barbara Maregele for GROUNDUP.
First published by GroundUp
MPs have accused the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) of deliberately delaying taking over the payment of social grants.
In a meeting of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on Tuesday MPs also raised concerns that Sassa’s plan to procure other services could result in the current contractor, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), continuing to provide certain services.
EFF MP Ntombovuyo Mente accused Sassa of deliberately delaying the process to “frustrate SAPO [the South African Post Office] to a point where they will be unable to pay grants and CPS will continue.” This sentiment was shared by several MPs.
IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa said: “We don’t want another situation where CPS will still be providing certain services. Will you all resign if this doesn’t happen on the eve that grants are to be paid?”
ANC MP Mnyamezeli Booi said: “I’m very sceptical about this process again. I think Sassa is misleading us again about their intentions.”
Acting Sassa CEO Pearl Bhengu told MPs that the agency would know by 25 August how SAPO could participate in the payment system. “SAPO submitted its proposal yesterday [Monday]. Now we are evaluating it and due diligence will be done. We are expecting the tender to be awarded by 31 August,” said Bhengu.
Bhengu was appointed two weeks ago after the contract of the previous CEO, Thokozani Magwaza, was terminated, less than a year after his appointment. His quick exit from the agency follows media reports that Magwaza was receiving death threats after he cancelled the workstream contracts set up by Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.
This follows a ruling by the Constitutional Court in March which extended Sassa’s five-year contract with CPS until March 2018, while Sassa made other plans. The court reinstated its supervisory role after Sassa failed to meet its own deadline to institutionalise the payment of social grants. Sassa plans to “phase out” CPS and have a new service provider by 1 April 2018.
Bhengu told MPs that it was not clear what SAPO’s role in the payment of social grants would be. She said a public tender would be advertised by 8 September for services that SAPO could not provide. The tender process would close on 5 October and the contract for these other services would be awarded by 26 October. “The new payment system will be tested in January 2018. Thereafter we will know if it will work,” she said.
Asked about her concerns, Bhengu said: “We are concerned about the time frame given by the Constitutional Court. We are waiting to see how SAPO will deal with paying over 17.3-million grants. We are also hoping that they will spread to more rural areas. Currently, there are about 4,000 post offices and there are 10,000 Sassa pay points. But let’s not forget that SAPO has paid grants before.”
Bhengu also said that Sassa was considering extending the lifespan of the current Sassa cards should there be delays in issuing new cards before April. “We will be communicating this to our beneficiaries once we have a better idea, to avoid any confusion,” she said.
Bhengu said the biometric data of beneficiaries had already been retrieved from CPS but not the payment data of grant recipients which would remain with CPS until next year. She said the idea was that beneficiaries would still be able to go to outlets such as Pick n Pay and Shoprite to get their grants.
She said that after April, Sassa would work towards taking over the payments itself in different phases.
Bhengu initially assured MPs that Sassa would be “sticking to our timelines” but questions by MPs revealed that a lot still needed to be done to ensure that grants are paid by 1 April next year.
When asked about the evaluation’s deadline, Zodwa Mvulane, Sassa project manager, said the companies bidding to do the evaluation all submitted their bids late on Monday. “This may delay the process,” she admitted.
Scopa chairperson Themba Godi said: “It seems Sassa is not very enthusiastic on the Post Office’s involvement. It’s as if you’ve already decided that the Post Office will not be able to handle the payments. Our main worry is that Sassa has already decided on the elements that need to be outsourced.”
Earlier in the briefing, Godi said that Dlamini had excused herself from the briefing in a letter. She was instead attending a Department of Social Development event in Pretoria.
Dlamini has previously told Parliament that Sassa’s five-year plan to take over the payment of social grants by 2021 would cost R6-billion.
Scopa MPs have asked that Sassa return to Parliament with SAPO on 5 September to clarify the role SAPO will have in the payment of grants next year. DM
Photo: Project manager Zodwa Mvulane, acting Sassa CEO Pearl Bhengu, and Chief Financial Officer Tsakeriwa Chauke in Parliament on Tuesday.