Members of Parliament have raised concerns over a lack of urgency and strategic planning by the South African Social Security Agency to take over the disbursement of social welfare grants from Cash Paymaster Services.
Sassa appeared before Parliament’s public accounts watchdog yesterday almost two months to the day that the Constitutional Court ruled on the extension of the CPS’s contract to disburse grants.
Both Sassa and CPS are under a constitutional obligation to make sure that grants are paid in the 12 months between April 1 2017 and March 31 2018.
MPs were shocked however when details of the takeover plan were not forthcoming. All Sassa officials said was that there was a plan and they would be meeting with the South Africa Post Office today to ascertain the role and capacity of the post office.
Sassa chief executive Thokozani Magwaza said the workshop would help ascertain the service the post office could render in grant distribution and their thinking as Sassa embarks on the build, operate and transfer system where the Post Office, or whomever comes in, will help them prepare to take over.
“If we go that route it will help us to take over the full stock of what is supposed to happen and Sassa then takes over ... we envisage that is going to be an issue of two to three years, to the maximum of five years,” he added.
Magwaza said they had set themselves a period of five years to take over “if there are hiccups” but less than that if things go according to plan.
Magwaza said the issue was to be able to file their plan to the Constitutional Court by June 17. This, he said, was within their programme. The plan was still being drafted and would be given to Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini by next week.
MPs pressed Sassa on the content and substance of what they would be filing to the court.
“By the time we file, we would have come up with a business plan and that’s the reason why we are having the workshop with the Post Office tomorrow. It needs to incorporated into the plan of the things we will be telling the court,” Magwaza responded.
MPs were not convinced.
“My problem is that you are speaking in tentative terms; it’s as if you woke up after the court judgment and said well we have a problem in our hands,” said chairperson of the standing committee on public accounts, Themba Godi of the African People’s Convention.
Godi said they wanted the substance and content of the measures or a legal contract that Sassa would have in place come April 2018 when CPS was expected to leave.
The ANC’s Ezekiel Kekana added that he was concerned in terms of the timelines.
“Listening to the presenter, it seems as if the court hearing was yesterday. Are they confident that they will be ready after the expiry of 12 months because I am not convinced after what I heard,” he said.
The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Veronica Mente noted that the language Sassa officials used was the same they used prior to the expiry of the CPS contract.
“The officials say they will adhere to what the Constitutional Court said. This is exactly the same language that was used prior to the expiry of the CPS. What is it that you are doing that will put us at a comfortable place where we say what was said to us makes us comfortable?”
Sassa said it was readying itself to ensure that CPS was phased out. This included looking into readiness in relation to Sassa having Information Communication Technology (ICT) systems required to ensure that it became a full paymaster.
The agency was also working on procurement for a new service provider that will come on board as of April 1 2018.
MPs were taken aback when Magwaza knew nothing about the R6 billion figure that Dlamini told another parliamentary committee last week would be needed for the grant payment take over.
“As Sassa, we have not sat down to discuss what we need, and that’s all I’m going to say about it,” Magwaza said in the absence of Dlamini, who was attending another meeting.
When she later returned to the meeting and was asked for clarity, Dlamini responded:
“I really find it is unfair because we are being asked a question and we make an estimation out of the work we have done and we say clearly this is going to stretch over a period of five years. It was very clear and we are still going to go back to the portfolio committee and the select committee and specify or give a proper budget on the whole programme and therefore Scopa will come when the right time comes,” she said to disapproving murmuring in the room.
The ANC later issued a statement saying it was concerned at the slow progress by Sassa.