By Zohra Dawood, Director
Centre for Unity in Diversity
The Portfolio Committee on Social Development might have been bracing itself for a much-awaited report from the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) on its 2016/17 performance.
The Committee further awaited an update on effecting the Constitutional Court judgment. Predictably, they walked away no wiser from their 5 October meeting.
From media accounts of the proceedings, the ANC majority on the Committee effectively blocked a challenge from the opposition by dismissing the attempt for progress per the Constitutional Court order as an attempt to “cloud the issues”. The acting CEO of SASSA survived the meeting unscathed.
SASSA has by all accounts not covered itself in glory over this reporting period. There are unmet Constitutional Court deadlines under scrutiny; “deviations” in contracting of service providers; hirings-and-firings of key personnel, including its CEO and Director-General, and irregular expenditure amounting to R1.4 billion, according to the Auditor-General. This, on top of its failure to sign a contract with the South African Post Office (SAPO) to assume the role of distribution agency once the extension to Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) comes to an end in March 2018. The deadline to sign a contract with the SAPO (week of 20 September 2017) has come and gone, and still no word, save for a comment by SASSA spokesperson that the matter was an internal one and an announcement would be made “very soon”.
Perhaps the public should have taken a cue from the Minister of Social Development’s introductory remarks at the 6 September 2017 meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Social Development. She flippantly referred to SAPO as follows, “a month ago, SASSA has signed some agreement with SAPO and they were going to pay R60 million for them to deliver”. The Minister added that she did not want to go into the disadvantages of that and “would go into that issue on another day”. The lack of truth, process and or logic was also revealed when the Minister and SASSA officials told the Portfolio Committee that they had completed a due diligence process on SAPO. This was directly contradicted upon investigation and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) was eventually contracted to undertake the due diligence exercise, presumably with a proof of concept by SAPO underpinning this process.
In the same Portfolio Committee Meeting, Minister Dlamini added that, “the Post Office was not a messiah that could just come in”. Perhaps it would behoove the Minister to remind herself that the complementarity of two state agencies working hand in glove was in the public and government interest. This in the light of the billions paid to current illegal service provider, CPS.
SAPO officials confirmed at its meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications – also on 5 October 2017 – that there had been no recent communications with the Minister of Social Development, or SASSA officials, on a pending contract. The lack of will appears apparent.
Atop the Minister’s additional headaches is the looming expiration of SASSA cards in December 2017. Millions of beneficiaries are no closer to obtaining answers from the Agency, save for a standard response that beneficiaries continue to use these expired cards. Where will the poor and desperate turn to if they run into problems with non-functional cards at year-end? SASSA clearly does not have the human capacity to assist its clients as it struggles with 19 000 vacant posts across the country, with funds to employ only half that number.
The task of assuming the responsibility it outsourced a decade ago, is a mammoth one. In addition, SASSA’s track record does not bode well. It would have to register as a banking institution, effect direct payments to beneficiaries, verify existing and new beneficiaries, obtain in-house capacity to implement a bio-metric system and ensure legal and procedural compliance in respect of deductions from beneficiaries.
It is not enough for Minister Dlamini to throw tantrums in public – and especially in Parliament – and run screaming to her principals for cover. The Ministry and Department of Social Development are the stewards of an annual budget of R160 billion, which as public resource, provides a safety net to millions of beneficiaries.
As the Constitutional Court’s March 2018 deadline looms large and the contract with CPS is deemed invalid, the future of 18 million people will hang in the balance. This will add to an existing climate of fear and uncertainty in the country. South Africans deserve better 23 years into democracy.