Leave it to us - Sassa CEO on grant payments

Pretoria - South African Social Services Agency (Sassa) CEO Thokozani Magwaza on Monday confirmed that President Jacob Zuma has instituted a ministerial task team that will ensure that millions of South Africans receive their social grants on April 1.

"The president has instituted a ministerial task team that is looking at the issue of the grants because people need to be paid on April 1," Magwaza said on Monday, his first day back at work after two weeks of sick leave.

"With regards to how they will be paid, we will deal with that."

He was speaking to the media after signing and accepting the Right2Know Campaign's memorandum outside the Sassa offices in Pretoria.

Right2Know picketed outside Magwaza's office in solidarity with NGO Black Sash's court application over the payment of the Sassa grants.

Right2Know's list of demands include that grants are paid out in full on April 1 and that "unlawful deductions should be stopped".

"Minister Bathabile Dlamini must go. She has flouted her responsibilities to the poor of the poorest and most vulnerable," reads the memorandum.

READ: Dlamini must go - R2K protesters on Sassa debacle

Charges laid over illegal deductions

Black Sash reportedly wants the Constitutional Court to resume its oversight of the processes around the payment of the grants after Dlamini provided scant details on the proposed extension of the grants distribution contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS).

The matter is expected to be heard in Johannesburg on Wednesday. Magwaza said he took no issue with Black Sash approaching the Constitutional Court.

"The minister previously said she would not oppose the application and we as Sassa don't intend doing so either. With regards to the illegal deductions, we know most of what Black Sash is dealing with because we are part of a ministerial task team that was looking into the unlawful deductions, we have been doing this together [with Black Sash] for three years."

Magwaza said Sassa had laid charges against those organisations that were flouting regulations. He said Sassa was in the process of addressing the matter of insourcing the grant payment service.

"The Constitutional Court has issued us certain questions and we are looking at the affidavit that we are going to submit to the Constitutional Court, answering those questions."

He said Sassa was committed to ensuring that payments to grant beneficiaries are made on April 1.

READ: Ministers reject deal between Sassa and CPS - report

Support for Dlamini

He defended the agency from allegations that it had delayed getting a new service provider for too long, saying there were many processes in motion behind the scenes.

"One of delays was caused when we went out to tender [and] there was no organisation that could make it because they were not good enough. Some withdrew at the last minute, including CPS."

Magwaza dismissed suggestions that Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini should resign and said she had his support.

"The president is the one that appoints the ministers and they account to the president. No-one can just come and order that she be fired. And, in any case, I stand fully by the minister. I have been working with her all of this time and she has been on the side of doing what is right.

"I do not think she has to go, she has done the right thing."

Last Wednesday the Constitutional Court ordered the department to explain why it would not meet the March 31 deadline to insource social grant payments.

Distribution deal rejected

In 2014, the court ruled that the contract with social grant distributor, CPS, was illegal and invalid. It suspended the order of invalidity until March 31 this year to allow the department and Sassa to insource the administrative requirements to distribute grants.

The fate of more than 17 million beneficiaries hangs in the balance as the Department of Social Department continues to battle to provide clarity over how and if it will be able to pay the social grants come April 1.

A task team of Cabinet ministers has rejected the deal between Sassa and CPS, the Mail & Guardian reported on Monday.

The deal was reportedly supposed to guarantee the payment of social grants on April 1.

On Sunday the Democratic Alliance released a letter it received from the Department of Social Development confirming that there is still no new contract between the department or Sassa with CPS for the distribution of social grants from April 1.

The letter was in response to an application by the DA in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

Gordhan to attend Scopa meeting

According to the news report, new papers before the Constitutional Court show that Sassa and CPS had agreed to a two-year, fixed-price contract earlier this month.

But according to the Mail & Guardian, a committee headed by Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe decided the negotiations with CPS "should be terminated and fresh negotiations should start only if and when the National Treasury gave its prior written approval" for the deal's violations of procurement rules, then acting Sassa CEO Wiseman Magasela told the Constitutional Court in an affidavit.

The task team includes Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, State Security Minister David Mahlobo, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, Telecommunications Minister Siyabonga Cwele, and Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor.

Meanwhile, the Presidency weighed in on the situation after reports emerged on Sunday that President Zuma's special advisor Michael Hulley had attended meetings with the minister of social development and other Sassa officials about the payments of grants.

"The Presidency is not aware of the said meetings," said presidential spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga in a statement.

Gordhan has accepted an invitation to attend a standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) meeting on Tuesday to discuss the looming social grants crisis.

Scopa confirmed on Friday that it had received a letter from Gordhan indicating his intention to account before the committee this Tuesday.

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