Minister to make announcement on social grant payments switchover

Cape Town - Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini is soon to make an announcement about the payment of social grants by the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) amid fears of a disaster when the agency takes over direct payments next year.

Sassa is scheduled to take over the payments of grants to more than 17 million beneficiaries at the end of March 2017 when the current contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) expires.

But there are growing concerns that the agency, with its record of wasted expenditure, staffing problems, fraud and failure to curb illegal and unauthorised deductions from social grants by private companies preying on grant recipients, will not manage the takeover, possibly leaving millions of beneficiaries in the lurch.

Attempts by increasingly uneasy Members of Parliament to get reassurance from Sassa, or from Dlamini, have been mostly unsuccessful, with Dlamini telling the Standing Committee on Public Accounts last week that it was her "wish" that everything would be ready by April 1.

Rumours that the current contract with CPS might simply be extended were fuelled by remarks made by Serge Belamant, chief executive of CPS parent company Net1.

"We believe that at the end of the day, Sassa may not simply terminate our engagement for what's planned on the 1st of April, it might take quite some time before this will actually happen, if at all," Belamant told shareholders on November 3.

'National crisis'

But questions from GroundUp to Belamant and Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza on the possibility of the contract being extended went unanswered.

On behalf of Magwaza, Sassa spokesperson Kgomoco Diseko had only this to say: "The issue of Sassa taking over payment of grants will be announced soon by Minister Bathabile Dlamini and we will communicate the date as soon as it is finalised."

Following a finding by the Constitutional Court in 2014 that the CPS payments tender was invalid, Sassa promised the court in October 2015 that the agency would take over the payment system in-house.

Black Sash advocacy manager Elroy Paulus said, if the rumours of an extension of the CPS contract were true, the Constitutional Court would have to give guidance on how a contract which had been ruled invalid could be extended.

"All parties need to answer to the more than 17 million social grant beneficiaries whose very survival depends on the effective payment of grants monthly," said Paulus in a statement.

"There cannot be any further delay in holding Sassa to account for what could potentially become democratic South Africa's biggest national crisis."

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