Cape Town - Scopa MPs were left "sceptical" following a presentation by the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), which claimed the South African Post Office (SAPO) will be ready for grants testing by November.
Sassa's proposed partnership with SAPO is still on, despite the resignation of former CEO Thokozani Magwaza, who was leading the talks, the standing committee on public accounts heard on Tuesday.
His replacement, interim CEO Pearl Bhengu, told Scopa on Tuesday that a contract with the SAPO was imminent.
A Request for Proposal was closed on July 24, with a bid evaluation starting on Wednesday and due to end on August 25.
SAPO should therefore be awarded the tender on August 31, and a contract signed by September 8, Bhengu said.
"We are still waiting for the proposal to be finalised," she said.
Setting up and development will then begin on October 10, with testing to begin from November 1.
Various MPs registered their concern that Bhengu was only recently appointed to the post, and questioned whether Sassa would avoid another "mad dash" come March 2018 ahead of the Constitutional Court's deadline.
'Will Post Office be ready?'
Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mkuleko Hlengwa and Democratic Alliance MP Tim Brauteseth quizzed Bhengu on the specifics of SAPO's capabilities, especially regarding IT.
Bhengu could not answer their questions completely, as they are awaiting the finalisation of SAPO's bid evaluation, only due next Friday, August 25.
She however did say that SAPO has been developing its plan since a workshop with Sassa on May 17, which gave SAPO roughly two months to prepare.
They do not know yet which areas SAPO will not be able to inherit in the six requirements needed in total.
In those areas that SAPO cannot fulfil the role, secondary tenders will be issued from September 8 to fill the gaps.
Those tenders will close on October 5, awarded on October 26, contracted on November 3, and the successful candidates ready to start testing by January 1, 2018, three months before the Constitutional Court deadline.
An agitated African National Congress MP Nyami Booi said they had not been convinced by the presentation, and were sceptical that the answers would be provided by August 25.
Economic Freedom Fighters MP Ntombovuyo Veronica-Mente said they were showing "delaying tactics", and was afraid that the secondary roles will be filled by CPS "through the backdoor".
Public viewing of bids
Brauteseth also asked Bhengu and chief financial officer Tsakeriwa Chauke about the secondary bidding processes. He wanted to know if Sassa would make the bidding process open to the viewing public, given the irregular tenders of the past.
Bhengu said they had not thought about the possibility. The evaluations themselves would be handled in-house, but would need to consult Treasury if the actual bid presentations could be viewed by the public.
Were Treasury to approve the notion, they would be open to the idea, she said.
Some of the risks facing the new team when testing will be: A delay in issuing of new Sassa cards, confusion among beneficiaries, especially without good communication, and uncertainty among Sassa staff.
Bhengu also said 100% of beneficiary biometric data had been transferred from CPS, and the transfer of other information is ongoing. Beneficiary data will be secured by Sassa's SOCPEN interface system.
Dlamini skips meeting
As for Magwaza's exit, Scopa MPs did not grill those Sassa members present on his controversial resignation, admitting they would not have the answers they seek.
They will wait for Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini to make herself available to be quizzed on the matter.
Dlamini had excused herself from the meeting on Sunday, saying she had to attend a government function in line with her department.
Fears were raised in July after Magwaza, who had made progress in migrating the Sassa grants system away from illegal service provider Cash Paymaster services, resigned under suspicious circumstances.
Media reports revealed Magwaza had received death threats for his work, with standing committee on public accounts chair Themba Godi suggesting he was forced into accepting an early package.
Sassa project lead Zodwa Mvulane also said that Dlamini's ministerial work streams, which were first set up in 2013, only delivered on three deliverables in the past four years in advising on the grants takeover.
Their contracts were cancelled on July 10, costing the department a total of R48m of a R53m budget.
They have been replaced by a panel of experts set up by the Constitutional Court earlier this year, and agreed to by both the department and non-government organisation Black Sash.