Cape Town - The South African Social Security Agency's (Sassa's) contingency plan to manage the cash component of the social grants system, were the Constitutional Court to deny an extension of the invalid CPS contract, was only work in progress, its acting CEO has said.
The Constitutional Court last week demanded that both Sassa and the South African Post Office (SAPO) clarify the contingency measures, put in place to deal with the payment of social grants.
This, after acting Sassa CEO Pearl Bhengu told journalists last Thursday of a potential plan to assist with cash payments, were the court to rule against extending the contract of current invalid service provider CPS.
The plan however, would be "very inconvenient", she admitted.
The court was unhappy that Sassa had told it days earlier that there was no contingency plan on paper.
In court papers filed on Monday, Bhengu clarified her response to the media, saying there was still no "feasible" contingency plan that will guarantee cash payments on April 1.
The purpose of the press briefing was to show that Sassa was ready to pay the grants of roughly 70% of beneficiaries, but needed assistance with cash payments for the rest.
"As at Tuesday, March 6, there were no formal contingency plans which could have been put into operation in the event that the extension is not granted.
"I reaffirm... that Sassa has no alternative remedy for the cash payment services and requires the input and intervention of this honourable court."
Sassa 'trying its best'
Her response to media questions was merely an attempt to show that Sassa was aware of what was required of it, were the court to deny its request.
The "contingency plan" itself has not been costed nor evaluated, and involved logistics, such as transporting elderly or disabled beneficiaries, that won't be ready by the deadline.
Her answer therefore implied that it was a last resort, were the court to rule against an extension, and was "work in progress".
"I provided an answer to a question being put to me and in a sincere attempt to demonstrate that Sassa is trying its best to deal with the matter.
"I apologise for any impression created that Sassa was not transparent with the court about whether it has a contingency plan in place in respect of the cash component."
Cash services won't be ready by April 1
SAPO too was not in a position to implement that which was required of it before the April 1 deadline with regards to the cash component, she said.
It would not be impossible to ensure the remaining beneficiaries get their cash without CPS, but it won't happen on April 1 and won't be achieved overnight, hence the need for an extension, she said.
In separate papers, SAPO CEO Mark Barnes confirmed that the Post Office was not contracted to provide cash payments for Sassa. It was nonetheless trying to assist in that regard.
However, their assistance too would not be ready by April 1, as was said at the press briefing last week, and would only help around a third of the remaining beneficiaries who need cash.
"Accordingly, SAPO has been consistent in what it has presented to the court and what it mentioned at the press briefing on March 8," Barnes said.
Concerns, Parliament meeting cancelled
Advocacy group Black Sash and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) have meanwhile registered their concern at the slow progress being made in finalising a new social grants scheme before the deadline.
Scopa cancelled a meeting on Tuesday with the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Comprehensive Social Security, after it failed to receive a response to the invitation.
Sassa also said it was unaware that Scopa had requested a meeting.
"Scopa remains concerned about the many conflicting reports about the ability of Sassa and SAPO to meet the deadline of April 1, which might negatively affect grant recipients," Scopa chairperson Themba Godi said.
NGO Black Sash - the original complainants in the case against Sassa - said the delayed procurement of a new service provider for cash payments was worrying.
New tender processes must be wrapped soon
The tender deadline was originally postponed from February 28, and risks being postponed again.
"We are working with shifting deadlines yet again, as it is unclear when Sassa will appoint a new service provider," it said in a statement on Tuesday.
The procurement procedure needed to be wrapped up as soon as possible, so that the bid to extend the CPS contract does not extend beyond six months.
Sassa will on Wednesday appear before the Portfolio Committee on Social Development to provide an update to Parliament.
The Constitutional Court reserved judgment last Tuesday in Sassa's application to extend the CPS contract.
It has yet to provide a date for when it will make a ruling.