The SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) has apologised for delays in making payments to beneficiaries of a R350 social relief grant meant for millions of unemployed during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The apology comes after the agency came under heavy criticism for only managing to pay 10 people so far during a trial run out of 2.6 million approved applicants.
In a statement on Monday, Sassa spokesperson Paseka Letsatsi said Sassa CEO Totsie Memela extended an "unreserved apology to those inconvenienced by the slower than expected process".
Letsatsi also explained that the 10 were a sample used to test the efficacy of the payment mechanism.
Explaining the cause of the delays, Memela-Khambula said in the statement: "We received just under five million applications for this new grant and we had to compare information provided by applicants with other government and private databases to ensure that people with an income and recipients of other social grants are not included in these applications.
"In addition, we had to remove duplicated and incomplete applications, which account for nearly 50% of all applications received. Up to now, we have eliminated a number of undeserving applicants and this has saved the fiscus close to R14 million, which could have skyrocketed to over R81 million by October. As soon as the vetting of applications is completed, the payments will start rolling in at an even faster pace."
The DA says it is "ridiculous" that only 10 people have so far been paid.
In a statement on Friday, the DA's Bridget Masango said Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu and Memela should hang their heads in shame.
"The reality is that the president announced the special Covid-19 social relief of distress grant on 21 April, 2020; therefore, Sassa had more than three weeks to plan as well as to vet and approve a significant proportion of applications," said Masango.
Masango said the DA acknowledges that it is no small feat to vet and approve 3.5 million people in a short amount of time, but Sassa should have done better.
"It's ridiculous that only 10 people have received this grant and no amount of spin will justify this mammoth failure on the part of Minister Zulu and CEO Memela," said Masango in a statement.
The agency told Parliament last week that it had received R4.9 million applications and that it was a difficult task to verify those who qualified.
Masango said: "The department and Sassa have seemingly misled the nation when they indicated that payments for this grant would commence on 15 May, 2020. Clearly, they are in over their heads and do not have a handle on this special grant. This was evident in Parliament on Thursday when the DA asked the CEO how many recipients of the special grant had been paid, and instead of answering the question, she proceeded to give a long-winded explanation on vetting applicants and testing the system."
Masango claimed this was another indication of how the government was neglecting the poorest people in this country in the most awful manner.
Social development department spokesperson Lumka Oliphant had not responded to our questions at the time of writing. The comments will be added once received.