Opinion | Covid-19 grant is a game-changer

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 A view of a SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) card.
A view of a SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) card.
Papi Morake

I’m in awe as to how a grant that was set up under hard lockdown, where staff was drastically minimised in offices and face-to-face interaction with grant applicants, was possible.

How this grant’s systems were put together without going to tender for at least six months provides an illuminating case study of how a government-business collaboration can benefit a developing country.

It’s also interesting how the South African Social Services Agency (Sassa) managed to implement such a mammoth technology-based assignment with neither extra staff nor funding.

I leave the details of how all this was achieved under such hostile circumstances to the research world, lest some of us public servants are likened to fish seeking praise for swimming.

ALSO READ | IFP wants action over duplicated Sassa grant cards.

What is discouraging is that our toxic political environment continues to unabatedly manufacture a case for corruption where it doesn’t exist.

Our vulnerable media buys these narratives without question, in pursuit of headlines, because, in its world, a story that doesn’t bleed won’t sell.

Who dares to question if you mention corruption and Covid-19 in one sentence anyway?

When are stories of people like Thando Makhubu, who started a creamery in Soweto using his R350 Covid-19 grant and now employs four people, going to be told?

Doomsayers have to be reminded that, contrary to prevalent perceptions, not a single cent was stolen in this project, and yes, that has to be normalised.

Oh yes, some undeserving applicants for this grant were erroneously paid.

About 40 000 fraudulent applications out of more than nine million were detected and only 400 were paid. Just once.

The rest were not paid, but the headlines made about this development suggest that all 40 000 were paid.

A legal process to get these 400 imposters to pay back the money is at an advanced stage and they will regret their actions, given the consequence management that will follow, and copycats will be deterred.

Something learnt from this experience is that government has to willingly share information if the fraud battle is to be won.

The Auditor-General has to find a role right at the beginning of processes rather than coming at the end when damage has been done.

I’m saying this because, had Sassa been provided with all the databases it requested a year ago from that office, 40 000 potential fraudsters wouldn’t be making headlines today.

ALSO READ | Post Office calls calm as misinformed grant beneficiaries flock their offices.

One year on, it’s still  not possible to access Government Employees’ Pension Fund data, which would have been useful in identifying public servants who took their chances in applying for the grant.

It’s this kind of lack of support that works against efforts to prevent fraud.

This pandemic cost the country a lot, but imagine the savings accrued from the travel restrictions that forced government to adapt to things such as virtual meetings.

Sassa has been able to take its technological capacity to scale and eliminate manual processes on a daily basis.

The new normal also introduced entrepreneurs into the economy with the support of the Covid-19 grant.

To borrow from Shakespeare: “Sweet are the uses of adversity.”

• Kgomoco Diseko is a public servant.

Kgomoco Diseko
Kgomoco Diseko

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