SASSA grants solution report 'lacks significant details'

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The Inter-Ministerial Committee is committed to find a solution for future SASSA payments.
The Inter-Ministerial Committee is committed to find a solution for future SASSA payments.

Although a progress report and implementation plan to resolve the social grants impasse has been presented to Parliament, the Black Sash is concerned it lacks significant details.

Yesterday, minister in the presidency and chairperson of the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC), Jeff Radebe, announced that an implementation protocol has been concluded and signed between the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and the South African Post Office (SAPO).

SASSA and SAPO have been at odds and failed to find a working solution in relation to the distribution of social grants, which is required to meet the directive of the Constitutional Court (ConCourt). As a result, the impasse between the two government entities required the intervention of the IMC.

Radebe, in his capacity as IMC chairperson, yesterday briefed a joint meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and the Portfolio Committee on Social Development on the latest developments regarding the SASSA grants saga.

He told the members that over the last 10 days a lot had been achieved, including signing and concluding the implementation protocol agreement, paving the way to find a collaborative agreement towards the payment of social grants.

Radebe explained: "The implementation protocol is an overarching agreement in terms of the Inter-Governmental Relations Framework Act of 2005. The collaboration between SASSA and SAPO is further enabled by Section 238(b) of the Constitutions of RSA, Section 4(2) (b) of the South African Social Security Act of 2004 which allows SASSA to do anything necessary for the realisation of the agency's objects, and the National Integrated ICT White Paper Policy. This protocol allows SAPO to provide SASSA by 1 April 2018, subject to cost-effectiveness."

"This protocol forms the foundation for the signing of a further detailed collaborative agreement between SASSA and SAPO with the detailed project plan which will be submitted to the IMC by the 6th December 2017 and to the panel of experts and Constitutional Court by the 8th of December 2017," he added.

However, the Black Sash, which champions the protection of social grant recipients' personal data, expressed some reservations over these recent developments.

Although an implementation protocol between SAPO and SASSA has been signed, a service level agreement will be subject to cost-effectiveness, says the Black Sash.

"The card body production and distribution function will be further subjected to price competitiveness. This leaves the door wide open for new tenders and may prolong the implementation time frame beyond 31 March 2018."

The human rights group further points out the IMC report identifies implementation stages without clear milestones and time frames, including the hand over from the current service provider, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), to SAPO or new service providers.

The IMC's proposed plan is also silent on who will manage the 10 000 SASSA pay points, it states. "The Black Sash is disappointed that the IMC's report did not include details for how the confidential data of over 17 million social grant beneficiaries will be protected as per the March 2017 Constitutional Court order."

Hybrid approach

Radebe told members that government is exploring the introduction of a hybrid model, as previously confirmed in a National Treasury report.

A hybrid model proposes a new approach to how social grant payments are distributed in SA.

CPS, a Net1 UEPS Technologies subsidiary, has been distributing social grants on behalf of SASSA since it was awarded the tender to carry out these services in 2012.

SASSA's contract with CPS expired in March, but the ConCourt ordered the company to continue payments until the end of March 2018 to avoid a social grants catastrophe.

According to Radebe, a dedicated team, which was established as a technical committee, has confirmed a public sector-led hybrid model, which includes a partnership with home affairs, the State Security Agency and financial institutions.

The hybrid approach, he stated, will allow a set of public sector and private sector service providers by offering beneficiaries maximum choice, access and convenience.

The Black Sash noted that while it looks forward to the creation of a special protected and affordable bank account for social grant beneficiaries, further clarity is needed about the concept for a hybrid model involving the banks.

"Commercial banks should not see this as an opportunity to fleece beneficiaries of their meagre social grants by targeting financial products at them. This special account must prohibit unauthorised, fraudulent and unlawful deductions.

"Until SASSA, with the support of the IMC, files a detailed implementation plan on 8 December 2017 with the Constitutional Court, the Black Sash remains cautiously optimistic," it concludes.

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