SASSA's last-minute scramble to pay grants

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The government welfare agency promises to pay all SASSA beneficiaries.
The government welfare agency promises to pay all SASSA beneficiaries.

The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) has committed to use the paymaster general account at the SA Reserve Bank (SARB) to ensure payments to social grant beneficiaries.

SASSA has set up this contingency plan in case the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) declines the request to extend the suspension of invalidity of the Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) contract by six months.

The social security agency made the request for the contract extension to allow it more time to usher out CPS, as it works to phase in the South African Post Office (SAPO) as new service provider.

According to SASSA, it has an account with SARB and will use this to pay beneficiaries.

"This will have no impact on SAPO's ability to execute its obligations and also means a full banking licence is not required," explains the agency.

SASSA has made news headlines yet again this year, with tensions running high that millions of beneficiaries will be left stranded when the CPS contract ends on 31 March.

Last year, millions of vulnerable social grant beneficiaries feared they would not receive their monies, while SASSA fumbled to find a suitable provider to take over from CPS. The ConCourt intervened to avert a social grants payment disaster.

The ConCourt suspended the order of invalidity and ordered a year-long extension of the contract until the end of this month. It also ordered former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini and SASSA to use the time to find an alternative service provider to distribute social grants from 1 April.

In a statement issued this morning, the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on comprehensive social security also seeks to reiterate government's commitment to pay social grants.

The IMC is charged with overseeing that SASSA and SAPO meet the deadline to take over the social grants payments process so that all beneficiaries receive their monies come 1 April.

The IMC statement reads: "In the year in which we celebrate the centenary of the birth of two of the giants of our liberation struggle, Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu, and in the month in which we celebrate human rights, the right to dignity afforded by social grants to over 10 million South Africans must be celebrated, upheld and protected."

Meanwhile, an inquiry into whether Dlamini should be held personally liable for the SASSA payments crisis heard that she was an "evasive and obtrusive witness".

Yesterday was the last day for closing arguments in the inquiry that sought to determine the former social development minister's role in last year's social grants crisis. The ConCourt-mandated inquiry began in January.

Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts and human rights organisations like the Black Sash have publicly slammed Dlamini, saying she failed in her duties as a minister.

A representative of the Black Sash reportedly stated Dlamini's report back to the inquiry was not befitting of a responsible minister.

Reports also noted the lawyer of former SASSA CEO Thokozani Magwaza said his client was a victim of the minister's dishonesty, and that she should shoulder responsibility for the payments crisis.

Democratic Alliance MP Bridget Masango added it was embarrassing to hear of how Dlamini ran the social security agency like her own spaza shop.

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