PARLIAMENT – Parliament’s watchdog public accounts committee (Scopa) on Tuesday, gave the Social Security Agency’s of South Africa (Sassa) a fortnight to submit a detailed strategic plan on taking over welfare grant payments after it struggled to provide detail on preparations, seemingly for fear of contradicting Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.
The demand followed a five-hour-long briefing by Sassa’s CEO Thokozani Magwaza at which Dlamini was present for roughly half the time and refused to take questions about her claim that it would cost R6 billion to prepare the agency to pay out grants.
“I really find it is unfair because we are being asked a question and we make an estimation out of the work we have done and we say clearly this is going to stretch over a period of five years. It was very clear and we are still going to go back to the portfolio committee and the select committee and specify or give a proper budget on the whole programme and therefore Scopa will come when the right time comes,” the minister said.
Dlamini was responding to a question from Democratic Alliance MP, Tim Breuteseth, over the financial projection she made last week which sparked a renewed outcry over Sassa’s apparent lack of readiness to take over grant payment once the current arrangement with private contractor Cash Paymaster Services expires.
The minister stated repeatedly that “Sassa is a very difficult space”.
She also dismissed suggestions from other opposition MPs that her decision to use security staff provided by the department, instead of the police, was irregular expenditure.
Dlamini hammered the point that she had to protect her family as they were receiving threats at the time welfare payment hung in the balance as Cash Paymaster Services’ contract was due to expire and Sassa was found incapable of stepping into the breach.
Magwaza came under sharp criticism from MPs for appearing reluctant to answer questions about Sassa’s preparations, saying key issues would be thrashed out on Wednesday at a workshop with the South African Post Office. The post office is a favoured candidate to help handle the transition once CPS’s renewed term ends.
Magwaza has remained adamant that, whatever the circumstances, CPS would be phased out by the end of next March.
He said it would only become clearer on Wednesday at a workshop whether the South African Post Office would then step in as a “solution integrator” that would resume responsibility for a new interim structure “lock, stock and barrel”, or whether certain aspects of a new system would be put to tender.
Only then could Sassa approach National Treasury for funds for a systems transfer, he said.
“Things are happening…. We want to finalise everything and then put it in writing. Part of it is going to be done tomorrow in the workshop.”
He added that his caution partly lay in the fact that “we are reporting things that we have not reported to the minister”.
While Dlamini stepped out of the meeting, he conceded to MPs that he did not know how she had arrived at the figure of R6-billion and suggested Sassa could be ready to assume grant payment in less than five years, the period the minister had said was needed.
The relationship between Dlamini and Magwaza is historically fraught, their differences in handling Sassa’s duty to report to the Constitutional Court on preparations to take over grant payment having spilled into the open in March.
But the CEO was clear on the issue of data migration, giving the committee the assurance that by January next year all the data of the recipients of some 17 million welfare grants would be under the control of Sassa.
“Around the end of October we will start with the migration of data… by January the data will be migrated into Sassa’s environment, all of it.”
Scopa chairman Temba Godi issued a statement after the meeting saying the committee has asked Sassa to submit a “detailed social grant payment strategic plan” in two weeks’ time.
“Scopa has also requested that, once Sassa has provided the Constitutional Court with its submission on 17 June 2017, it immediately supply Scopa with a copy of the submission.”
– African News Agency (ANA)