UPDATE: Sassa has withdrawn its application to the Constitutional Court for an extension of the contract with Cash Paymaster Services. The agency says it will lodge the case again – but time is running out. Read more about this development.
The South African Social Services Agency’s (Sassa) relationship with social grants service provider Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) must be investigated, and Parliament be shown the respect it deserves by the agency.
These and other issues came up in an intense hearing of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), in which Sassa leadership appeared to explain the agency’s R1-billion wasteful and irregular expenditure recorded, as well as explain their project plan for the grants rollout post CPS contract. Numerous media reports have recently painted a picture of Sassa not having a solid plan for ensuring a smooth transition to grants distribution come 1 April. Sassa’s contract with CPS ends on 31 March, and until recently, the public had been under the impression that the agency will take it over as envisaged.
If Parliament does not fully investigate the situation at Sassa, said ANC MP Mnyamezeli Booi, it will be failing in its duty to the South African public. He called on committee chairperson Themba Godi to institute a probe into expenditure patterns at Sassa as well as the consequences that have befallen those responsible for irregular conduct.
Two noticeable no-shows were Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza – who is said to be on sick leave – and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, much to the irritation of committee members, who felt that the two were not recognising the importance of the process. “I personally feel that your department does not take Parliament seriously,” said Booi, following a short presentation by Sassa’s CFO Tsakeriwa Chauke, who had attempted to explain the operational difficulties. He added that Magwaza was simply dodging the accountability process, which reflects badly on him and his organisation.
The DA’s Tim Brauteseth questioned Sassa programme manager Zodwa Mvulane on the issues that led to the delay in the handover project. According to Mvulane, Sassa had no other feasible option than to go with a new contract with CPS. She also gave background to other options that had been considered in the past, which included the South African Post Office and commercial banks and said that in the end Sassa could not go with either. Brauteseth then asked what will happen if CPS declines Sassa’s offer for a new contract, to which Mvulane said there was a plan B. She said the official meeting between Sassa and CPS over the new contract would be held on Wednesday.
Mkhuleko Hlengwa of IFP went on to say that consequence management is needed for the case of Sassa. “We cannot sit here and pretend that we have an emergency on our hands, when Sassa has known for years that the contract with CPS would eventually end at some point. Whether or not it was declared invalid is irrelevant.”
He and EFF MP Ntombovuyo Mente both called for an urgent intervention from Godi in the form of summoning Dlamini urgently to appear before the committee.
One of the issues that was meant to be discussed was a 2014 irregular expenditure of R316-million by Sassa to CPS, over which Corruption Watch has taken the agency to court. In its communication with Corruption Watch, Sassa claimed – through then CEO Virginia Petersen – that the payment had been for CPS’s re-registration of beneficiaries. Corruption Watch submitted to court that the re-registration process had been provided for in the original grants contract of 2012 and should not have been paid for separately.