Déjà vu on grants
Not so long ago, in fact at the beginning of this year, it was touch and go whether the social development department and its SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) would be able to pay grants after April 1. When the matter was brought before the Constitutional Court, the justices correctly summarised it as a self-created crisis. There was then a last-ditch agreement between the department and the previous supplier, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), to continue with the contract for another 12 months.
It was déjà vu this week when Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini appeared before Parliament to give a “progress” report on a new contract to ensure that another grants payment provider could take over when the extended CPS agreement ends in March.
Again, she and her officials came to report the bad news that Sassa could not agree with SA Post Office (Sapo) on a system to provide grants.
Rather, the point was that Sassa was not convinced that Sapo could handle the disbursement of grants. This was despite the two institutions previously having created the impression that they were working on sorting out the details.
However, MPs were shocked to learn this week that the technical teams, consisting of experienced banking experts from Sapo and Sassa’s grant distribution people, had not even met. It is difficult to fathom why two state institutions cannot agree on a meeting to perform a crucial state function.
It can only point to a lack of political will to sort out the mess. There are only 98 working days to the end of the current contract and it feels like we are creating another crisis. Once again, it appears Sassa and Dlamini are dragging their feet in reaching an agreement, sparking fears that they are bent on handing it to CPS again.
Sapo is not a paragon of excellence in delivery. Hence the Auditor-General suggested a dry run to test its systems to get an indication of whether it would work.
Compounding the crisis is a recalcitrant minister who is imagining opposition conspiracies to send her to jail and is least bothered to press for a solution. But even worse is her principal, President Jacob Zuma and his spurious reasons not to fire her. We can only hope that the MPs baby-sitting this process will not let go until a solution is found.