Saved from Sassa
It’s chilling to think where we might be without an active civil society
You know you’ve done a pretty good job as a crisis committee when nobody notices you’ve stopped doing it. The experts appointed by the Constitutional Court to save the country from the consequences of chronic mismanagement by the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) were of course tagged as a panel, not a crisis committee. But let’s face it, they were sent in to sort out a crisis.
This month they presented their 10th and final report to the court. It was as insightful, detailed and instructive as the previous nine. By their own admission the problems at Sassa are far from over; Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) is still clinging onto about 2-million beneficiaries through Easypay Everywhere cards, and they indicate the new Sassa contract with the SA Post Office is deeply problematic. The panel has serious reservations about the Post Office’s ability to do the job expected of it.
The first of the panel’s reports was delivered to the court in September 2017 and gave the remarkably refreshing impression that here at last we had people who grasped what was going on and understood the potentially enormous dangers that lay ahead.
For anyone who had tracked the many stunningly incomprehensible presentations made to various parliamentary portfolio committees by Sassa and Bathabile Dlamini in her former role as minister of social development, the expert panel’s arrival came as a huge relief.
As late as December 2016 Dlamini was insisting Sassa would be able to take over from CPS at the end of March 2017. In mid-march the court did the necessary and ruled that CPS was under a constitutional obligation to continue paying social grants and extended its contract for another 12 months. During that period Sassa and CPS would be closely monitored by the court and a panel of independent technical advisers.
In June last year the names of the high-powered panel members were released. They included former Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus, head of the National Payment System Tim Masela, ANC veteran Mavuso Msimang, IT expert Mmamolatelo Mathekga and Deloitte director Angela Bester. These are the people who essentially micromanaged Sassa until the end of September.
That any of this happened, that SA was saved from the mayhem that would have followed the collapse of the social grant system, was down to civil society, in particular the persistent efforts of the Black Sash and Freedom Under Law, with the support of Corruption Watch.
These underresourced NGOS were effective against a well-resourced combination of bureaucratic thuggery and corporate greed thanks to our excellent judicial system.
It’s chilling to think where the country might be had civil society not been as active as it was in the past few years. And those frustrated that no-one has been put behind bars for their role in hollowing out our state should take comfort from the fact that now people know you can get caught and that there are consequences.
At least within the government that seems to be the case. It might take a lot longer for someone in the private sector world of Steinhoff to be held accountable. Isn’t it time to consider sending in a Sassa-type panel of experts to trawl through the Steinhoff wreckage?
It might take a lot longer for someone in the private sector to be held accountable