Saved from Sassa

It’s chill­ing to think where we might be with­out an ac­tive civil so­ci­ety

Financial Mail - - BOARDROOM TAILS -

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

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