Sassa unlikely to meet grant payments takeover deadline, says panel

An independent panel has filed a damning first report, accusing Sassa of blocking access to information, and of failing to have a concrete plan or contingency measures in place to meet the court’s directives.

Sassa CEO Pearl Bhengu (left), Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini at a media briefing. Picture: EWN

CAPE TOWN - The social grants payment system could once again be at risk in the new year.

An independent panel that includes Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu and former Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus has delivered a damning first progress report to the Constitutional Court slamming the Social Security Agency for lacking an implementation plan for the takeover of grant payments.

The panel, which has been tasked by the court with overseeing progress made by the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) in transitioning to an in-house grant payment system, is now calling into question Sassa’s ability to phase out the current service provider, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), by next year’s deadline.

It believes that Sassa’s timelines for a takeover by a new service provider are unrealistic and can only be achieved by compromising the quality of work required to realise the project milestones.

“The measures taken so far by Sassa, together with the proposed timelines, are unlikely to enable a seamless transition to a new system for the payment of social grants by 1 April 2018,” says the report.

A major concern for the panel is that Sassa has to date been unable to put a price tag on the transition.

There are also no contingency measures in place should a plan for the Post Office to take over the payment of grants not materialise.

The panel is advising that Sassa enlist the help of either the Government Technical Advisory Centre or an independent project management officer to assist it in managing the transition process.

But not only has Sassa failed to meet any of its project deadlines, the panel has complained that it’s also been blocking access to information and affecting their ability to carry out its court mandate.

The Constitutional Court has directed the panel to file reports every three months.

But it’s been waiting since July to see the request for proposal issued to the Post Office.

By the time it compiled its report last month, the panel had still not received the documents.

The panel says the lack of an exit plan in respect of CPS presents a serious risk to the continued payment of grants.

The panel is recommending that the Constitutional Court direct Sassa and CPS to fully comply with all requests by the panel for access to information.

It wants the court to compel Sassa to conduct a substantive cost-benefit analysis of implementation options.

The panel is also advising that Sassa and CPS report to the court on the measures taken to protect the personal information of grant recipients.

According to the report, the panel made four requests to Sassa in July alone to see the bid documents related to a proposed payment arrangement with the Post Office.

But with these documents still outstanding, the panel has been unable to evaluate the bid, as required by the court.

“The failure, for whatever reason, to provide the relevant information calls into question the integrity and competence of Sassa, which must reflect on its ability to execute its responsibilities,” warns the panel.

Sassa has confirmed that its insourcing proposal will cost at least R6.4 billion over five years - but the panel says it has “serious concerns” about the lack of justification for implementing this proposal.

For its part, the panel says CPS has not heeded requests to hand over its audited financial statements, providing only unverified extracts related to its grant payment business.

Sassa pays CPS R2 billion a year to disburse grants.