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The Department of Social Development appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Social Development to table its progress report regarding its response to the Constitutional Court judgement that it should do all it can to ensure that it insources the payment of social grants to 17.3 million beneficiaries by March 2018.

Clear milestones have now been identified, one of which is to build internal capacity to ensure that the South African Social Agency (SASA) is in a position to dispense, in the interim, some of its mandates, said SASA’s Acting CEO, Ms Pearl Bengu. 

It is hoped that SASA will insource the payment of grants fully in 2021, she said. But also there is now a risk and mitigation plan in place to take care of any possible failure to meet the deadline of issuing of new cards, of any panic or confusion among beneficiaries or any financial risk.

The Acting CEO has also stipulated the phase-in process that will underpin its insourcing of the payment of grants. But there is no actual figure on this transition, which includes the establishment of a Corporate Bank by SASA, until it has been completed.

SASA will also introduce a new pay card to quell unauthorised deductions, Ms Bengu said. “This card is a strategy to address existing anomaly related to unauthorised deductions. The new cards will not allow any debit orders. If we do that we will uproot unscrupulous service providers will not take advantage of beneficiaries. If beneficiaries want to open their accounts, they will have to go to their respective banks.”

A member of the Committee, Ms Cherylln Dudley, asked about risks. “When will these cards be issued and how long will it take to do so? I am asking this because there is already a hysteria in the social media about because some fear that they might not get them.”

The CEO replied: “We anticipate that the issuing of cards might take a longer period. That is why we see it as a risk. It would normally take six months to issue them. But we will use our communication unit to communicate how this process will unfold to put people at ease.”

SASA is also required to manage data migration from the previous service provider to its possession. But there is a need to clarify the ownership of data between SASA, Grinrod and some beneficiaries.

Another Committee member, Ms Evelyn Wilson, wanted to know why this biometric data does not reside with SASA. In reply, the Chief Information Officer of SASA, Mr Abraham Mahlangu, stated biometric data was an outsourced service that will now be insourced. But it is difficult to be the only custodians of the biometric data of all beneficiaries because some of them have private contact with banks.

Responding to why SASA has previously overlooked the South African Post Office (SAPO) as a service provider she said: “It not true that we never wanted to work with SAPO. We are currently doing work with Post Office, we will pay them 60 million to take care of our post.”

Nnegotiations with the Post Office have been entered into and due diligence has commenced as of the 31 August 2017. The evaluation of the process will be concluded on 8 September following the conclusion of this process, she said. The first testing of processes will be in November. The final testing will be in January.  

Behind these inroads is the Advisory Committee of legal and technical experts appointed by the Constitutional Court to monitor the department’s progress in meeting the 2018 deadline, said the Minister of the Department of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini. “Due to this committee there are now work streams that could not have been done by our officials, and the report of these work streams have been adopted by the executive.”

The only set back is that there is now a payment dispute regarding their payment, said the Minister. The Chairperson of the Committee, Ms Rosemary Capa, asked who is in charge of the 10 legal and technical experts. Is it the Auditor-General or SASA and where does the Committee come in in this regard?

According to the judgement, the committee of experts report directly to the Constitutional Court. “It would be a sad day when a court judgement ignores the oversight mandate of the committee,” Ms Capa said.

“How are we expected to add value to the work of SASA when there are entities that don’t report to us. Do we have to simply comply with the Court Judgement? Do we have to abide by it without interrogating it? Let’s get a legal opinion on how do we get involved and what is our role in this matter because we are the ones who have to approve the department’s budget at the end of the day.”

Abel Mputing
7 September 2017