SASSA heading for another crisis, say MPs

Panel of experts slams SASSA for failing to provide information

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Photo of Pearl Bhengu
Acting SASSA CEO Pearl Bhengu (centre) told MPs that it “was not necessary” to attend today’s meeting. Archive photo: Barbara Maregele

“This is heading for another disaster,” remarked ANC MP Vilhelmina Mogotsi after the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) did not show up at Parliament to update it on a new grant payment system Wednesday morning.

The agency was meant to update Parliament’s social development committee on phasing out the current social grants payment contractor, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), and the possible introduction of the SA Post Office in its place.

The contract with CPS is due to end on 31 March 2018, but SASSA has been silent about the future of the social grant payment system.

The agency has also failed to meet several deadlines set by the Auditor-General and the panel of experts tasked by the Constitutional Court with monitoring SASSA’s progress.

MPs were outraged on Wednesday when they were handed a letter from SASSA in which acting CEO Pearl Bhengu stated that it “was not necessary” to attend the meeting “because there was no significant progress to report”. Bhengu suggested that SASSA return “later in November” to update the committee.

Committee chairperson Rosemary Capa said that despite her efforts to urge both the acting director general of Social Development and Bhengu to attend, they had refused.

ANC MP Sibongile Tsoleli said SASSA’s refusal to meet the committee was “unacceptable and disrespectful”. “We have to summon all of them. If we don’t do this now, we are going to sit with the same problem. We can’t be seen as failing to hold them to account on the very plan they presented to us,” she said.

DA MP Bridget Masango said it was embarrassing that the report by the panel of experts showed that nearly 90% of what they had asked SASSA for was not provided. “None of the timelines given were kept. I can’t believe that we don’t have SASSA here at this critical time,” she said.

Several MPs agreed that the report by the panel of experts was a clear indication that a crisis was looming.

Capa said she would ask the Auditor-General to bring the panel of experts to brief the committee. The post office would also be invited.

In its report to the Constitutional Court, the panel said SASSA had “repeatedly failed to provide timeous access to information”, preventing the panel from adequately doing its work.

“In the very few instances when SASSA reacted to enquiries as to the reasons for the delay or failure to provide documents, the reasons were of an administrative nature rather than substantive,” the panel said, detailing numerous instances of SASSA’s failure to respond.

“The failure… to provide the relevant information calls into question the integrity and competence of SASSA, which must reflect on its ability to execute its responsibilities,” the panel said. As a result, the panel asked the Constitutional Court to instruct the agency to give it “access to information”.

“Several of the timelines stated in SASSA’s first report to the Court have not been met,” the panel noted, expressing concern that the measures taken so far and the timelines proposed by SASSA were “unlikely to enable a seamless transition” to a new payment system by 1 April 2018.

“SASSA does not yet have a visible plan to manage CPS’s exit from the current system,” the panel warned.

TOPICS:  Social Grants

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