Just 99 days to go and grants deadlock still not broken‚ parliament hears

BATHABILE DLAMINI

The technical teams of the Post Office and the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa)‚ who are central to finding a solution to the social grants debacle‚ have yet to meet.

This was the shock revelation made by Treasury director general Dondo Mogajane‚ who was addressing a joint sitting of the social development portfolio committee and the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Wednesday night.

The meeting began around 6pm and was a follow-up to a sitting on Monday‚ where it became clear that the post office and Sassa had not found middle ground on how social grants should be administered.

Following a March Constitutional Court ruling‚ the two entities began negotiating how the post office would take over the administration of grants. The court had previously ruled that the agency’s contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) was invalid.

Auditor General Kimi Makwethu‚ who attended Wednesday’s meeting‚ expressed concern over the tight time-frame.

“When we wake up tomorrow (Thursday) it will be 99 more days to go.”

Makwethu said the committee should get a “walk-through” of the requirements to get a fully functional grants system by 1 April 2018.

“It may sound like all of this is possible‚ but it’s not the 17th of March 2017‚ when the Constitutional Court issued the directive on this matter. It’s seven months later and there are 99 days to go.”

On Tuesday the post office was adamant that it could easily take over the provision of grants because it had an existing banking system – Post Bank.

However‚ Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and Sassa representatives appeared unimpressed‚ saying the post office only qualified to fulfill one aspect of the services‚ the grant payment system with biometrics.

The agency planned to issue a tender for three other aspects of the process – card distribution‚ banking services and cash distribution – on Friday November 3.

MPs resolved that Treasury should facilitate a meeting between representatives from both sides before reporting back on Wednesday evening.

Mogajane detailed the mediation process‚ which consisted of three meetings‚ starting late on Tuesday.

Despite this‚ Mogajane said “the two parties have not found each other in terms of agreeing on the role that (the post office) should play in the grants administration.”

“If there is no willingness to work together‚ it’s going to be difficult for us‚” he added.

Mogajane made the startling revelation that “the technical teams of (the post office) and Sassa have never met‚ which is critical.”

“All that has happened to date‚ the technical teams … there hasn’t been a sharing of information in terms of what each of the parties can contribute to ensure that grants are paid‚” he said.

Mogajane added that acting Sassa CEO Pearl Bhengu had requested Treasury facilitate a formal dispute resolution process.

Treasury agreed to help set up a technical committee involving representatives from the Reserve Bank‚ Treasury officials and members from the Sassa and post office technical teams.

MPs were flummoxed by Mogajane’s revelation.

“At some point someone needs to walk the plank for what has been a well-articulated and well-engineered programme and process to collapse social grants. The revelation that the technical committees have not met on its own is the biggest indictment‚” said IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa.

The IFP’s Liezl van der Merwe noted that there are only 100 working days left before 1 April 2018‚ when the current contract term concludes.

“We must face the cold‚ hard facts that nothing has happened in the past seven months. With the frank admission that the technical teams have not met‚ it means no work has been done in the past seven months‚” she said.

However‚ Dlamini denied that the technical committees had not met.

“The technical committees have been meeting‚ chaired by the (director general) in the presidency. There was also a war room where they were discussing how they are going to do things and that was reported to the IMC (inter-ministerial committee). And it was at that stage that the IMC said go do the due diligence.”

“So I don’t know why some of the things are said here. Because it’s like there are those that are blocking the whole process‚” Dlamini said.

She suggested the post office be given a chance to “test their services” with a small sample group of grants payouts “so that we are all confident with the system”.

Post office CEO Mark Barnes agreed that there were some meetings where technical teams had made presentations.

“There is a limited disconnect.”

Barnes said Sassa and the post office had differing views on what the IT system needed to do.

ANC MP Nthabiseng Khunou said if there was no resolution to the impasse by Friday 10 November‚ the committee should “escalate it” and meet with President Jacob Zuma‚ who is the head of the inter-ministerial committee.

Treasury agreed to conclude its review of the post office’s ability to provide the service by Monday.

Scopa chairman Themba Godi said the committee would meet on Wednesday and would invite representatives from the inter-ministerial committee.

-TimesLIVE

Source: TMG Digital.

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