by Pamela Maringa

It’s over a decade since the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) opened its doors as a government institution to administer the distribution of social grants. SASSA is an agency of the Department of Social Development which was established in terms of the Social Assistance Act 13 of 2004, to provide comprehensive social security services to eligible poor and vulnerable South African citizens.

However that’s not what is happening at the moment. For the past few weeks, 17 million grant beneficiaries lived in fear of not receiving their much needed pay-outs on the 1st of April. This is after the contract with Cash Paymaster Service (CPS) responsible for the distribution of payments, was declared invalid by the Constitutional Court. In order for SASSA to extend the CPS services beyond the March 31 expiry date, they had to ask the court to prolong the suspension of the invalidity of the contract.

The court ruled on 17 March 2017 that SASSA and CPS are under constitutional obligation to continue to pay the social grants on the 1st of April. The court ruling included extending CPS’s role as the SASSA grant distributors  for a further 12 months.

However, the court criticized Minister Bathabile Dlamini for being incompetent.  The agency had known  about the invalidity of the contract since 2014 and it failed to take action. It’s been reported that Minister Dlamini had refused to consider other options that didn’t involve CPS. Other options included National Treasury, who were a strong contender for the contract, and the Post Office.

The civic  organisation, the Black Sash, then presented arguments to the Constitutional Court saying that Dlamini had failed in her duty to oversee the agency. The organisation asked the court to make an urgent decision, as there were no other alternatives to ensure grant payments at this last stage. The Black Sash also complained that since CPS took over there have been huge increases in debit orders from social grants for loans, electricity, airtime and insurance.  Paying for these products traps South African’s poorest in a cycle of debt, and it undermines the purpose of the grant, which is to help them to pay for basic needs.

Since CPS (a subsidiary of Net1) won the contract five years ago, Net1’s financial revenue has grown radically because of its secret use of grant beneficiaries’ information. Yet the 2012 SASSA-CPS contract forbade this. It says “the contractor (CPS) shall not use data belonging to SASSA for any purpose other than for the performance of the services” – that is for paying grants and not for selling any product.

One could ask why the Hawks never took up the court’s invitation to investigate the underlying reasons for the flagrant administrative irregularities. And as the contract continues, will the beneficiaries still be exploited to make the rich even richer? Will the Minister be fired for her incompetency? President Jacob Zuma seemed to turn a blind eye to the relationship between CPS and SASSA, and the negative effect this potentially has on the beneficiaries.

The Minister is unfit to hold office. It is obvious that the position is too much for her. She misses deadlines and regular meetings with heads of departments, and addresses people while allegedly drunk. She admits that she didn’t know the most important things that she be  accountable for. She should go.