SassaGate Reloaded: Expert panel and AG warn of serious risk in future social grant payments

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Photo: Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini (GCIS via Flickr)
Photo: Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini (GCIS via Flickr)
Photo: Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini (GCIS via Flickr)

Source: SassaGate Reloaded: Expert panel and AG warn of serious risk in future social grant payments | Daily Maverick

The first report to the Constitutional Court by the Auditor-General and a panel of experts appointed by the court to oversee the transition of payments of social grants by CPS to Sassa has revealed shocking ineptitude and obstruction that is compromising and jeopardising the vital project of a new payment system for social grants to some 17-million recipients after March 2018 when the current extended contract with CPS expires. On Wednesday Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini as well as South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) officials failed to pitch for a parliamentary portfolio committee report-back. By MARIANNE THAMM.

The first report by a panel of experts and the Auditor General to the Constitutional Court with regard to Sassa’s ability to pay social grants after the current contract expires in March 2018 has raised the alarm that there is a “serious risk” that grant recipients might find themselves empty-handed come April 1, 2018.

This places the lives of 17-million vulnerable South Africans, who depend on social grants, at serious risk of mass hunger and social instability.

The scathing report warned that the absence of a comprehensive implementation plan for Sassa’s stated objectives providing adequately for risk management, risk mitigation and proposed alternatives should the “course of action fail or an exit plan in respect of CPS” presents a “serious risk”.

“The lack of cost justification by Sassa for implementing its insourcing proposal is a serious concern. The stewardship of the state’s duty in respect of social assistance needs to be addressed urgently by relevant role players and the measures taken by Sassa so far, together with proposed deadlines, are unlikely to enable a seamless transition to a new system for the payment of social assistance by 1 April.”

The panel found that Sassa had repeatedly failed to provide timeous access to information which severely restricted the performance of its functions and which has had “the demonstrable effect of preventing it from fully reporting to the court”.

Several of the timelines stated in Sassa’s first report to the court had also not been met and Sassa’s timelines could probably only be achieved by compromising on the quality of work required to realise the project milestones, the report noted.

Sassa’s decision to deviate from competitive processes and for the moment only request the Post Office (SAPO) to submit a bid for the rendering of services for the payment of social grants increased the risk of not ensuring a seamless transition to a new dispensation on 1 April 2018, the AG and the panel warned.

The panel consists of Anthony Felet, Gill Marcus, Tim Masela, Heinz Weilert, Angela Bester, Werner Krull, Mavuso Msimang, Doris Tshepe, Mmamolatelo Mathekga, Barend Taute and AG Kimi Makwetu. The secretariat consists of Marissa Bezuidenhout assisted by Walter Bhengu and Paklo Leung.

The panel originally met with former Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza and other officials on 14 June 2017. However, at the second meeting (after Magwaza’s shock resignation) the panel had been surprised to learn that the Sassa delegation “was not sure why they had been invited to the meeting despite the Panel Secretariat having provided a list of issues it required the delegation to respond to”.

The panel had requested a meeting with a number of other role players and stakeholders “but such meetings have not, at the time of writing this report taken place”.

The fact that the court required Sassa to provide information to the panel had been discussed at the inaugural meeting but nine requests by the panel (through phone calls and emails) to Sassa, Sassa’s auditors, CPS and National Treasury to provide information were not heeded.

“Regrettably Sassa repeatedly did not provide access to all the documents requested, either on time or at all, despite repeated assurances that this would be done, and irrespective of reminders sent to Sassa by the Panel Secretariat.”

In the most serious instance, the panel, in view of developments reported by Sassa as well as in the media relating to the possible deviation from competitive bidding and awarding the contract or part thereof to SAPO specifically, requested a copy of the Request for Proposals (RFP) issued to SAPO.

“The first request was made to Sassa on 4 July. Another two reminders were issued (17 and 19 July 2017) before the Sassa team was again at the panel meeting of 24 July 2017 requested to submit the RFP to the AG and the panel.”

At that meeting, said the panel, Zodwa Mvulane, Sassa’s executive responsible for special projects, expressly agreed to provide a copy to the panel.

“This was not done at the agreed time and yet another reminder was sent out to Sassa on 25 July 2017.”

Mvulane later told the panel that she had sent the RFP to the offices of the AG.

“Not having a record of receipt of such a document, the Panel Secretariat requested a verification of the signature, only to be told the RFP had never left the Sassa offices.”

When it finally did get to the AG’s office “it was found that the RFP only consisted of standard printed bid documents, and the most important part thereof, in terms of reference, which must include the project scope, project deliverables, qualifications, expertise and experience and criteria including technical and financial criteria, had been omitted.”

These terms of reference, said the panel, were critical, “one that constitutes the basis for the evaluation of bidder’s capacity to respond to the needs of the procuring body”.

The report lists a litany of missed deadlines, lies, and gross ineptitude on the part of Sassa officials tasked with handling this transition.

These failures, warned the panel, “could lead to the court being presented with a fait accompli in terms of Sassa’s plans, which would place the court in the same unenviable position that it faced before giving judgment in this present matter.”

All of this, said the panel, called into question the integrity and the competence of Sassa.

Meanwhile Sassa officials and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini had been due to report back specifically on progress with SAPO to Parliament’s standing committee on social development on Wednesday but failed to pitch.

Dlamini had tendered an apology saying she was in a Wednesday Cabinet meeting. Acting Sassa CEO Pearl Bhengu on Tuesday sent a letter to committee chair, the ANC’s Rosemary Capa, saying the agency “did not have substantial progress to report since their last meeting”.

While the news cycle has been captured by President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle, Sassa and Dlamini’s deliberate violation of obligations imposed by the Constitutional Court earlier this year could lead to a catastrophe of gigantic proportions that will overshadow any political maneuverings by a rogue President and his cronies.

This will be a potential national disaster that will leave millions of hungry and impoverished South Africans with nowhere to turn. DM

Photo: Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini (GCIS via Flickr)