Social grants saga is a damn disgrace and the story reeks

06 February 2017 - 10:03 By The Times Editorial

The clock is ticking on a time bomb against which Gauteng's mental health patient scandal will pale.

In less than two months there is a growing risk that 17 million South Africans will not be paid their social grants by the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa).

Sassa has prevaricated since early 2015 in making alternative arrangements to pay R140-billion annually to social grant beneficiaries after the Constitutional Court declared the existing contract invalid two years earlier.

The existing contract is with Net1 subsidiary Cash Paymaster Services, which looms as large as the April 1 deadline.

This week Sassa said it would have to extend CPS's contract by at least a year as it would not be ready to make payments itself.

Put bluntly, Sassa's story about why it finds itself in this position reeks.

Everything points to the agency, whose boss is Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, doing everything in its power to ensure that CPS continues to have the contract. CPS was described in parliament this week as "for all intents and purposes a bunch of crooks".

A report by investigative journalism team amaBhungane on Friday raises further questions. It depicted Dlamini trying to derail a deal put together by her officials, the Treasury and Reserve Bank in favour of a deal for CPS. The report also confirmed that President Jacob Zuma's lawyer, Michael Hulley, had been inexplicably consulted by Dlamini over the new deal. He was an "adviser" on the original CPS contract declared invalid by our highest court.

Yet, in the face of a mountain of suspicion, Sassa pushes ahead apparently contemptuous of parliament, of the Constitutional Court, of the Treasury, and of the welfare of the 17million citizens for whom it is responsible.

As DA MP Lindy Wilson proclaimed this week during hearings into the affair in parliament (which the minister bunked): "It's a damn disgrace."