Q&A with Mark Barnes SA Post Office CEO

Social grant beneficiaries were left empty-handed when they tried to use their new post office/SA Social Security Agency cards to collect cash. Chris Barron asked Sapo CEO Mark Barnes...

08 July 2018 - 00:00 By CHRIS BARRON

Social grant beneficiaries were left empty-handed when they tried to use their new post office/SA Social Security Agency cards to collect cash. Chris Barron asked Sapo CEO Mark Barnes...

Didn't you say in March that the post office would be ready to make grant payments by April?

No, I don't think I actually said that.

The Sassa CEO said that, and you were sitting right next to her.

I didn't deny it, but I didn't say it. It certainly was true that Sassa was capable of paying those social grants, but we weren't as yet mandated to do it in the extent that we're doing it now. We signed up to do the electronic banking solution to social grant payments until about a month ago, when we were mandated to do the cash payments.

That's an important distinction?

Yes. The electronic is a fairly simple transfer mechanism, but signing up to replace all the cards and do all the cash as well was a major difference in the mandate to the post office, which became ours about a month ago when the minister withdrew the tender for cash and it was mandated to the post office to do it.

So you weren't prepared for cash payments?

No, we weren't planning to do it at all.

Aren't cash payments an essential part of grant payments?

Absolutely essential, but that doesn't mean the post office had to do them. It was out on tender for other service providers

The minister sprang it on you?

No, I don't want to use those words.

Told you a month ago you'd be making cash payments?

Yes. In addition to the electronic banking solution we were then mandated to do the cash payments.

Why didn't the cards work?

A couple of reasons. When you get a new card there's a new bank ID number which has to be implemented at the merchants that pay.

Provided you've communicated with these merchants?

Which obviously we have.

So what went wrong?

The volumes were much higher than we'd anticipated. It clogged up the system a bit. But the technical issues have been resolved.

So you can guarantee that the system will be ready to roll by next month without any glitches?

Absolutely. By September 30 CPS will need to be out of the equation for electronic and cash payments. We're targeting the end of August to have it up and running completely. Look, there were glitches, but to be fair ...

Did you do a dry run?

No.

Isn't the point of dry runs to iron out glitches?

It's not that something didn't function. It's just that we didn't anticipate the volumes.

Why not?

Perceptions about the post office haven't been flattering, so it took some time before people believed they should swap to our cards, and then suddenly they rushed.

And were left empty-handed?

Transactions weren't declined, we didn't run out of cash, there wasn't a situation where people didn't have money on their cards. The system wasn't fast enough, and they timed out.

How will grant payments be affected if post office staff strike for three months like in 2015?

The payment of social grants is an essential service, so that would be illegal.

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