Sassa to file court papers on grant payment crisis on Thursday

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Human rights organisation Black Sash says the South African Social Security Agency, SASSA, must take responsibility. But SASSA says its payment system isn't at fault.

CAPE TOWN – The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) will on Thursday file papers with the Constitutional Court with proposals on the payment of welfare grants from April, spokesman Paseka Letsatsi said.

“We will file papers before the close of business tomorrow,” Letsatsi said.

He said the embattled agency would put forward several options for a system to ensure the payment of grants beyond 31 March, the date when the court’s suspension of the invalidity of the contract with the service provider, Cash Payment Services, expires.

READ: SASSA's deafening silence on readiness for monthly R10bn grant handover

Letsatsi declined to flesh out the different options before papers are filed, citing “sensitivities” around the burning issue which has raised fears that the distribution of grants to roughly 10-million recipients could be interrupted.

However, he added: “There is one option that we will be pushing that will result in payment continuing smoothly.”

Sassa has been expected to ask the Constitutional Court to permit an extension of the contract with CPS, which the court in 2013 found to be unlawful, without prescribing a remedy. It later suspended the ruling to allow the agency time to repeat the tender process to find a new service provider.

However, with weeks remaining to the deadline, none had been agreed.

National Treasury earlier on Wednesday denied reports that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was heading for a clash with his counterpart at social development, Minister Bathabile Dlamini, over the issue.

The opposition has accused Dlamini of manufacturing the crisis on welfare payments by letting time run out to force an extension of the flawed contract with CPS.

“Sassa never had any real intention of meeting the 01 April 2017 deadline for taking over of the distribution of social grants. We believe Sassa willfully manufactured an emergency that would leave them with no choice but to extend the current invalid contract with CPS,” Democratic Alliance MP Bridget Masango said on Wednesday.

National Treasury has raised concerns about the legality of prolonging the deal and has proposed awarding the tender to pay grants to a new service provider to distribute grants to cash beneficiaries, while beneficiaries with bank accounts would have the money deposited into their accounts.

An extension of the contract with CPS would necessitate a deviation to procurement rules, and this was seen as a point of contention between the two ministers.

Dlamini’s spokeswoman Lumka Oliphant insisted on Wednesday that the ministry could not move ahead with without National Treasury. But Gordhan has stressed that the payment of grants did not fall within the mandate of his department and that it was therefore only acting in an advisory capacity.