Social grants, particularly in times of slow growth and high unemployment, are central in poverty alleviation and especially so for poor women who currently account for more than 90% of beneficiaries. Sections 26 and 27 of the Bill of Rights highlight the socio-economic rights of citizens, including the right to social security. The Constitution requires that, “the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve progressive realisation of these rights”. The weighty question though is that of whether the state can afford, as percentage of shrinking GDP, to respond to the needs of a growing pool of poor people who are dependent on some form of social security.

This meta concern aside for the moment, the focus of attention in the next few weeks, until 30 March 2018, is to ensure that the order of the Constitutional Court (17 March 2017) is implemented and that 18 million grants to a total of 12 million beneficiaries are not held ransom by incompetence and irregular awarding of lucrative contracts, including the Minister’s call for a temporary renewal of an invalid contract due to the enormity of work required to partner with the South African Post Office. This sleight of hand by the Minister and officials of SASSA, has raised yet more questions about the Minister’s commitment to firstly form partnerships with other public-sector parties, and more crucially, to operationalise the mandate of SASSA per the South African Social Security Agency Act, 2004 and assume the role of key administrator of social assistance. A long, drawn-out process, culminating in assumption of responsibility handed over to an Inter-Ministerial Committee, under the leadership of Minister Jeff Radebe, saw a kicking and screaming Minister and SASSA agree to work with the South African Post Office (SAPO) as a key service partner.

In its mandatory report to the Constitutional Court in December 2017, SASSA was at pains to highlight that, “the partnership between SASSA and the SAPO is founded on the principle of building the capability of the State, through services to be provided by SAPO to SASSA, in a more cost-effective manner when compared to either the private sector or current incumbent, CPS. The Build, Operate and Transfer Model allows the investment made to SAPO to directly benefit and be transferred to SASSA at the end of the five-year period”.

A close reading of the Implementation Protocol between SASSA and SAPO reveals the obligations on both parties as follows:

SAPO in sum must ensure the effective, efficient and economical use of funds designated for payment to beneficiaries of social security and must do so in a way that promotes and protects the dignity of beneficiaries and transfer systems and assets to SASSA on or about 1 March 2023.

However, a close reading of SASSA’s concomitant obligations is cause for concern, particularly in the light of past and current failings. Section 7 of the Implementation Protocol states that SASSA shall amongst others provide all related information to ease discussions and facilitate decision-making; provide SAPO with a beneficiary payment file within three days prior to the grant being paid; provide SAPO with beneficiary biometric data; confirm a reconciliation on a monthly basis of cash given, cash paid and cash re-deposited; provide the funding for payment of social grants, and finally to be responsible for managing and overseeing SAPO’s performance, monitor the quality of services and convene meetings with SAPO as agreed.

The above, as it stands, is a tall order for a Minister, Department and Agency that have proven again and again the lack of will and capacity to serve the poorest of the poor. The appointment of incompetent people, like Minister Dlamini, must come to an end.

Government needs to exercise deft, reliable and honest leadership – not only to ensure the efficient payment of social security grants but also to implement a comprehensive strategy to provide quality education and grow the economy. Only by promoting sustained economic growth and by developing skills will South Africa be able to reduce the number of people who are dependent on grants. The current strategy of using debt to fund current and future expenditure is unsustainable and may prove disastrous to new and existing grant beneficiaries, and ultimately result in mortgaging the future of generations to come.

By Zohra Dawood:Director, Centre for Unity in Diversity
23 January 2018