Social development minister Bathabile Dlamini could not provide answers on Wednesday about her department’s readiness to take over the social grants scheme.
Dlamini and members of the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) appeared before the standing committee on public accounts to account for irregular expenditure in the 2015/2016 financial year.
Committee chairman Themba Godi said he needed reassurance that the agency was ready to take over the scheme, which handles grants for 22m people, from April 2017.
“Chairperson, I know that this committee does not have time to keep on doing one and the same thing,” Dlamini said. “But I request that we be given time to come back and report on the processes.”
She said it was the department’s hope that it would be ready by the 1 April 2017 takeover date.
Godi and MPs from all parties were unanimous that they were not confident that the department was ready, and said its responses did not improve this perception.
The distribution of South Africa’s social grants has been handled by Cash Paymaster Services, a subsidiary of JSE-listed Net1 UEPS Technologies. Its R10bn, 10-year contract with the department expires next year.
Dlamini said the department was looking into developing its IT infrastructure, value-chain compliance issues, and dealing with syndicates trying to defraud the department.
She said, as their work improved, so the syndicates became more sophisticated in how they “steal our money”. She again expressed a wish to report back to the committee at a later date.
“Everyone is busy that we drive the processes faster and we’ve even asked people who are dealing with the [other] processes to leave everything and focus on this.”
Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza said the syndicates had been reported on before and were public knowledge. A number of high-profile court cases were currently being heard in a bid to expose corruption. These included a case with leasing firm Trifecta/Delta.
Dlamini left the meeting around noon, without giving the committee a date when she would report back on her department’s readiness.
Democratic Alliance MP Timothy Brauteseth told Magwaza that he hoped he would be in the office on Christmas, given the approaching April deadline and the department’s non-committal answers.