The social grants agency can spend half a million rand on chairs and decor for one event, but can’t answer how millions of beneficiaries will get their grants.
The ability of a new “technical committee” established by Social Development Minister Susan Shabangu to find a working solution to making cash payments was called into question on Tuesday, reports Amanda Watson.
“One of our concerns is how the committee will find a solution by October,” said Black Sash spokesperson Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker after Shabangu stopped the tender process to find someone to take over the payment of cash to 2.8 million people who did not have bank accounts.
In March, the Constitutional Court granted the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) a six-month extension of its contract with Cash Paymaster Services, which paid out grants in cash to recipients.
Sassa’s last madcap proposal while the department was still under now Minister of Women Bathabile Dlamini was to pick people up – mostly the very elderly and disabled – and ferry them to the pay points.
At the time, the ConCourt also ordered Sassa to protect the personal data of grant beneficiaries, and for Dlamini and Sassa CEO Pearl Bhengu to show why they should not be held personally responsible for the associated court costs.
Shabangu stated in her affidavit to the ConCourt she was “mindful” of the deadline and “had every intention to ensure that Sassa complies with its obligations within the stated time, despite my decision to suspend the tender”.
Meanwhile, the focus on the ongoing train smash at Sassa continued when the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) in Parliament said it would call National Treasury to speak on irregular expenditure at Sassa.
This was resolved after Bhengu – allegedly ill – failed to appear before Scopa to account for vast sums of money seemingly blown on frivolities.
Earlier, Scopa chairperson Themba Godi had expressed concern over “consequence management”.
“It seems to be a problem throughout the public service and we want to break that culture by ensuring and demonstrating that where wrongdoing has been identified there are consequences tht are able to change behaviour,” said Godi.
Questions over failure to adhere to payment protocols for events and security involving Bhengu were raised.
For one event, to rent a marquee cost R485 000. Associated costs included flooring for R482 000, toilets for R490 000, chairs and décor at R487 000, catering for public VIPs at R493 000, transport of R493 000, the sound system coming in at R492 000 and gifts and promotion to the value of R480 000.
Then there was the approval by Bhengu of five events in KwaZulu-Natal at R4 million each, which was signed off the next day by Bhengu.
“She did this without the three quotes required and it is apparent that prices were inflated for the services that were required,” said Godi.
Abraham Mahlangu, currently acting CEO at Sassa, and Shabangu said action would be taken against officials where necessary and, where applicable, monies would be recovered.
Scopa also wanted to know from Bhengu about the R2 million she had spent on private security and whether this would be repaid if it was found she’d never been under threat.