28/02/2017 14:17 SAST | Updated 28/02/2017 14:25 SAST

Sassa Situation Has Been 'Engineered', Says Scopa. So Who Benefits?

Treasury: 'If they decide to break the law, they must face the consequences.'

Gallo Images / Thapelo Maphakela
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini

A Treasury official has warned the SA Social Security Agency that if it breaks the law in extending an illegal contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) in the social grants crisis, it must face the consequences.

Sassa appeared before the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Tuesday to account for its proposed extension to the unconstitutional arrangement with current service providers CPS, who handle the country's grant payments for 17 million people.

Sassa project lead Zodwa Mvulane told the committee that it won't be extending the contract, but is rather looking to negotiate a new contract altogether, with new terms.

Treasury official Solly Tshitangano spoke at the end of the meeting, and had some stern words of warning for Sassa and the Department of Social Development.

"The concerns that members are raising are some of the same concerns of National Treasury," Tshitangano said.

"The procurement decision rests with the accounting officer or the accounting authority.

"We can only advise. And if they decide to break the law, they must face the consequences."

The accounting officer is the CEO of Sassa, Thokozani Magwaza, and the accounting authority is the director general of the department, Zane Dangor.

Minister Bathabile Dlamini, while still the shareholder representative, does not have control over tender processes, he told News24 after the sitting.

MPs bemoaned Sassa's lack of preparedness for both the meeting and in taking over the massive grants scheme.

Both Dlamini and Magwaza were not present at the meeting. The deadline is four weeks away.

Dlamini was chairing a press briefing elsewhere in Parliament, while Magwaza had presumably taken ill, although media reports on Tuesday suggest he has actually been suspended.

'Who is benefitting?'

Scopa chairperson Themba Godi said the entire CPS debacle was just a "ruse".

"We all went to school, we know this situation has been engineered. The question is: Why? Who benefits?" he asked rhetorically, acknowledging the officials before them did not have the answers.

He said Sassa was like the driver of a car that is constantly swerving. "Everyone in the car is unsettled."

EFF MP Ntombovuyo Mente said the person who made the decision over the CPS contract extension must come and explain to Parliament.

IFP MP Mkuleko Hlengwa said the situation is only a crisis because of "incompetence of the highest order". He said Sassa never took proactive steps in its two years since the ConCourt ruling to get a new provider.

DA MP David Ross said they will support a full Parliamentary inquiry into the "horrific" mismanagement at Sassa.

ANC MP Mnyamezeli Booi said Scopa must call in Dlamini to answer the questions the Sassa officials could not.

If they are not satisfied with her response, they must take further action, which could include a Parliamentary inquiry and a forensic investigation, he said.

Dlamini skips Scopa meeting

Dlamini meanwhile was at a press briefing as chairperson of the social protection, community and human development cluster also in Parliament on Tuesday.

She told journalists there that she had not read a purported letter that Magwaza had been suspended, and repeated that he was off sick.

She did not need to attend the Scopa meeting, as she is accountable to the portfolio committee on social development, she reportedly said.

Her department will hold a press conference on Wednesday to address the issues brought up at Scopa, she added.

She reassured the country that the grants will be paid on April 1, but did not comment on whether that payment would be through an illegal contract.