The contract to distribute social grants, and not the availability of money, is at issue in the crisis, National Treasury told members of Parliament (MPs) on Tuesday.
A total of R2.3 billion was earmarked for the service provider who would pay grants in the upcoming financial year, and it will take a long time for that money to be exhausted, Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile told the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa).
"The money to pay is there. What does not exist is a contract to make sure the process happens," he said as he moved to quell fears about paying 10.5 million social grants.
He said Parliament's Division of Revenue Bill ensured the budget for the next year of social grants was approved.
Even if the money was exhausted, emergency protocols were in place.
The problem was the legal mandate to transfer the money, given the ongoing negotiations with the current service provider, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), which have yet to conclude.
'Abide by the law'
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan earlier said Treasury and everyone involved would ensure grants would be paid come April 1.
The judiciary, the executive, and the administrative functions had a "higher duty" to ensure South Africans got paid, but within the confines of the law.
The problem was the pending, unsigned contract with CPS. Treasury could not pronounce on it until the Constitutional Court did, Gordhan said.
He said it was strange that the proposed details of the contract would only be made available 20 days after it was signed.
"We can pop that in the strange box," he admitted.
He told the committee there would be no need for a "Big Brother situation" if people followed the law.
"We don't all have to fully understand the law, just choose to abide by it. And in instances where there are genuine strictures and government can't abide by the law, they must just be transparent."