The South African Post Office will likely have to wait until next week before an official agreement – which was due on Friday – to assist with the state’s social grants scheme can be reached with the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa).
Cabinet’s inter-ministerial committee (IMC) on social security had to step in to “resolve” a deadlock between the two entities last week, after they failed to sign an inter-government agreement following months of negotiations.
Sassa has until March 31, 2018, to find an alternate service provider for the scheme, and successfully migrate the system from invalid incumbent Cash Paymaster Services (CPS).
The IMC directed Sassa and the Post Office to come to some kind of agreement by Friday, November 17.
A negotiation team chaired by the department of planning, monitoring and evaluation would oversee the latest round of protracted talks.
The department’s communications head, Mmabatho Ramompi, on Friday said there was no progress to report yet, with a proposed announcement now only expected “some time next week”.
“The technical teams have been working around the clock. As soon as we know something we will announce it,” she told News24 on Friday.
Out of time
There is no guarantee the two entities will reach an agreement on three outstanding services still required by Sassa. The IMC had only decided to fast-track the building of an integrated IT payment system, which the Post Office was awarded.
The other three services that still need service providers are: banking functions, card body production and cash distribution of grants at outlets.
A Treasury report last week revealed that both Sassa and the Post Office no longer have enough time or resources to take over the scheme in its entirety by the deadline.
It was also damning of Sassa’s handling of the negotiations with the Post Office, saying the request for a proposal was “biased”.
There was also no longer enough time to issue new tenders and find new service providers for the other services before the deadline, the report warned.
Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe told MPs last week that as a contingency, the IMC would meet with commercial banks to see if they could come on board too.
MPs in both the Portfolio Committee on Social Development and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts have accused officials of deliberately engineering a crisis so that the CPS contract can be extended.
Seven-and-a-half months have now gone by and Sassa is no closer to finding a solution for the social grants conundrum. Just over four months remain until the deadline.
The Constitutional Court last week warned that it wanted a full migration plan from the agency by December 8.
The DA on Friday said it would write to Portfolio Committee on Social Development chairperson Rose Capa requesting that Sassa table the full deal in Parliament as soon as it is reached.