South African Post Office (SAPO) officials flew to Parliament only to be told they couldn’t make a presentation, after the South African Social Security Agency’s (Sassa’s) self-imposed timelines were moved back two weeks.
Both Sassa and the SAPO appeared before the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Tuesday evening to inform MPs on their agreement for SAPO to assist with the social grants scheme.
But yet another snag in the Sassa procurement chain ensured SAPO and its CEO Mark Barnes were unable to present its detailed and thorough plan for the post office to come on board.
Acting Sassa CEO Pearl Bhengu said they had been instructed by the inter-ministerial task team to do “due diligence” on SAPO’s proposal before finalising SAPO’s agreement.
As a result, yet another third party, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), was brought on board to undertake said due diligence, at a cost of R410,000.
Due to a snag in Treasury’s rules, it could only start work this week, pushing the SAPO agreement back by two weeks.
A visibly frustrated Barnes and his colleagues sat through to 23:00 on Tuesday while Bhengu and company explained the latest delay.
“We don’t have people who can do due diligence inside Sassa… It was a resolution that was taken by the inter-ministerial committee,” Bhengu said of the decision to conduct due diligence separate from the evaluation of the post office’s bid.
‘Assist with everything’
Barnes only had a few minutes to speak at the end. He said he had outlined to Sassa in a workshop in May what the post office’s role could be, and submitted its entire plan a month ago on August 7.
The plan was clear: SAPO could be a complete “aggregator” for Sassa. It could assist with most roles, and for those it could not, such as cash-in-transit, it already had its own agreements with other entities that could assist.
Scopa chairperson Themba Godi and African National Congress MP Ezekiel Kekana were both reluctant to allow SAPO to explain any more for risk of jeopardizing their bid evaluation.
Barnes understood, but said he would be available to assist Scopa with whatever information it needed, and had records of all their meetings with Sassa.
He also said Sassa’s “due diligence” had not yet begun, despite the Friday deadline, and at least they had not yet been contacted by CSIR.
Scopa MPs were not happy. The post office’s presence was essentially a waste of time.
More concerning, it seemed Sassa appeared to be “resisting” SAPO’s bid, some of them argued.
Back door being ‘left open’
“If we cannot get those answers, then the exercise of today is not satisfactory,” said Economic Freedom Fighters MP Veronica Mente.
“Otherwise the process is to frustrate SAPO to a point where they won’t be ready to put their systems in place.”
“A lot of energy is being spent on alternatives to the post office; to create an environment for South Africans to accept, by hook or by crook, CPS coming through the back window,” Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mkuleko Hlengwa said.
“As a committee we are in a predicament. We urge departments to do the work themselves, but once we reach this level of incompetence, it’s clear we need some help,” Democratic Alliance MP David Ross said.
“There is no genuine interaction taking place between the committee and Sassa,” ANC MP Nyami Booi said.
A Treasury official told the committee that Sassa could have the SAPO agreement wrapped up by July had it just followed Treasury’s regulations for due diligence.
Sassa project lead Zodwa Mvulane, CFO Tsakeriwa Chauke and Bhengu all repeated that they need to finish the due diligence before they could confirm the SAPO agreement.
At the end of the meeting, Godi eventually directed Sassa to furnish them with all their documents pertaining to their SAPO agreement. They also decided to pay Sassa an oversight visit at its offices next Thursday, September 14.
The SAPO agreement should be finalised by September 13, and a follow-up meeting will be called, where the post office will be able to present.