As directed by the Constitutional Court, SASSA has released its sixth monthly report. The Black Sash is encouraged by the progress SASSA has made with its partner SAPO. We would like to draw attention to some aspects of SASSA Report released on 07 March 2018.
Slow progress on Cash Payments front
The procurement of a service provider for cash payments is worrying, for two reasons. Firstly, despite SASSA reporting in February that progress had been made and that all bids would be in by 28 February 2018, but this deadline was not met. This is due to bidders requesting an extension as they are still to receive critical technical information from SASSA. It would appear from SASSA’s letter dated 08 March 2018 that it is still waiting for this information from Cash Paymaster Services (CPS). It is puzzling how SASSA could issue a tender without this crucial information.
Secondly, SASSA has requested the Constitutional Court to extend the CPS Cash Payment contract for six months, until September 2018. However, any delay in the bidding process will negatively impact on the six-month extension. For example bids for the cash tender was to be submitted to SASSA by 28 February. This deadline has been changed to 12 March, and the likelihood that the deadline may be extended to 30 March 2018 is very real. The appointment could be further delayed if the procurement procedure comes under attack. We are working with shifting deadlines yet again, as it is unclear when SASSA will appoint a new provider. SASSA does not have a contingency plan for cash payment and the plan in the Report is unworkable.
The Black Sash is encouraged by the progress made by SASSA and the South African Post Office (SAPO). The rollout plan is premised on successful testing of the new card with the Payment Association of South Africa (PASA) and the South African Reserve Bank (SARB). As much of the activity is still in the testing stages, the implementation plan for the card swop may be rendered unrealistic. Furthermore, the communication of the SAPO/SASSA rollout regarding the opening of bank accounts and the production and issuing cards needs to be more explicit.
EPE Accounts remain deeply problematic
We acknowledge that SASSA has begun to tackle the challenges surrounding the Easy Pay Everywhere (EPE) accounts. In particular, it has issued a circular that Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) staff are only to concentrate on functions for which they have been contracted – enrolment and payment – anything else is considered a breach of contract. Only SASSA branded cards are to be issued by CPS enrolment officers. No marketing of products may take place at any SASSA office or pay point. Black Sash remains concerned about how this directive is going to be enforced and monitored. Our community partners on the ground and callers to our Helpline are indicating that this directive is not being adhered to.
SASSA Acting CEO, Pearl Bengu, states that CPS has not responded to any of SASSA’s requests to provide mandates by beneficiaries who allegedly opted to receive their grants directly into EPE accounts. SASSA has sent out individual letters on 08 February 2018 to approximately 1.9 million EPE cardholders, requesting that they confirm that they wish to receive their grant in this account. Beneficiaries were asked to complete the bank payment form, which complies with Regulation 21(1)(a)of the Social Assistance Act, 2004. SASSA gave no indication of how many mandate forms it has received to date in respect of the EPE account. Progress in the return of these mandates will have to be closely monitored.
In this report, SASSA acknowledged the criticisms around the existing dispute mechanisms in place for EPE cardholders and indicated that this is under review. As the grant paymaster, SASSA is responsible for managing this process and ensuring that grant beneficiaries received proper assistance. The Black Sash remains firm in our position that the EPE cards, commonly known as the Green Card, are deeply problematic. Our investigations reveal that desperate grant beneficiaries have been duped into signing up for an EPE account. The recourse system is inaccessible and costly for social grant beneficiaries who can ill afford it.
Grant beneficiaries have a constitutional right to receive the full cash value of their grant. Furthermore, the EPE account has allowed unscrupulous and unethical loan sharks into the banking system. This has contributed to indebtedness amongst grant beneficiaries and has negatively impacted on their human dignity. We again call on SASSA to insist that all EPE cardholders without mandate must revert to the SASSA (new SAPO/SASSA) card by a specified date.
We have created a google drive folder for all the “Social Grant Matter” court documents and monthly reports. This folder will be kept up to date and accessible to media. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1Z2j6J7meGZ4qtQvu4OZRyv_jM3iKuza3?usp=sharing