Yesterday, the South African Post Office (SAPO) informed the Portfolio Committee of Telecommunications and Postal Services that it is working towards eliminating cash payments, especially in the rural areas. SAPO cited high risks associated with cash-in-transit and high costs of having cash as a payment method. According to the Service Level Agreement with SASSA of September 2018, SAPO has to provide “Access Channels to ensure that every Beneficiary is able to access their Social Grants... as well as provision of mobile cash payment services in areas without any payment infrastructure”. Is SAPO aiming to close the remaining 1 730 cash pay points essential to rural and peri-urban grant beneficiaries?
The agreement between SASSA and SAPO makes provision for a Special Disbursement Account with a number of free services including free withdrawals from SAPO branches and retailers. SAPO reports that in January 2019, 64% of beneficiaries withdrew their grants from ATMs, followed by 31% at retailers. The Black Sash has a serious concern that within six months, August 2018 to January 2019, the volume of withdrawal transactions processed by SAPO in respect of social grants dropped from 14% to 2%.
Beneficiaries often complain that SAPO branches are closed during the first week of the month when they are supposed to have access to their grants OR the branches are open but have no cash or the cash arrive very late OR there is no or limited internet connectivity. Is SAPO serious about providing quality services to grant beneficiaries, the poorest of the poor in our country?
In its report to the Portfolio Committee, SAPO cites a 2.9bn funding allocation, which: “enabled SAPO to repay loans and reduce the creditors payment backlogs. Critical capital investment in infrastructure is in progress”. How much is SASSA paying SAPO and what for, when grant beneficiaries have to pay high transport costs and bank fees at ATMs to access their meagre grants? SAPO should have scheduled delivery of services that operate routinely (monthly at a given date and time) according to an agreed upon standard so that grant beneficiaries develop confidence in SAPO’s ability. SASSA and SAPO collectively have to work harder to ensure that grant beneficiaries receive the full cash value of their grants.