SASSA and SAPO Fail to Directly Pay Grant Beneficiaries
Black Sash initially supported the partnership between the Department of Social Development (DSD) and the South African Post Office (SAPO) to administer social grants as a state led hybrid model with State accountability subject to its mandate and fulfilment of its constitutional obligations. Some of these obligations included a ring-fenced bank account with a basket of free services where it was envisaged that social grant beneficiaries would be able to have access to services. However, since the South African Post Office has been administering social grants, it has been plagued with issues ranging from technical glitches, no interconnectivity, limited staff, corruption by SAPO officials, shortage of cash, delays with cash delivery closure of post offices and a shrinking footprint of SAPO with no detail if and how SAPO is being held to account by SASSA for not fulfilling its obligations in terms of its Memorandum of Agreement. Black Sash would like to know what SAPO is being paid for considering they keep trying to shift payments into the corporate sector encouraging the use of banks and retailers for beneficiaries to access their grants. One wonders what the future holds for the SASSA and SAPO partnership?
Considering the recent announcement by SASSA that as from 11 May 2022, the cash pay points and SAPO outlets that beneficiaries usually access their grants from will no longer be available to service the beneficiaries Black Sash wants answers as to how this affects the Memorandum of Agreement and Service Level Agreements, and a report of what services SASSA has paid to SAPO for performing to date.
SASSA is taking two steps back by not putting contingency measures in place where beneficiaries do not bear the brunt of the administrative challenges. It is imperative that DSD and SASSA consider alternative measures for beneficiaries to access their grants at no cost. While using retailers is at no cost to the beneficiary, there must be caution about the fact that private businesses are performing a government service to ensure that there will not be a repeat of the Cash Paymaster Services debacle that led to the SASSA crisis where Black Sash had to make an urgent application to the Constitutional Court. This begs the question as to what measures are being put in place to ensure that beneficiaries do not pay the price for these arrangements given that transport costs will be incurred in areas where these retailers are not close by. Black Sash’s finding of a study it did on the SASSA decommissioned cash pay points has relevance in the current context that rural social grant beneficiaries appear worse affected, as there is not always access to a retailer or the National Payment System infrastructure, including ATMs. For many rural grant beneficiaries, the time and distance travelled to access grants has increased significantly with exorbitant transport costs which they cannot afford.
It is ironic that by their own admission when SASSA conducted a study of the decommissioning of cash pay points they proposed that SASSA should devise a strategy to engage with all the stakeholders extensively, in particular, the grant beneficiaries when making key decisions that will impact them. It is also evident that the closure of cash pay points will adversely affect beneficiaries in peri-urban and rural areas, the vulnerable groups like the elderly and the disabled in terms of distance and transport costs. Given the former, it would be recommended that the configuration of the nearest service points like the Post Office, merchants or banks, should also meet the norms and standards that were set be within the radius of 5 kilometres. These norms and standards have been grossly violated in the study sites. It appears that DSD and SASSA have not considered their own recommendations?
A strong communication and media strategy is crucial on the part of DSD and SASSA to ensure that beneficiaries are aware of changes and implores them to strengthen their strategy to ensure that the changes implemented are not at the expense of beneficiaries.