Cape Town – The portfolio committee on social development waited patiently for a progress update on Sassa’s obligations to the Constitutional Court on Wednesday, but they were stood up by both the agency and the department.
Sassa was due to appear for a crucial update on their migration of the social grants scheme, specifically the delayed deal with the South African Post Office (SAPO).
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini was the only individual from the department who had sent an apology, saying once again that she was in a Wednesday Cabinet meeting.
Deputy Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu has not attended a meeting all year, and did not send an apology.
No one from the department was present either, such as the acting director general, nor any representatives from Sassa, including acting CEO Pearl Bhengu.
ANC MP Sibongile Tsoleli said it was necessary for both Sassa and the department to be there for the progress report.
“The department is the mother and Sassa is the child. They must both be here.”
Committee chairperson Rose Capa handed out a letter of apology from Sassa.
In the letter, acting CEO Pearl Bengu said they “did not have substantial progress to report since their last meeting”.
She therefore requested that they set up another meeting in November.
Playing a waiting game
Capa also read out an SMS saying “given the matter, it is on our agenda, and will be dealt with when that matter comes”.
Capa was firm in her responding letter, telling them they would proceed with the meeting as planned. She also reminded Sassa of their Constitutional mandate.
She said members should remember that the expert panel set up by the ConCourt and headed by a judge would also keep Sassa accountable.
The expert panel was not allowed to report to Parliament until it signs off its processes, so the committee was essentially playing a waiting game.
A November update would leave Sassa with four months to finalise the migration before March 31, or risk keeping on invalid service provider Cash Paymaster Services (CPS).
MPs expressed their dismay at the decision.
“It’s sad and it’s not acceptable,” said Tsoleli.
“The programme of Parliament has been adopted and I believe the leader of government business sits at that level. No one can change the programme of Parliament [but Parliament],” she said.
The department and Sassa knew they had to appear on Wednesday.
The letter therefore had to be rejected, said Tsoleli.
‘It’s such a critical time’
“It’s very disrespectful to us. They can’t do that.”
Tsoleli said they couldn’t be seen as failing on Sassa’s own 10-point plan to take over the grants system.
They should seriously consider a summons in calling in the minister, the department and Sassa, as allowed for by the law.
Democratic Alliance MP Bridget Masango said she was “shaking”.
She said people slammed the portfolio committee in March this year during the height of the crisis, asking, “Where was the portfolio committee meeting?”
Masango said they shudder to think what this will mean for the committee if Sassa does not deliver.
“I can’t believe it. It’s such a critical time.”
Inkatha Freedom Party MP Liezl van der Merwe raised the point that Sassa had a self-imposed deadline to have a SAPO contract ready by August, with testing to occur from November.
“They haven’t even signed a contract yet.”
It was another looming crisis, she finished.
Scopa chairperson Themba Godi, who was due to meet Sassa later on Wednesday at 18:00, tweeted a similar letter on Wednesday.
This is a developing story.