Susan Shabangu. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Susan Shabangu. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Social Development Minister Susan Shabangu’s budget vote debate on Wednesday saw her facing sharp criticism from opposition parties over the ANC-led government’s management of the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) despite her assurances that beneficiaries would continue to get their welfare grants without disruption.

Sassa has lurched from one crisis to the next, and recently suspended its tender process for finding a new service provider to handle its cash payments to grant recipients, potentially jeopardising its prospects of meeting the Constitutional Court’s September 30 deadline. About 2.9-million people receive social grants in cash at 10,000 pay-points across SA.

The tender suspension coincided with the unexpected appointment of a new acting CEO at Sassa; Abraham Mahlangu is the fourth person to be placed at the helm in three years. He replaced Pearl Bhengu, who is regarded as an ally of former social development minister, Bathabile Dlamini.

The Constitutional Court found in 2015 that Sassa had entered into an irregular contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) to distribute grants, but allowed the relationship to continue while Sassa sought alternatives. It has repeatedly missed deadlines set by the court.

The IPF’s Liezl van der Merwe said she would be asking the Public Protector and the National Consumer Commission to investigate whether Sassa had breached the rights of grant beneficiaries.

Congress of the People’s (COPE) Willie Madisha said the suspension of the cash payment tender suggested the "rot was still in the system".

The DA’s shadow social development minister Bridget Masango said the social development department was teetering on the brink of collapse, as critical positions were not filled with permanent appointments, including that of its director-general. "The entity that is responsible for the disbursement of R151bn per year does not have a permanent CEO or chief operations officer; seven of our nine regional executive managers are acting; and a corporate services executive [has] been in an acting status since 2009."

The minister said her department would be reporting to Parliament in the near future with a proposed plan to bring stability to the department. "We have frozen all appointments except the director-general, which has been advertised," she said.

Masango said the DA was cautiously optimistic that Shabangu, who took over the social development portfolio on February 26, would do a better job than her predecessor. However, she warned that the minister had her work cut out for her. The DA has previously called for Treasury intervention and a parliamentary inquiry into the Sassa controversy.