LETTER: A deadly social grants disaster is looming for SA
As the country impatiently waits for the true culprits behind the Life Esidemeni horror to be brought to justice, it seems our politicians are intent on repeating the mistakes made with the looming Sassa payments take-over.
In the case of Life Esidemeni, a contract with a competent private contractor was terminated, probably to teach them a lesson and because they made money from providing their services.
In the case of the South African Social Services Agency (Sassa), the services of a competent private contractor must be terminated to teach them a lesson and because they make money from providing their services.
The end result will inevitably be the same — people will die due to neglect and political interference.
In Parliament, members of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) have all been captured by the charms of the megalomaniac Mark Barnes, CEO of the Post Office. Barnes has convinced all and sundry that he runs a world-class operation that is ready and able to pay 17-million grants.
Every ordinary South African who actually visits the Post Office knows the truth. The staff members are indifferent, slow and often lack basic supplies like paper and ink to print car licences. Queues are already unbearably long and office hours are short. Most of us remember the three-month strike not so long ago that deprived us of our Christmas cards and magazines. Nobody will pay grants during the inevitable next strike. The Post Bank doesn’t even have a banking licence and doesn’t operate any modern technology, like the ATMs that would be required to pay out grants.
At least the expert panel appointed by the Constitutional Court seems to recognise the Post Office’s shortcomings in its recent report. The only problem is that the expert panel has proclaimed its own solution — all grant recipients should simply be forced to open new "low cost" bank accounts with the big banks (they all have free bank accounts already that have worked perfectly well for six years but the bank in question is apparently too "small").
The expert panel further recommends that Sassa should stop providing the payment service to grant recipients where they live — they reckon the 10,000 paypoints where CPS pays out grants every month (mainly to old age pensioners in rural areas) are highly overrated.
They also believe that the current biometric identification technology, which is much more secure than PIN numbers and has saved the government billions in fraud elimination, should be abolished.
Instead, they recommend that SASSA scales down on service delivery to our people where they live, that our grannies grab their walking sticks and set off to find the closest ATM (and remember their PINs), presumably paying most of their grants in taxi fares and bank costs and spending hours in a queue at the single ATM they may find within a 100km radius (if it hasn’t run out of cash or electricity).
I am sickened by the scale of the expert panel’s ignorance and insensitivity. It is a "let them eat cake" moment and the Constitutional Court should be ashamed to have appointed a panel that recommends reduced service delivery to the most vulnerable of our people. Isn’t that what happened with Life Esidemeni?
By my calculations, even if the Post Office or the banks would be willing and able (they are not) to start opening bank accounts by January 2, and assuming it takes only 10 minutes to open an account and issue a card (it does not) and all other bank customers are ignored (they won’t be), there is no way that anybody can conceivably be ready on April 1, or for several months thereafter, to ensure uninterrupted grant delivery.
Yet Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe says there is no contingency plan because none is required. Nobody seems to get it or care: people will die if they don’t get their grants on time. It could easily become our "Arab Spring" event. In the shock that will follow, I hope that the members of Scopa, the expert panel, the CEO of Sassa and ministers Radebe and Bathabile Dlamini are prepared to admit guilt at the inevitable commission of inquiry and be able to live with blood on their hands.