The Constitutional Court has asked the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) to provide reasons why an alternative payment scheme, recently suggested by its expert panel, is feasible.

The alternative payments scheme was suggested two weeks ago by the expert panel set up by Sassa and Black Sash under the supervision of the court.

In its second feedback report, the panel suggested a seemingly simpler way to deal with the short-term problems facing the migration of the social grants scheme – four months before the April 1, 2018, deadline.

The scheme would rely on South Africa’s well developed and regulated electronic payment systems, which account for 80% of all social grant transactions currently.

On Wednesday, the court asked Sassa and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini to provide reasons why the alternative scheme could be implemented by the April 1 deadline.

The court would require this by Sassa’s next quarterly report, due on December 18.

“If they are feasible, the minister and Sassa must report by January 15 how they intend to set up a system of direct payments into beneficiary bank accounts from Sassa’s own corporate bank account…” the directive reads.

Sassa would also need to provide a contingency for the 20% of grant recipients who would still require cash payments.

The expert panel suggested extending the Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) contract for six more months to handle only the cash portion of the system.

Probe into Sassa employees

The panel had also recommended that Sassa officials be investigated over their conduct in the delayed and stalled progress of the grants scheme.

It suggested that the National Treasury handle the investigation, also probing the social development department for possible prosecution.

All instances, since 2016, where Sassa issued contracts to service providers should be probed, and all documents should be handed over without delay, the report said.

The court has asked the panel to clarify if the probe would still be necessary by January 29, after all the other submissions had been made.

Sassa has been locked in protracted talks with the South African Post Office (SAPO) and commercial banks this year in an effort to develop a “hybrid” model to distribute grants by the deadline.

The talks have been stalled and delayed a number of times, with a formal service agreement still not signed, but with an implementation protocol signed off for the Post Office to come on board.

The electronic payment alternative would solve the immediate problems faced by this hybrid model, the expert panel suggested.

The Constitutional Court has also asked Sassa to provide an update on the agreement with the Post Office by December 8. – News24