South African Auditor-General Raises Concerns Over Grant Payment Oversight. During a recent presentation of the 2022/23 annual reports for the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and the Department of Social Development (DSD), the Auditor-General raised concerns about the effectiveness of grant payment enforcement.
The audit revealed irregular spending of R39 million, primarily attributed to issues with SASSA and social grant payments. Here’s an overview of the key points from the presentation:
DSD Claim of Timely Grant Payments
The DSD assured members of parliament (MPs) that it consistently disburses grants to beneficiaries on time, despite a recent payment glitch involving Postbank. The DSD’s acting director-general, Linton Mchunu, emphasized that any delays occur at grant collection points and not in the disbursement process. The amount allocated for grants increased from R221 billion in 2021/22 to R239 billion in 2022/23.
MPs Criticize DSD and SASSA
MPs on the parliament’s portfolio committee for social development criticized both the DSD and SASSA for failing to fully accept responsibility for payment delays. MP Bridget Masango pointed out that until beneficiaries have the money in hand, these government agencies remain responsible for the funds.
Challenges Affecting SASSA
SASSA’s CEO, Busisiwe Memela-Khambula, acknowledged various public challenges that have impacted service delivery. These challenges include ongoing load shedding at SASSA branches, budget cuts, and technical glitches experienced by Postbank.
Despite these challenges, the number of social grants paid increased from approximately 18.7 million in March 2022 to about 18.9 million in March 2023, at a cost of R202 billion. An average of 8.5 million people received the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant monthly, costing the state more than R30 billion in 2022/23.
Irregularities Uncovered by the Auditor-General
The Auditor-General, Faizel Jogee, identified several deficiencies related to grant payments and administration at SASSA. These included payments to ineligible applicants, under and overpayment of foster care grants, inadequate means tests, difficulties in locating beneficiaries for physical verifications, and cases of disability grant fraud.
The audit also revealed that payments were made for services not rendered, amounting to R74 million, and an overpayment of R316 million to a service provider assisting with the R350 grant applicants.
Additionally, the department was found to be buying assets at prices higher than their market value. A total of R39 million was deemed irregularly spent in the 2022-23 financial year, with the main contributors being SASSA with R20.8 million, DSD with R18.2 million, and the National Development Agency with R330,000.
Concerns Over Repeat Findings
MPs expressed frustration over the recurrence of similar findings in audit reports. MP Liezl van der Merwe questioned the effectiveness of the Auditor-General’s enforcement powers in addressing these issues. Faizel Jogee acknowledged that these repeat findings, particularly in the grant payments area, were a cause for concern.
Slow Grant Appeals Process
Brenda Sibeko, the DSD’s deputy director-general, identified another challenge in processing grant appeals. Only 57% of appeals were concluded within the 90-day target, instead of the intended 70%. Sibeko attributed this to amendments to the Social Assistance Act, which allowed beneficiaries to appeal directly to the tribunal.
This change led to a backlog in appeals being dealt with by the DSD. Despite this, Sibeko emphasized that the appeals were eventually addressed, albeit outside the 90-day period.
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