Money lenders in court over Sassa ‘fraud’

The Weekly, Free State, Friday, July 18 2014

Eighteen loan sharks will be appearing in different magistrate courts in the Free State on charges of fraud on July 22 2014 for defrauding social grants beneficiaries.

These suspects were arrested last month in different towns of the province as a result of a drive between the South African Security Agency (Sassa) and police which started on September,2013. Child support and disability grants beneficiaries were mostly affected by this.

The senior manager at the Sassa Bloemfontein office, Sandy Godlwana, said beneficiaries cited inadequate grant money as their reason to approach loan sharks for money.

"Some indicated that they experience challenges at home and indicate that the grant money is too little to cater for all their needs," said Godlwana.

During this operation over 800 social grants cards were found in possession of these loan sharks which is a contravention of section 20(1) of Social Assistance Act 13 of 2004, and the National Credit Act section 133 (1) that prohibit anyone to lend money illegally.

Over 400 beneficiaries were sent letters of intention to suspend their grants.

The province is one step ahead as the minister of social development Bathabile Dlamini announced the establishment of a ministerial task team, to investigate illegal money lending to social grants beneficiaries on Wednesday July 16 2014.

This team will be made up of representatives from Black Sash which is the human organisation advocating for social justice in country, Sassa and social development. This is after the minister find out that illegal money lending has become a profitable business amongst grants beneficiaries in the country.

"During my visits to many poor rural and urban communities, I received many complaints from beneficiaries about various types of deductions, including loans, deductions from multiple funeral schemes, electricity and airtime from social grants payments, often without their knowledge or consent," said Dlamini.

Dlamini said work is also underway to introduce amendments to the social assistance regulations to prohibit credit providers from deducting or marketing the product near Sassa offices and pay-points. "Work is underway to introduce amendments to the social assistance regulations to prohibit credit providers and other persons from conducting and marketing their products within defined perimeters of Sassa offices and pay-points. Penalties for those who contravene these regulations will be

To deal with challenge of fraud in the past, Sassa introduced a biometric based payment system in the country earlier this year. This method was meant to eradicate fraud and corruption which has robed the government through paying ghost beneficiaries.

The social grant beneficiaries re-registered and verified. During her budget speech, Dlamini said the continued efforts to improve Sassa and the integrity of the social security are encouraging. "We cancelled 850 000 grants and we saved R2 billion that was returned to the fiscus in September 2013, plus an additional saving of R1 billion (unspent funds) as at the end of the financial year," Dlamini cited.

This method of pay out to beneficiaries enables them to access their grants from the first day of the month from different payments places such as groceries store, post office and banks. According to the department over 80 percent of the beneficiaries draw their grants within the first seven days of the month.

Although the minister applauded the positive changes, Minister Dlamini acknowledged the challenges that come with the new methods. Some of the complaints received by the minister include the long toll free number, which makes it difficult for most people to memorise; and some beneficiaries, particularly the elderly, cannot remember their identity numbers.

"I have since instructed Sassa to review the implementation of the system with a view to remove the burden from the beneficiaries. As promised last year, I have appointed a ministerial committee to advise on a future payment model for social assistance benefits in South Africa," Dlamini said.