One Billion for What?
As part of our monitoring practice, Black Sash goes into communities to witness firsthand the services government provides. Recently we monitored the Gugulethu Local SASSA office together with the Community Advice Office, and were astonished at the long queues we found.
In an ironic encounter, a distraught young woman approached me and the local assistant manager, tears running down her face, pleading for help. Through her sobs she managed to explain that she had waited for about six hours just to be told in the end that she could not be reissued with a new SASSA card without an identity document.
Her distress affected me to the point that I had to compose myself in order to maintain my independence as a monitor. She was, however, no victim, and was very articulate in stating her case. She had, that morning, presented the Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) official with an affidavit confirming that her ID and SASSA card were stolen two days before on the train. Without the card she was unable to access her Child Support Grant which had been paid into her SASSA bank account. Bizarrely, CPS insisted that she bring her hard copy ID before she can receive a new SASSA card.
She asked us how her fingerprints and her recorded voice on the CPS system were not sufficient proof of identity.
Her problem was simple and her reasoning perfectly logical but the overly complicated and cautious CPS administration could not help her.
Many people are struggling to understand and engage with the newly introduced, much talked about, biometric payment system. In a controversial decision that has landed both parties in the Constitutional Court, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) was awarded the multi-billion Rand tender by SASSA to pay out social grants nationally. Last year over 16 million people had to re-register on the system where voice recordings and all ten fingerprints of adults and children as young as one year were taken.
It was clear that the SASSA staff were uncomfortable that they were unable to help this young woman to get her grant. They contacted the SASSA regional office where an official explained that the ID was one of the requirements agreed to with CPS in their Service Level Agreement.
Last year, Serge Bellamont, the CEO of CPS, said that he had paid over one billion rand for the development of this biometric system. I am left wondering, what is the point of a one billion rand high-tech solution if the administration still relies on hard copy identification and disregards its own biometric information?
Black Sash intends to continue to monitor the payment system and engage the decision makers to ensure system improvements for grant beneficiaries.
Ratula Beukman is the Acting Regional Manager of the Cape Town Regional Office of the Black Sash