The Committee heard a briefing by the new Chief Executive Officer of the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), Ms Virginia Petersen, on the challenges currently facing SASSA, and proposed solutions. Ms Petersen stressed that she was still new in her post, and therefore would like the opportunity to report further on progress later in the year. She regarded the delivery of social assistance to over 15 million needy people in South Africa as a prime achievement of the Agency, but fully conceded that there were many flaws in SASSA that needed to be addressed. SASSA aimed to build a high performance institution that complied with good governance and showed operational excellence, with enhanced customer care, better organisational efficiency and increased access to social services. One of the major challenges was the significant growth in the number of beneficiaries, which stretched the existing beneficiary to staff ratio to its limits. SASSA also currently had a 60% vacancy rate, but even those staff in place were not demonstrating the required levels of corporate accountability and care. SASSA’s financial assistance was only part of the package of social services and it needed to have greater integration with other departments. There was a lack of suitable office accommodation and many of the paypoints were clearly not compatible with offering the most basic services, including toilets, running water and proper waiting rooms. Storage of files was also a problem and although there was no immediate intention to make digital and electronic copies, better storage and retrieval systems were being put in place. The lack of a single brand for SASSA, and the lack of corporate culture in the regional offices, were further problems and she herself had identified instances where staff were not giving full attention to clients, or were not wearing name tags as they were supposed to. Management of SASSA was holding discussions with unions on several points around staff performance, and also on the possibility of extending office hours so that all those calling at the offices within office hours would be attended to before that office closed. In respect of the fraud that had plagued SASSA in the past, there were attempts to improve policing and investigation, and the Special Investigating Unit investigations were ongoing, although it was not known if money would be recovered. The former Chief Financial Officer had now had his contract terminated. The risk was increased by the fact that SASSA had to use contract staff, because of budgetary constraints, but it was hoped to convert many of these positions to full time and permanent posts. Staff interface, including interface between beneficiaries and security guards, had to be improved. Some of the priority projects to try to address the challenges were outlined, including evaluation of staff, proper assessment of competencies and necessary training, automation of grant management, development of payment systems for the future, and attempts to improve record keeping and audits.
Members agreed that they had witnessed many of the challenges during the oversight visits, asked that the attitude of security guards should be improved, asked about the moves to address the vacancy rate and train staff, including existing employees. Members expressed concern about the lack of proper facilities, and long waiting times and asked what was being done to address them. They suggested more efficient use of the mobile trucks, and received information on costs associated with these. They asked that time frames be provided for addressing the challenges, including report backs by the Special Investigating Unit. They commented that they hoped that SASSA would now deliver on its promises and asked how SASSA intended to tackle infrastructural limitations. Members commended the presentation and looked forward to further engagement.