Cape Town - Parliament on Tuesday forced the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) and the SA Post Office (Sapo) back to the negotiating table to thrash out a deal on the payment of social grants.

The entities have been given until 6pm on Wednesday to reach an agreement following a deadlock that threatens a crisis in the payment of grants to 17million beneficiaries in April when the contract with current service provider Cash Paymaster Services runs out.

The push came when Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele appeared before the joint meeting of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) and the social development portfolio committee.

Read: MPs tell Sassa, Sapo to meet to break deadlock

The joint meeting came after Dlamini announced on Monday that the procurement of banking services, production and issuing of banking cards and provision of cash payment services was to be advertised on Friday.

Sassa has said that Sapo could only deal with the integrated payments system, including biometrics, on the grounds that they did not have the capacity and capability for grant payments.

However this was rubbished by the Post Office, which maintains it has met 97% of the requirements contained in the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) due diligence report commissioned by Sassa.

During the meeting Sapo chief executive Mark Barnes gave a blow by blow account of their capacity to render the service, and cited the CSIR report that was ostensibly not considered when the decision was made on the tender.

He said Sapo was more than ready to start disbursing grants through Post Bank, which was autonomous and a fully fledged bank.

Dlamini responded that the information given by Barnes was not contained in information provided to Sassa. At one stage, she accused the Post Office of bullying her officials.

Also read: Post Office says it is ready to take over #SASSA payouts

“It’s not like we have a bad relationship with Sapo.

“We must be given an opportunity to iron out areas where there is disagreement,” she said.

Sapo’s board chairman Comfort Ngidi said the Post Office had previously paid social grants.

“You can test whether we can do it or not. We have already been tested,” Ngidi said.

But Sassa acting chief executive Pearl Bhengu suggested they could not reverse the decision of the tender committee, and Dlamini was adamant they would forge ahead with the appointment of another service provider.

During the discussions, some MPs said the fiasco would have an impact on the poorest and most vulnerable, who are dependent on grants.

They called for a meeting with President Jacob Zuma, who chairs the inter-ministerial committee on social grants, claiming the committee had “failed dismally”, hence the “mess”.

When the parties were asked about finding a solution to the impasse, Ngidi said Sapo wanted to talk to the Southern African Accounting Association.

Dlamini said they were committed to a finding a solution.

“I still believe that talking makes things better than coming with different views,” she said.

Cwele stressed that it would be helpful if officials met as a matter of urgency.

Political Bureau