Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini. File photo: David Ritchie/Independent Media
Parliament – Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini in a brief appearance before Parliament's watchdog public accounts committee (Scopa), on Tuesday refused to explain why her department needed R6 billion to prepare the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) to take over the payment of welfare grants.

"I really find it is unfair because we are being asked a question and we make an estimation out of the work we have done and we say clearly this is going to stretch over a period of five years. It was very clear and we are still going to go back to the portfolio committee and the select committee and specify or give a proper budget on the whole programme and therefore Scopa will come when the right time comes."

Dlamini was responding to a question from Democratic Alliance MP Tim Breuteseth over a financial projection she made last week which sparked a renewed outcry over Sassa's apparent lack of readiness to take over grant payment once the current arrangement with private contractor Cash Paymaster Services expires.

The minister arrived two and a half hours into a crunch meeting with the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, which is trying to oversee Sassa's preparations to take over payment.

The agency's failure to be ready to do so in April sparked a crisis that was only resolved when the Constitutional Court ruled that CPS had a constitutional duty to continue paying about 17 million welfare grants monthly though its contract was due to expire at the end of March.

Most of the briefing therefore saw embattled Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwazi trying to account for both the agency's preparations for a new payment regime to replace CPS, as well irregular expenditure of millions of rands.

Magwaza was also uncomfortable mapping out plans for the immediate future. He said it would only become clear on Wednesday at a workshop whether the South African Post Office would be a "solution integrator" that would resume responsibility for a new interim structure "lock, stock and barrel", or whether certain aspects of a new system would be put to tender.

Only then could Sassa approach National Treasury for funds for a systems transfer, he said.

"Things are happening.... We want to finalise everything and then put it in writing. Part of it is going to be done tomorrow in the workshop." He added that his caution partly lay in the fact that "we are reporting things that we have not reported to the minister".

The relationship between Dlamini and Magwaza all but broke down in March as the payment crisis came to a head.