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Parliament – Parliament's watchdog public accounts committee (Scopa) was expected to question the department of social development on the threatening welfare grant crisis on Tuesday.

The meeting comes exactly one month before the contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) to distribute grants to more than 17 million beneficiaries comes to an end, with the department and the South African Social Services Agency yet to agree on a new way of effecting payment.

Sassa said ten day ago that it was poised to file papers with the Constitutional Court, which invalidated the contract with CPS in 2013, setting out several alternative payment systems to implement from April 1.

But the court application never happened and claims emerged of a standoff between Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, whose mandate includes welfare grants. It became clear last week that Dlamini favours an extension of the contract with CPS to allow the company to continue grant payments in the immediate future. 

However, this can only happen with the permission of the Constitutional Court, which suspended its ruling that the contract was invalid because proper tender processes had not been followed, so as not to compromise grant payment. Sassa has to explain to the court why it cannot meet the deadline to take over the payment function itself as planned.

A legal opinion drafted by respected advocate Wim Trengove expressed the view that Sassa initially made good progress in preparing itself to step in but that this did not continue.

It added that it appeared that Sassa was not months, but years away from having the capacity to take over the role. National Treasury has, in an advisory capacity, set out payment options, including one that would use commercial banks to make payments to those grant recipients who hold bank accounts.

However, Dlamini has dismissed this. Another option would give the Post Office a leading role, but it has been reported that tension arose between Dlamini and Magwaza after he wrote to the parastatal to enlist its help in distributing grants from April.