South African biometric grant system suspended to end public sector workers’ strike

The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) has suspended the use of its biometric system for social benefit payments after a countrywide strike by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) over a lack of adequate training, the Kempton Express reports.

Grant payments will be issued through the legacy SOCPEN system, and Sassa told the Parliamentary Social Development committee that the suspension is only temporary, according to Eyewitness News.

Acting Sassa CEO Abraham Mahlangu says that a team has been appointed to address the technical and operational issues raised by Nehawu members, and that registration and benefit payments should continue. Nehawu is the largest public sector union in South Africa, with 235,000 members.

The suspension of the biometric system sparked concern within the Department of Social Development that billions of rand could be lost to fraud, after the system eliminated more than a million fraudulent beneficiaries and saved South Africa some R2 billion (US$140 million), local media outlet IOL reports.

The biometric social grants program was entrusted to the South African Post Office (SAPO) earlier this year, but workers demanded it be suspended as a condition for ending their strike. IOL reports that former Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini had warned Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan last February that SAPO was not prepared to distribute grants to the system’s roughly 17 million beneficiaries, and sources are divided on the likelihood of fraud increasing due to the suspension of the biometric system.

Sassa and Nehawu agreed to work together to deal with the consequences of the changes, and the government has committed to job evaluations and skills audits. No timeline for resuming the use of biometrics has been provided.

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