Open Secrets warns Sassa to guard digital grants system against abuse
- Open Secrets has warned Sassa to watch out for private companies who want to abuse the digital grants system
- Researcher Abby May says the NGO's recent investigation has revealed the dangers of digitising grant applications
Open Secrets has warned the South African government to look out for private companies seeking to profit from the digitalisation of the social grants system.
The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) has been issuing government contracts to private companies as that will help steer its digitalisation drive.
In early 2020, a small South African technology company named GovChat offered its services to Sassa for free to set up a WhatsApp platform for the Covid-19 social disress reflief grant application process.
Over 13 million people qualified for the Covid-19 grant, according to Open Secrets researcher Abby May.
May has co-authored a report warning about how some companies could potentially profit from their access to the personal data submitted by grant applicants.
She says Sassa needs to protect individuals from exploitative digital systems in light of the 2017 Sassa grant payments crisis involving parent company Net1 and its subsidiary Cash Paymaster Services (CPS).
"They abused and misused that system that they set up for the grant applicants", May says.
She says Sassa needs to ensure that its contracts and agreements with digital service providers do not leave any room for abuse of personal information or monetisation.
"I don't believe there has been any thorough preparation", she warns.
Sassa decided to go the route of digitalising the application processes, they used a USSD platform, an email platform, and a WhatsApp platform which were all digitalised by separate companies. They decided to do that the because they did not have the capacity themselves to digitalised the grant application process.Abby May, Researcher - Open Secrets
Of cours, digitalising the grant application process is a wonderful thing, the dangers however is that in the past Sassa has had problems when digitalising the grant system... if we can recall a few years ago with Net1 and CPS.Abby May, Researcher - Open Secrets
The large risk with this, and which is really highlighted within our report, is that we need to be forward-looking and ensure that the personal data that is the databases of the state and being handled and secured by the private sector isn't abused in the future.Abby May, Researcher - Open Secrets
Source : Kayleen Morgan/Eyewitness News