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CAPE TOWN, March 14 (Reuters) - South Africa's Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Tuesday he was "fairly confident" social security payments will be paid on April 1 despite a service-provider dispute that has cast doubt over the welfare benefits.
The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) is scrambling to ensure that as many as 17 million people continue to receive their money, despite concerns that retaining the existing service provider is both unlawful and costly.
"I am fairly confident grants will be paid," Gordhan told parliament's public accounts committee, referring to April 1.
The existing contract, run by Cash Paymaster Services, a unit of technology company Net1 unit, has been in doubt since South Africa's highest court ruled in 2014 that the tender process to acquire its services was unlawful. It ordered that a new contract to be negotiated.
SASSA officials have said the agency had opted to renew the deal with Cash Paymaster Services despite the court order. A new deal has not yet been made public.
The Constitutional Court, which ruled the original contract invalid in 2014, will on Wednesday hear an application by non-government bodies, Black Sash and Freedom Under Law, for the court to play a supervisory role in any new contract agreed.
The Treasury has expressed misgivings about SASSA retaining Cash Paymaster Services, a move also criticised by members of parliament's committee on public accounts.
"We are trying to be careful not to preempt the court in anyway, and the court will finally determine the shape and direction of many of the issues we are looking at," Gordhan said. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by James Macharia)