ANALYSIS

Anatomy of a crisis: How Sassa’s plan to take grants in-house was dead in the water

By Marianne Thamm 14 November 2018

Then Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini appears before Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on March 07, 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Rapport / Conrad Bornman)

While the Constitutional Court found in September 2018 that former Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini, had been reckless and grossly negligent with regard to Sassa’s plans to take payments of social grants in-house, public documents indicate that Dlamini’s plan — including the irregular appointment of ‘work streams’ — could never have worked.

Did Bathabile Dlamini, in collusion with Sassa officials, deliberately stall a process to take the R10-billion social grants payment contract in-house? And if so, did the minister and her officials do so to manipulate the process so that the irregularly awarded contract with CPS, a subsidiary of the US-listed Net 1 UPS, could be extended?

Did the establishment of the “work streams”, personally appointed by Dlamini in 2015 at the cost of R40-million and in contravention of procurement processes, also serve to delay the process in order to benefit CPS?

Or were these work streams designed to ultimately benefit the independent consultancies owned by members of Dlamini’s hand-picked Ministerial Task Team and who were irregularly procured to run the process?

One such consultant was Patrick Monyeki, a close associate of fired SARS Commissioner, Tom Moyane, and a man who has bagged significant government contracts over the years.

Monyeki’s company, Rangewave Consulting Pty (Ltd), while it is being probed by the SIU for various alleged acts of criminality, was also exposed recently as having scored a 40%, R80-million windfall as part of Moyane’s illegal R200-million deal with global advisory firm Gartner to perform an IT strategy review at SARS. While Monyeki resigned as director of Rangewave in March 2018, he remains a shareholder.

The questions which linger with regard to Dlamini and the “self-engineered”Sassa social grants crisis – as it was described the Constitutional Court – come to light in a deep-dive into documents which have heaped up in various legal actions in the course of the SassaGate crisis.

These include reportbacks by the court-appointed Panel of Experts, affidavits by the Black Sash and Freedom Under Law (which instituted legal proceedings), the findings of a Section 38 inquiry chaired by retired Judge Bernard Ngoepe, as well as various presentations by Sassa and Dlamini to parliamentary portfolio committees before, during and “after” the crisis had only been averted through the intervention of civil society and the courts.

The livelihoods of some 17 million grant recipients were placed at risk during this shameful episode in the late Zuma presidency.

In September 2018 the Constitutional Court found that Dlamini is personally liable for 20% of the legal costs related to the Sassa crisis. The court also ordered the NPA to investigate whether Dlamini should be criminally prosecuted for perjury after the court had found she had lied.

Doomed from the start

Sassa’s process of taking the grant payment contract in-house was derailed almost from the moment the Constitutional Court handed down in 2014 what has become known as the AllPay2 judgment. It found Sassa’s procurement of CPS had been irregular and invalid. The invalidity was suspended, however, while Sassa was ordered to issue a new tender.

No surprise then that three of the companies which responded, Durban Knight Investments, Standard Bank and Vodacom, were unable to meet the “biometric verification” – a component inserted later into the original tender.

This was a process only CPS could perform and so the irregular contract was extended to 31 March 2017 with Sassa assuring all that it would be ready to perform the task by 1 April 2017.

Back in November 2015 the Constitutional Court had discharged its initial supervisory role, leaving Sassa and Dlamini to themselves. This was after they had reassured the court the situation was under control and on track.

Already in July that year (2015), Dlamini had written to then Sassa CEO, Virginia Petersen, about the appointment of special work streams which would report to her.

However, it soon became evident to many, including some members of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Social Development, that there would be no way Sassa would meet the cut-off deadline for the CPS contract.

Court and other records show that as early as 19 April 2016, Zodwa Mvulane, Sassa’s Executive Manager: Strategy and Business Development, had understood the reality that Sassa would not be in any position to take over from CPS on 1 April 2017.

This is a crucial detail in the then unfolding drama and utter derailing of the process. During the process, Social Development DG Zane Dangor as well as Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza, who understood the real lie of the land, were sidelined. Dangor resigned and Magwaza was forced out by Dlamini.

A month after Mvulane’s rude awakening, on 11 May 2016, Sassa CEO Virginia Petersen sent “letters of award” to Tim Sukazi, Tangiso Parkies and Monyeki to lead the minister’s work streams.

In July 2016 Sassa entered into consultancy agreements worth more than R40-million with Sukazi, Parkies and Monyeki’s companies.

Dlamini had claimed that Monyeki’s Rangewave had been appointed after a “deviation” from normal procurement “because of Rangewave’s expertise”. National Treasury, however, in May 2017, declared the appointment of all the work streams “irregular”.

In October 2016 Sassa advocates Wim Trengove, Susannah Cowen, Mkhululi Stubbs and Hannine Drake of legal firm Thulamela Chambers provided the agency with a legal opinion that it would not be ready to take over the payment functions of CPS, that Sassa required more time and that Sassa had no other choice but to enter into an interim agreement with CPS. By December the same advocates had told Sassa to prepare a report to the Constitutional Court noting:

It became clear during consultation that there is no clarity within Sassa, or between Sassa and the minister on the content of any report to the relevant bodies including the Constitutional Court.”

Enter Rangewave

Court papers show that Rangewave contracted consultant Warwick Metcalfe from July 2016 to September 2017 as the programme manager for the IT and business info systems management for Sassa work streams.

It is not clear from any of the submissions what exactly Metcalfe’s special skills were and if these were applicable to Sassa’s requirements for the crucial overhaul of the social grants system.

According to Metcalfe’s affidavit in the Black Sash/ Freedom Under Law Constitutional Court challenge, a “three phase” process had been planned to work for completion in 2019/20.

Logically, this would mean that Rangewave could not have possibly completed the work by 1 April 2017.

With no alternative plan in place, Sassa and the work streams, it is patently obvious, were never going to meet the 1 April 2017 deadline.

Which begs the question then, if Rangewave had been aware it would not meet the deadline, did it enter into an agreement with Sassa in good faith?

So, either the work streams and their timeframes were flawed by design in order to facilitate the extension of the CPS contract, or the procurement of the work streams were a method of funnelling funds to the companies of those who had been part of Dlamini’s advisory committee.

Seven clear deliverables had been set out in Sassa’s 2015 report to the Constitutional Court, but it is clear that Rangewave’s proposal to Sassa to lead work streams provided no technical information of how this would be done by April 2017.

Even more curious is that a two-month “due diligence” process was initiated after the work streams began “work” for Sassa in July 2016. Which begs another simple question: Why conduct due diligence if the entire point of the deviation from procurement was to retain the skills of Dlamini’s advisory committee, as she informed the court?

It was the same advisory committee that had recommended that the work streams be appointed in order for Sassa to meet the 1 April 2017 deadline.

Both the Constitutional Court and the Section 38 inquiry found that Rangewave had reported directly to Dlamini, through Mvulane, and that Monyeki’s company had been appointed by the minister.

And while Dlamini has said that Rangewave had been hired to ensure that the grant payments could be taken “in-house” by April 2017, Metcalfe’s affidavit reflects a more organic interpretation of deadlines, time frames and what exactly the company did for Sassa.

According to Metcalfe, Rangewave’s job was to “make recommendations, provide guidance and management facilitation to Sassa and the work stream parties; facilitate the identification and determine deliverables and contribution of each work stream to the project; to assist Sassa in the establishment of necessary governance procedures and standards for project planning, reporting and risk, issue and deliverables management; and to facilitate the establishment of an architecture governance committee and integration forum as part of phase two of the Project”.

This “job” description is loaded with blinding consultant-speak and is devoid of detail as to how all this would be achieved by April 2017.

In fact some of the waffle, including “the identification of deliverables”, one would imagine, would or should have happened before Rangewave’s appointment.

The “phase two” referred to by Metcalfe in his affidavit appears to be the actual “implementation and support” of the new grants payment system.

Sassa’s closed tender for the work streams itself spoke of “immediate urgent payments migration challenge” and also an 18-month R75-million proposal for a “dedicated team of the industry’s best minds and part-time experts”.

It also called for the buying in of technology to “ensure a successful transfer of payment services to a new payment eco-system, strategically in-sourced and which co-ordinated with the Payment Service Partners”.

Rangewave will provide a team of industry-leading experts who will ensure that Sassa is able to strategically reposition itself with the help of National Treasury and PASA to disintermediate (yes) unnecessary middlemen and significantly reduce the cost of every payment transaction while having a significant impact on cost to Sassa.”

Meanwhile, Metcalfe’s affidavit states that “it was apparent by October 2016 that the seven deliverables contained in the Sassa final report to the Constitutional Court in November 2015 would not be realised in nine-month period by April 2017”.

He added that the seven deliverables alone “were inadequate in light of the minimum functional capacity the deliverables could achieve when measured against the objective of the project”.

In the end Rangewave’s “minimum functional capacity” led to a five-year consultancy.

Daily Maverick sent questions via WhatsApp to Monyeki with regard to claims made in Melcalfe’s affidavit and also whether Rangewave had been appointed knowing that the 31 March 2017 deadline for the in-house Sassa switchover could never have been met.

We also asked Monyeki also why a two-month “due diligence” process was conducted when the reason for Rangewave’s appointment, according to Dlamini, was to retain the skills of those who were part of her advisory panel.

In addition, Monyeki was asked to comment on National Treasury’s ruling that the procurement of the work streams had been irregular.

While our message to Monyeki was “blue ticked”, which indicates that the message was read, he did not acknowledge receipt or reply.

Melcalfe also sketched how Sassa, in fact, had no idea what Rangewave was up to and had constantly “diverted” attention by requesting from it “PowerPoint slides, memoranda and notes to assist Sassa in responding to demands from all branches of government for information”.

And finally, documents show that the final meeting of the work streams in March 2017 had been attended by Mvulane and CPS which led Metcalfe to question the relationship between Sassa and CPS and the timing of the meeting.

Of course, in the end, Sassa had nothing to show for all this money, time and energy spent. It was left, once again, up to the Courts as Sassa entered into a hurried and flawed contract with the South African Post Office as a partner for grant payouts.

The collateral damage still plays out each month in some areas as grant recipients, not only inconvenienced with the swopping of cards and caught in a net of circulating financial service providers, queue outside Sassa offices.

In some regions there have been major hitches in distributing particularly cash payouts, which have hit the poor, so much so that emergency food parcels have had to be distributed in the meantime.

There are ways to hold to account those embroiled in the sorry saga that has been recounted here. Scopa is bound to continue to grill current Minister of Social Development Susan Shabangu for answers, not only with regard to Sassa’s more-than R1-billion in irregular expenditure, but also the irregular R40-million procurement of Dlamini’s work streams. Will Moneyki find further probes of his company and this lucrative contract?

Depends on who is in charge.

She may be gone, but Dlamini’s ghost will haunt the ministry and Sassa, as well as grant recipients for years to come. Will Dlamini get away with it all, is the question. DM

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