Wanna be the smartest person in the room? Good start
17 August 2017 05:37 (South Africa)
Opinionista Marianne Thamm

Dear Minister Dlamini, how do you sleep at night?

  • Marianne Thamm
    marianne-thamm.jpg
    Marianne Thamm
One of the most significant clauses in the Constitution of South Africa is the mandate that the state provide social grants to the country's most poor and vulnerable. The South African Social Security Agency, which is tasked with this mammoth job, has accomplished much in the ten years it has functioned, bringing relief to around 17 million people. But over the years the agency has also been plagued by wide-scale corruption and mismanagement. Perhaps we should not be surprised. SASSA reports to the profligate Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini, who is a serial offender when it comes to dipping into the public purse.

It's not what you say in politics that reflects who you are, it's what you do. And so it was that when President Jacob Zuma summoned his reliable supporter, President of the ANC Women's League and Minister of Social Security, Bathabile Dlamini, to Pretoria in March this year she jumped. The meeting with Number One – which took place just before the Nkandla Con Court judgement - clashed with her official SASSA duties as the Minister of the responsible department.

Dlamini simply absconded from a planned SASSA outreach meeting, leaving the agency with around R1.1 million in irregular expenditure. In so doing, the amount was taken out of circulation instead of being put to use for the good of the poor.

An unrepentant Dlamini told Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts on November 23 this year that she had unfortunately been “redeployed” by the President. She offered this excuse as if everyone at the meeting would respond “ah, oh, well that's ok then.”

But SCOPA Chair, Themba Godi, administered a tongue lashing (but always with a smile as is Godi's habit) that Dlamini's office should have informed the President that she had a pre-planned event and that expenses to the public purse would be incurred.

The Minister promised she would “make a note of it”.

In some way Dlamini is already beginning to reap what she has sown. In August this year angry Port Elizabeth residents reduced the Minister to tears while she was out campaigning for the ruling party. You are drunk on expensive whiskey, they shouted – perhaps intending the insult to be more of a metaphor of what citizens think happens at the ANC gravy train/feeding trough.

Two months later the country learned that Dlamini and her department had run up a bill of R547,413 sending a five-person delegation to a Rainbow Push Coalition conference in Chicago at the invitation of Rev Jesse Jackson. The officials camped out at the four-star Hyatt Regency McCormick.

Just a month before, in September, Dlamini was a bit cagey with regard to her overseas travel bills as well as her stays at the Oyster Box Hotel in KwaZulu Natal – at R11,000 a night. The Minister's collective travel costs amounted to around R12 million over 2015/16 and the Democratic Alliance has had to resort to making an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act to request a full breakdown of Dlamini's travel costs.

In 2006, Dlamini was one of 23 MPs charged with fraud and theft relating to the abuse of parliamentary travel vouchers. She pleaded guilty to one count of fraud for R254,000 worth of service benefits and mileage claims and was fined R120,000 or five years in prison. She paid the fine.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Herald exposed a R80 million tender had been awarded by SASSA to a company which is already being probed by the Hawks. The company, Azande Consulting, is owned by Doreen Makhaye who was contracted by Dlamini to cater for Department of Social Development “imbizos” in the Eastern Cape.

One wonders whether the R1.1 million squandered on the missed meeting when Dlamini rushed to Zuma's side was one of those. The tender to Azande was irregularly awarded (like so many SASSA tenders it seems) which is why the Hawks are looking into it, or maybe not, as Eastern Cape Hawks spokesperson Anelisa Feni has denied this.

The company was all ready to benefit from another tender valued at R80 million – signed off by acting SASSA chief executive, Raphaahle Ramokgopa on June 23 stating that Makhaye's company had been listed on the SASSA data base for Project Mikondzo for three years – when it was exposed.

All in all, SASSA has rung up a bill of R1 BILLION in irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure with officials and the minister behaving as if it is a personal fiefdom.

In 2015 the DA requested to Auditor General to investigate multiple violations including the procurement of R159,000 worth of firearms, including rifles and pistols and that do not appear on the Department of Social Development’s asset register; expenditure of R10 million on bodyguards for former SASSA CEO, Virginia Petersen, and Renay Ogle, general manager for fraud management and compliance at SASSA as well as the undocumented provision of bodyguards to an Administrator at SASSA, a Mr Nene and his family, the Social Development Minister’s spokesperson, Lumka Oliphant and her children, the Minister’s own children, as well as a Free State official, a Mr Maqetuka. The DA alleges there were no signed service agreements for the protection of these officials but the bill was paid by SASSA (and taxpayers).

Then there was further expenditure of R465,000 for the installation of “comprehensive security systems” in a SASSA employees’ house by Vuco Security, which the Auditor-General found had not been “in accordance with the service agreement between SASSA and Vuco.”.

Adding to the steaming pile was the appointment of Renay Ogle, a close friend of former SASSA CEO, Virginia Peterson, as a general manager in the Fraud Management and Compliance department of SASSA despite Ogle not having the required qualifications, or a driver’s license, and being resident in Cape Town yet employed in Johannesburg.

And then heading for the apex of the pile was another noted expenditure of almost R800,000 to Werksmans Attorneys “for that firm to respond to the Public Protector’s requests for information on certain allegations against SASSA, instead of SASSA responding with the assistance of the Office of the State Law Advisor, as is provided for in the law which would have been at no cost,”said the DA.

The DA had submitted 128 questions pertaining to this corruption and later said that “the replies to these questions display a blatant disregard for the Parliamentary process and the seriousness of the corruption allegations by the Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini.”

So while in July this year (a month before the local government elections) President Jacob Zuma may have led the celebration of SASSA's tenth anniversary at an event that took place at Khombi, near Nkandla, SASSA and Department of Social Development claims that SASSA runs “one of the country’s most effective and extensive poverty alleviation programmes” is more spin than truth,

And while the President might think that the achievement of 11.9 million Child Support Grants, 3.2 million Old Age Grants, 131 375 Child Dependency Grants, 493,012 Foster Care Grants, 230 grants to war veterans and 1.7 million Disability Grants is pretty good going, imagine how much better the services to these people would be if only SASSA and the Department of Social Development as well as the minister were not living large off public funds meant for the country's most poor and vulnerable.

It is all due to the large sums of money SASSA has to handle. R10 billion a month. And where there are such huge amounts, bottom feeders and the unscrupulous gather, many of them feeling entitled to dip into the stash for personal gain.

Social security and the care of the country's most vulnerable is one of the key values of the Constitution. It is a policy that the ANC might rightfully claim but it is one that the party, under the profligate leadership of President Jacob Zuma, has clearly left beaten and abused.

The SASSA and Department of Social Development abysmal presentation to SCOPA last month revealed that few senior officials have been held to account. And while Hawks head Mthandazo Ntlemeza was present at the standing committee meeting and was in fact requested by chair Themba Godi to note the committee's intention to follow up on prosecutions, this is unlikely.

The true venal nature of those individuals who have snatched the mother-body of the ANC is revealed in its attitude to SASSA and its mandate to the country's poor.

At this late stage in the process a competent and committed minister would have been able to set out, with ease and confidence, progress towards the March 31 deadline when current SASSA cards will expire affecting the lives of 17 million people who could starve without the regular, if terribly basic, income.

All Portfolio Committee committee members got this week was a Minister who refused to disclose “contingency plans” as they might put her department – yes, her department and not grant recipients – “at risk”.

Let's just clarify: the disclosure of the plans can put Minister Dlamini at risk only if there is an enemy who can benefit from this. In this specific case, Minister, the enemy is YOU.

The ruling party takes for granted the fact that South African citizens think that IT and not the state is responsible for dishing out vital grants that mean the difference between life and death. These grants are our social compact with the poor. The Minister and SASSA should be ashamed of themselves for violating that compact.

The incident where Dlamini was booed and chased out of Port Elizabeth is an indication of more to come. The wilful blindness of the ANC to the repeated violation of the law by the executive, including ministers, as well as officials, will cost the party dearly. VERY dearly. DM

  • Marianne Thamm
    marianne-thamm.jpg
    Marianne Thamm

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