At the last chaotic presentation by SASSA officials to Parliament’s portfolio committee on social development on February 1, there was much talk about “burning”, “fires” and the political heat the ruling party would face should the monthly R10-billion worth of grants not be paid out to 17-million vulnerable South Africans who depend on it for survival come April 1.
This is the very constituency the ruling party depends on for support, prompting one ANC committee member to remark that she needed clarity on the matter to report back to her constituency as “our houses will be burnt down” should there be any delay in payouts. At that meeting, which Minister Dlamini skipped to attend a Cabinet lekgotla in Pretoria, SASSA CEO Thokozani Magwaza told committee members, “If you ask me to choose between irregular [processes] and the country going up in flames, I choose irregular.”
The payout of social grants is a critical matter – much more so than the palace politics currently playing out in the ruling party – and it is a measure of Dlamini’s political arrogance that she has held up the matter and left it so late, creating a national emergency that has dragged in everyone else, including Treasury and SASSA officials desperately trying to find a solution.
Whatever happens – and SASSA is due to brief the committee again on Wednesday morning with regard to its readiness – the minister as well as SASSA have given repeated assurances that the grants will be paid. At what cost to the taxpayer in the long run will be part of the terrible collateral damage that will be legacy of Dlamini and SASSA’s inexplicably tardy response to implementing Constitutional Court deliverables in terms of SASSA’s own “in-house” ability to disburse grants.
On February 17, Dlamini issued a statement denying that there was any “enmity” between herself and Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, with regard to the legality of extending the Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) contract.
“The minister wishes to put on record that such allegations are malicious and are intended to wedge a division between herself and the minister who is a colleague in a collective Cabinet led by the ANC, which deployed both of them to serve the people of South Africa,” she said.
She added that there was therefore “no Dlamini option or Gordhan option” but with this as the kicker: “It is the responsibility of Minister Dlamini to decide which option will ensure that social grant beneficiaries receive their social grant on April 1, 2017 without interruptions.”
The devil is in the detail.
The Minister will decide. Not Treasury or the courts.
It was clear at the February 1 meeting that there had been much backroom manoeuvring by Minister Dlamini – including a meeting in December with President Jacob Zuma as well as his lawyer Michael Hulley – and that SASSA officials, as well as CPS itself, had been kept out of the loop. Dlamini, in her media statement, admits that as of February 17 “no formal negotiations have started with CPS”, which places Net1, the Nasdaq-listed holding company of CPS, in an extraordinarily strong position to negotiate an extremely favourable rate. Talk about White Minority Capital… but let’s not rather.
Amabhungane investigative journalist Craig McKune, who has been tracking the story as well as unravelling the apparent knots tying Dlamini to the CPS contract, revealed how Dlamini had attempted to bully SASSA officials into accepting her plan to bolster the role of private contractors, including CPS, in opposition to an “open architecture plan” devised by SASSA, Treasury, the South African Reserve Bank and the Department of Social Development.
McKune has also investigated the links between Dlamini and CPS’s BEE partners, a relationship that pivots on their mutual acquaintance of Lunga Ncwana, former partner of the corrupt JCI boss and ANC Youth League benefactor, Brett Kebble.
At the weekend it was revealed that CPS might squeeze SASSA for an extra R1.3-billion to extend the contract, a more than 50% jump on the current annual R2.2-billion fee. With no room to manoeuvre, SASSA officials will most likely be forced to accept the offer (paid for out of state coffers of course).
And while SASSA was due to file an application to the Constitutional Court on February 8, on Tuesday Department of Social Development spokesperson Paseka Letsatsi announced that, “After consultation and considering the legal advice we had been given we came to the conclusion that we should file progress reports to ConCourt it had ordered as to do.”
The lack of transparency and the apparent political meddling by Dlamini in the SASSA debacle has led to calls by members of the opposition for her to resign or be fired.
DA Shadow Minister of Social Development, Bridget Masango, her Deputy Lindy Wilson as well as the IFP’s Liezl van der Merwe, have all been instrumental in drawing public attention to the possible impending disaster.
Last week Masango issued a statement saying that the failure of SASSA to approach the Constitutional Court “confirms what the DA believes, that there is a massive conflict within SASSA between hard-working officials trying to desperately do their work and the Social Development Minister, Bathabile Dlamini, who is clearly far more interested in campaigning for the ANC than ensuring millions of South Africans continue to receive social grants”.
If it is Treasury that has blocked Dlamini’s proposal, as the DA has claimed, then it is interesting to raise the possibility that the minister, who is known to be close to President Zuma, might have been holding out or delaying matters deliberately because she might have inside information.
With the reported imminent swearing-in of Brian Molefe as Deputy Minister of Finance, it will be interesting to see whether these suspicions are confirmed. DM