During Bathabile Dlamini’s tenure as Minister of Social Development, over R42-million of taxpayers’ money was spent on her infamous “work streams”, set up to duplicate the work of existing structures within her department and playing for time in the near-catastrophic CPS-saga – a crisis that saw South Africa’s social grants payment network come about as close to a complete implosion as could be, endangering the lives and livelihoods of millions of vulnerable South Africans, including young children and pensioners.
The same minister also had Sassa spend more than R3.5-million on state-sponsored bodyguards for her children and the children of her spokesperson, Lumka Oliphant; paid the SABC half a million to be interviewed on Real Talkby Anele Mdoda for a “puff piece”; and wasted R16-million of the Sassa budget on four “educational” events in Kwazulu-Natal.
There were optimists who believed things would change when President Cyril Ramaphosa removed Dlamini from the portfolio shortly after his assumption of office.
But Dlamini was succeeded by Minister Susan Shabangu. As Minister of Women in the Presidency, Minister Shabangu was no stranger to wasteful expenditure.
Replies to questions posed by the DA in Parliament revealed that between March 2016 and March 2017 Minister Shabangu kept a private office of at least 15 people, including three special advisers. Current regulations prescribe a private office of not more than 10 people. The office cost her department over R20-million. This might not sound like a lot, considering that Dlamini wasted double that much on the work streams. But consider that the entire Department of Women had a budget of only R195-million during the year under question, and the programme within which ministerial offices are administered takes up R84-million of this budget.
One therefore has to make the shocking realisation that Minister Shabangu spent a tenth of her Department’s total budget on her private office, which is almost a quarter of what was set aside for the administration programme.
Barely four months into her new position, and in control of a significantly larger budget (the Department of Social Development received more than R172-billion for the 2018/19 financial year, making it a veritable behemoth in our national expenditure estimates), Minister Shabangu has already appointed a hand-picked technical team to oversee the transition from CPS to SAPO, which has so far seen 700,000 people left without their grants, and employed two new advisers in her already expanding private office.
One of these latter appointments, Benedicta Monama, as an article in the Daily Maverick has revealed, has a very questionable past. In 2011 she was implicated in an investigation by the then Auditor-General, when she went against advice and irregularly awarded a R3-billion contract for drivers’ licence testing centres. Four years later, she irregularly awarded 15 tenders for water-related infrastructure projects. These tenders were worth more than R230-million, and the companies to whom they were awarded could not produce audited financial statements or proof of their BBBEE credentials.
Monama has reportedly been entrusted unofficially with running affairs at Sassa while the position of COO is vacant.
The DA finds it extremely concerning that a person with the kind of track record Monama has now holds power over the more then R150-billion set aside for the payment of social grants to more than 17.2-million social grant recipients. These beneficiaries are among our society’s most vulnerable people, including the elderly, the disabled, children in foster care and unemployed persons. We cannot afford to be dumped into the kind of crisis that threatened the system last year – the cost, measured in unspeakable human suffering, is virtually unthinkable.
The DA will use all means at its disposal to prevent such a situation from unfolding. This includes asking questions to the department, and referring Minister Shabangu’s private office to the Public Service Commission for investigation. DM