Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini's former technocrats, Zane Dangor

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Attempts to fix grants crisis ‘stifled’

JOHANNESBURG, February 3 – South Africa’s Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini’s former technocrats on Friday revealed how genuine attempts by SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) to come up with solutions to the social grants payment crisis were stifled by Dlamini as she sidelined her special adviser and the Sassa executive team.

Former Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza and Dlamini’s special adviser Zane Dangor gave evidence at the Constitutional Court-mandated inquiry probing the minister’s role in the social grants debacle and whether she should be held personally liable for legal costs incurred.

Magwaza had earlier told the inquiry that Dlamini impeded Sassa’s work through the contentious and expensive work streams, her unwillingness to engage with the banks which were part of the open architecture model, and pushing to prolong the illegal Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) contract yet again.

Open architecture was a model through which South Africa’s commercial banks and the the SA Post Office would pull together to takeover social grant payments from CPS. Dlamini further told Magwaza to find information on the banks that could discredit them so that they would not be selected to dispense grants, said Magwaza.

”The minister drove us towards CPS. Everything done was a push to remain with CPS… this initially started as an option of extending the contract, then it later moved to [an] option of a wholly new CPS contract,” he said.

The two had been at loggerheads over the work done by the work streams as the social grants crisis became imminent. Magwaza then filed an affidavit in the Constitutional Court disputing Dlamini’s claims in court that sought to lay blame on Sassa executives.

The former Sassa boss said the affidavit was his personal account to “set the record straight” that Dlamini knew as far back as July 2015 that Sassa would not able to take over the grant payments.

After detailing his advisory role to Dlamini, Dangor told the inquiry that a ”tug of war” emerged between him, Dlamini and Magwaza. This worsened as he and Magwaza were sidelined from the work of the advisory groups, called work streams. The work streams’ job was to assist Sassa take over grants payments.

”Attempts to come up with an emergency solution were stymied. The open architecture model was not fully embraced by the minister and [Sassa project manager responsible for the grants payment transition] Miss Zodwa Mvulane…taking into accounts the minister’s comments she made regarding the matter,” said Dangor.

Magwaza had testified that Mvulane ignored her Sassa executives and instead worked side-by-side with the work streams, and reported everything to Dlamini.

Dangor added that although the work streams reporting directly to Dlamini and not through Sassa executives was not illegal, it became a concerning governance and communication issue.

”The fact that we did not have a plan two years after conceding to the court that we were going to in-source based on a set of deliverables, and instead of consolidating your oversight role as minister through the CEO and his team, you instead depend on a structure through a relatively junior who by-passes Sassa executives. This created a situation where the ability of the institution to resolve the problem was  hampered, creating serious governance problems,” he said.

The grants crisis saw rights group Black Sash, supported by Freedom Under Law (FUL), taking the department to the Constitutional Court to ensure that over 17 million beneficiaries continued to receive grants beyond March last year.

The court had ruled in 2014 that the CPS contract was invalid.

The Constitutional Court ordered that CPS continue to pay grants for a further twelve months, after it was found that Sassa was unable to meet the 1 April 2017 deadline to take over grant payments.

Inquiry chairman, retired judge Barnard Ngoepe adjourned the inquiry until March 19 for oral arguments.

 

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini wanted to discredit South Africa’s banks so that they would not be selected to dispense welfare grants, former SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) CEO  Thokozani Magwaza  told an inquiry on Friday.

Dlamini instead pushed for the illegal Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) contract to be extended.

”The minister approached me and told me I should find something against the banks so that the banks’ option would not work… I said no,” said Magwaza.

”Minister drove us towards CPS. Everything done was a push to remain with CPS… this initially started as an option of extending the contract, then it later moved to option of a wholly new CPS contract.”

Magwaza was telling the inquiry what Dlamini did to impede Sassa from meeting the April 1 2017 deadline to take over grants as instructed by the Constitutional Court. This, said Magwaza, was done by Dlamini through contentious and expensive work streams, her unwillingness to engage with the banks and pushing to prolong the CPS contract yet again.

However, Ishmael Semenya, for Dlamini, asked why the allegation against Dlamini on banks was not in Magwaza’s affidavit and why it was never raised by Magwaza’s advocate Richard Solomons in his cross-examination of Dlamini last week.

”This is surely a damning allegation. This is a significant point to mention… you know what this sitting is about right? It is an inquiry to determine whether the minister should be compelled to pay legal costs….so it must be important to mention in your statement, am I right?,” Semenya asked Magwaza.

Solomons interjected and said it was unfair to criticise Magwaza on aspects of Dlamini’s cross-examination when there was a ruling that he was limited on what to put to Dlamini.

”You were very clear, Judge, that I had limited right of cross examination and should not go beyond what Mr Magwaza said in his affidavit. I confined myself to his affidavit… I don’t think Mr Magwaza should be criticised for this and that said by the minister.”

Magwaza said his affidavit was based on what Dlamini penned about him in her own affidavit to the inquiry, and not much about what fell outside her written evidence.

The Constitutional Court-mandated inquiry into Dlamini’s role in the social grants debacle and whether she should be held liable for legal costs incurred resumed at the Office of the Chief Justice in Midrand on Monday. It is chaired by retired judge Bernard Ngoepe.

The grants crisis saw rights group Black Sash taking the department to the Constitutional Court to ensure that over 17 million beneficiaries continued to receive grants beyond March last year. The court had ruled in 2014 that the CPS contract was invalid but allowed it to run in order not to prejudice beneficiaries.

The Constitutional Court ordered that CPS continue to pay grants for a further twelve months, after it was found that Sassa was unable to meet the deadline of 1 April 2017 deadline to over grant payments.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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