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Unearthing the never-ending rot at Sassa

The agency has elements of the corrosive state capture project and its clean-up, like at SOEs, won’t be quick.

While state capture architects have profited from state-owned enterprises, South Africa might have missed the quiet ruin of another key organ of state.

The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), which plays the critical function of distributing social grants, has all the hallmarks of the destructive state capture project.

The industrial-scale corruption and waste of state resources under the Jacob Zuma years have confirmed the worst fears; that state organs have been captured and the 1994 promise of a state free of corruption has been betrayed.

As you may already know, the mechanics of the project look like this; establish an infrastructure of enriching a politically-connected few, appoint compromised individuals to key state positions, and abuse state resources under the guise of service delivery.

A Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) hearing in Parliament this week revealed that Sassa may as well join the ranks of tainted institutions like Eskom, Transnet, South African Airways, and the Passenger Rail Agency of SA.

“A failed entity” and “a personal piggy bank for officials” is how MPs described it, as the agency revealed irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure of R1.4 billion for the 2016/17 financial year. The scale of plunder was under the regime of incompetent former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini and former Sassa acting CEO Pearl Bhengu.

A breakdown of the wasteful expenditure beggars belief.

Bhengu personally signed off contracts – in a day – worth R16 million for four educational events in KwaZulu-Natal in December 2017 to “educate grant beneficiaries about the new grant system”. Only three of the educational events eventually took place.

Bhengu is said to have pushed through the contracts without verifying if any of the costs for the education events were accurate.

The costs for the educational events were all below R500 000, which would require Bhengu to comply with standard tender and procurement procedures. This means that she failed to comply with the Public Finance Management Amendment Act.

The costs quoted by suppliers for the events:

• A marquee for R485 000;
• Flooring for R482 000;
• Chairs and ‘decor’ for R487 000;
• Catering for R493 000;
• Transport for R493 000;
• A sound system for R492 000; and
• Gifts and promotions worth R480 000

MPs suspect that the costs may have been inflated. Independent Online reported that one of Sassa’s suppliers Sweet Basil Promotions benefitted from an R11 million contract despite the company’s owner being investigated for allegedly swindling the agency of R400 million.

The agency is a repeat offender.

For the 2015/16 financial year, the R3.5 million spent on security services for Dlamini and the family of her spokesperson Lumka Oliphant was flagged as irregular. It blew R42 million on the workstreams – a parallel function that was established in July 2016 and comprised of Dlamini’s handpicked advisors to investigate Sassa’s capacity to take over social grant payments from Cash Paymaster Services. The workstreams were led by Dlamini’s friend Zodwa Mvulane and were cancelled in July 2017 after National Treasury deemed them as irregular expenditure.

Bhengu is no longer the acting Sassa CEO but remains within the agency in KwaZulu-Natal, while Dlamini was shifted to the women’s ministry in the presidency. Their exits don’t absolve them from accountability as both have been called to appear before Scopa for their affinity to splashing taxpayers’ money.

Former acting Sassa CEO Pearl Bhengu. Picture: Kopano Tlape, GCIS

Former Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini. Picture: Neil McCartney / Citizen

Like compromised state-owned companies, Sassa has become a toxic network with Dlamini’s friends (Bhengu and Mvulane) appointed to key positions. Mismanagement of the agency also compromised service delivery. Sassa can no longer run itself as it has to be supervised by the Constitutional Court to ensure that it functions properly and avoids a social grants crisis.

Read: SA seeks order to pay Net1 as company pleads losses

Much is at stake if grant payments to 10.7 million beneficiaries are delayed; SA would descend into social unrest, and the livelihoods of recipients, who are already facing the brunt of government’s service delivery failures, would be in jeopardy.

A clean-up is underway at Sassa, with new social development minister Susan Shabangu promising to “deal with individuals” who engineered the mess. It will be foolhardy of us to expect quick fixes as individuals that did the behind-the-scenes work for Dlamini and Bhengu are still at Sassa.

In politics and the business of governing, words are hollow, but action speaks volumes.

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I wonder if Ministers in government read journalistic reports like this over there breakfast coffee?

Doubtful, as this grand theft by them of the nations wealth just goes on

Well, if they do read these reports, they certainly don’t take any action. How is it that the ladies named in this article, together with Nomvula Mokonyane are still around, not facing criminal charges?

You should know by now that a cadre can get away with anything. In the worst case they will be redeployed to an other part of the feeding trough.

Interesting; I think that, like Mugabe, they actually believe their own bs that it is WMC inspired criticism and they didn’t join the struggle to be poor, so it’s justified. I really believe also that their is a conduit of looted cash right to the top of the ANC, almost always. This is protection money; guaranteed to give them a soft landing once the looting becomes excessive and too obvious. The Tom Moyane “case” will be interesting in this regard.

Finally, look how pathetically weak the ConCourt has been over the SASSA / CPS debacle; either the judges were ideologically brainwashed into being limp wristed or someone whispered in their ears to back off.

The same can be said of shareholder plunder perpetrated by big business in South Africa – look at Steinhoff!
The bottom line is that when there is rot which starts from the top, it affects everything and grows eexponentially eventually affecting everything in its path.
Eventually theft, corruption and enethical behavior becomes the norm.

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