Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini has joined a growing list of government and state-owned enterprise leaders – including former Eskom CFO Anoj Singh, CEO Brian Molefe and Public Enterprise Minister Lynne Brown – who say they are not aware of key issues relating to the organisations that they oversee.
On the third day of the Constitutional Court-mandated inquiry to determine whether Dlamini should be held personally liable for the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) fiasco, she testified that the agency’s officials hid material facts from her about the takeover of social grant payments.
This is despite Sassa knowing since April 17 2016, that it wouldn’t be able to take over social grants from incumbent payer Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) as contained in a letter sent to it by the state attorney’s office.
Dlamini stuck to her guns, repeatedly telling the Judge Bernard Ngoepe-led inquiry that she only heard that Sassa would not be able to take over social grants on October 5 2016.
Effectively, Dlamini argued that she was kept in the dark for six months by Sassa officials – including the agency’s former acting CEO Raphaahle Ramokgopa and leader Zodwa Mvulane – about the agency not being able to meet the deadline of taking over social grant payments by April 1 2017.
Ramakgopa and Mvulane are believed to be Dlamini’s closest allies.
Dlamini refused to tell the inquiry why Ramakgopa and Mvulane hid crucial information from her about the looming crisis that would jeopardise the livelihoods of 17 million beneficiaries. She also refused to implicate them in the crisis, despite Dlamini confirming that she had regular meetings with Ramakgopa and Mvulane, and had oversight over their work.
At the heart of the inquiry is Sassa’s controversial work streams, a parallel function that had been established in July 2016 comprising of Dlamini’s handpicked advisors to investigate Sassa’s capacity to take over social grant payments from CPS.
The work streams, which were cancelled in July 2017 by Ramakgopa’s successor in acting basis Thokozani Magwaza, were controversial because officials from Sassa had little knowledge of their existence, they failed to make progress on its mandate and more than R30 million was spent on them which the National Treasury has recorded as irregular expenditure.
Magwaza was abruptly fired by Dlamini for cancelling the work streams, which led to a breakdown in their relationship. Dlamini has since blamed Magwaza for the Sassa fiasco.
Dlamini was cross-examined on Wednesday by Magwaza’s advocate Richard Solomon SC on what engineered the lack of clarity on her part regarding Sassa’s capacity to take over social grants.
She responded: “I’m not sure whether this is a point for me to say… The lack of clarity was because I didn’t know what was happening at that time.”
This response has been quite similar to that given by key figures that have been implicated in the mismanagement of organisations like the former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe, CFO Anoj Singh, and Public Enterprise Minister Lynne Brown who continue to shift blame to others.
On Tuesday, Dlamini said she first became aware of the Sassa crisis when she read an article in Noseweek, a tabloid magazine, that featured the agency.
She then arranged a meeting with Ramakgopa and former Social Development Director-General Zane Dangor to become fully aware of the crisis.
However, Solomon questioned this version, arguing how Dlamini can claim to be aware of the crisis first in October 2016 while the Noseweek article she read was dated July 2016.
“The article is not a legal or government document,” said Dlamini, adding that the inquiry cannot rely on it as evidence. “I don’t want to talk much about this.”
As on Monday and Tuesday, Dlamini rejected the allegation by Magwaza that she ordered the work streams to directly report to her while bypassing the Sassa executive committee. She said Magwaza engaged with the work streams on numerous occasion.
Two insiders told Moneyweb that the work streams were pushing to extend CPS’s contract for two years despite the Constitutional Court declaring the company’s contract invalid in 2015 instead of building capacity within Sassa to take over social grant payments.
Dlamini will be cross-examined on Thursday by Dangor’s advocate Vincent Maleka SC.
The inquiry ends on Friday.