POLITICS

Sassa And The SABC: Incompetence Awarded With Impunity

Bathabile Dlamini and Faith Muthambi have no respect for Parliament or those they are meant to serve.

01/03/2017 12:02 SAST | Updated 02/03/2017 15:04 SAST

ANALYSIS

Themba Godi, the chairperson of Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) and leader of the African People's Convention, is a mild-mannered and considered parliamentarian.

He's been chairing Parliament's watchdog committee for a number of years, guiding its members in scrutinising public accounts, castigating errant officials and trying to ensure that government entities treat taxpayers' money like their own.

And he's seen some circuses in his time: the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has been a perennial source of derision, the Passenger Rail Corporation of South Africa (Prasa) has injected itself into Scopa's rogue's gallery in recent times while various government departments have been picked apart and destroyed.

But even Godi was seemingly taken aback by the hapless, pathetic, embarrassing and disrespectful performance by the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) on Tuesday.

"Do you honestly expect us to believe you?" he asked at one point during the cringeworthy proceedings in room V454 at Parliament, sitting back and laughing -- and this from somebody who has had to deal with Hlaudi Motsoeneng in the past.

Sassa's corporate and political leadership absconded and left the director-general of the department of social development, a bunch of ill-informed project managers and acting officials to try and explain the debauchery which is the fiasco around the payments of social security grants.

Sassa had no plan to ensure the payment of social security grants after 1 April 2017.

It was unsure whether it will go to the Constitutional Court to try and extend an irregularly awarded contract.

And the responsible minister, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini -- who is totally incredulous to the unfolding disaster -- just neglected to attend the meeting, preferring to chair a press conference about the State of the Nation Address instead and saying she was not accountable to the committee in any case.

And on Wednesday, she again skipped a meeting of the portfolio committee on social development, which discussed the Sassa crisis with the South African Reserve Bank, saying she had a Cabinet meeting.

In another part of the parliamentary precinct on Tuesday, the SABC appeared in the portfolio committee on communications, trying to explain why a loss of almost half a billion rand for the last financial year isn't so bad. This after the gutting of the public broadcaster by Motsoeneng and his cronies, SABC journalists facing death-threats and a parliamentary inquiry into the state of the organisation.

The SABC also had no leadership to speak of, being led by an acting chief executive and a number of acting senior executives.

Faith Muthambi, the SABC's political head and minister of communications, also opted not to attend the meeting.

Dlamini and Muthambi represent the absolute worst of President Jacob Zuma's executive, an executive largely crafted for factional and political purposes and not with governance and public service in mind.

Dlamini is overseeing an unfolding disaster: in four weeks' time millions South Africans who are dependent on 17 million social grants -- the most vulnerable in society -- will be deprived of the assistance on which their lives literally depend because the grants won't be paid.

She has had four years to sort out the mess. She knew the deadline was 31 March 2017, and yet nothing has happened. The Sassa delegation explained to Godi and his colleagues that negotiations with the current service provider -- which the Constitutional Court found should not have gotten the contract -- will commence on Wednesday.

But Dlamini prefers her factional work as president of the ANC's women's league to her ministerial obligations, she prefers attacking National Treasury in statements rather than ensuring the delivery of grants to child-headed households or old-age pensions.

Muthambi is visibly less factional than Dlamini, but equally disinterested and seemingly incompetent. During the parliamentary inquiry into the SABC last year, she simply refused to acknowledge the issues with Motsoeneng and his interference with editorial independence. The ad hoc committee into the SABC found she meddled in the broadcaster's affairs and that she lied to MP's.

Parliament has a very specific function in our democratic architecture. It forms part of the three arms of state (the executive, legislative and judiciary) and delivers oversight of the executive, in addition to passing bills that eventually becomes law, interpreted by the judiciary and executed by government.

Dlamini and Muthambi clearly have no regard for Parliament's oversight and accountability function and nothing but disdain for those that they are meant to serve -- the public.

MP's are elected representatives who are supposed to ensure that taxpayers' rands are spent responsibly and effectively. That is why it's not an option to appear in front of MP's, but a Constitutional obligation.

If the two ministers had any modicum of awareness, Dlamini would have ensured that grant payments are effected and Muthambi that the broadcaster is returned to stability. But they don't and they haven't.

"There is a lack of political leadership here," Godi said, concluding the meeting. "This has now become a political issue. Where is the leadership?"

The leadership is busy with other things. And their incompetence will be rewarded with impunity.