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How A Lack Of Accountability From Minister Bathabile Dlamini Created The SASSA Grants Crisis

It was another sad day for President Zuma that a court had to step in and do what the state should have been doing for at least the past three years.

20/03/2017 10:20 SAST | Updated 20/03/2017 12:37 SAST
Daniel Born / The Times / Gallo Images / Getty Images
Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini at the first Sassa Anti-corruption Conference on November 4, 2013 in Centurion, South Africa.

Last week, the SASSA scandal was thrusted firmly into the spotlight. During the Inkatha Freedom Party's parliamentary debate on the matter, Minister Bathabile Dlamini seemed unfazed by the national grant payment crisis she had singlehandedly manufactured. Her arrogance during the entire scandal has been breathtaking.

Later in the week, again in Parliament, when asked about the scandal President Zuma was clearly annoyed with questions on the issue and was unwilling to act against the Minister of Social Development. Nor, was he willing to take personal responsibility for the crisis.

Both tried to downplay the crisis to a deadline: to 1 April 2017 and whether grants will be paid or not. But this is not just about 1 April 2017. At the heart of this crisis is a dodgy tender, a compromised president, a rogue minister, and a ruling party that no longer cares for the poor. At the heart of this crisis is a dearth of accountability, which has now become the hallmark of the ruling party's style of governance under the Zuma administration.

More than a year ago, on 17 March 2016, I had asked President Zuma whether he would consider establishing a Commission of Enquiry into the CPS/SASSA deal, the unlawful deductions from grant recipients and other matters.

I had done so as a last resort after having received hundreds of pleas for assistance from vulnerable citizens. I, and many others, had raised the matter in the media and in the PC of Social Development where it was entertained but not taken too seriously.

When President Zuma finally responded to my question he simply dismissed my request for an intervention. His answer came as many of the affected grants recipients had come to listen to his response, and was seated in the gallery of the National Assembly. They were relying on him to assure them that no more illegal deductions would come off their grants. That assurance never came.

As they left, I felt disappointed. I felt that I had failed them. But I also knew the fight for answers were far from over.

Investigations by Amabhungane have now revealed how CPS shares beneficiary data with the rest of Net 1 in breach of their contract. The contract makes provision for the contract to be cancelled in case of such a breach. Sassa knew about this in 2013. Why didn't they cancel the contract back then?

There are many culprits in this scandal. The obvious culprits are corruption, maladministration, gross negligence and incompetence. But that is not all.

This crisis was foretold since 2011 when SASSA overlooked the fact that CPS/Net 1 faked their BEE credentials. No problem, said SASSA, and they quickly rejigged the tender, awarding an invalid contract to CPS.

Three years later, the Constitutional Court declared the contract with CPS unlawful. Minister Dlamini and her team were given three years, until April 1st2017, to correct the mess.

What did Minister Dlamini do? Nothing. In full breach of her oath of office, she ignored the Court. She ignored Treasury. She ignored the Post Office.

There are many culprits in this scandal. The obvious culprits are corruption, maladministration, gross negligence and incompetence. But that is not all. The President and Parliament are equally at fault.

When opposition MPs tried to ask pertinent questions in the portfolio committee on social development, ANC MPs acted like professional bullies. We were shut down, called to order, insulted. These MPs went so far as answering questions on the Minister's behalf.

This crisis is as much their fault as it is the minister's. Clearly they think their role as MPs are to protect the Minister and the ANC, conveniently forgetting that they too have a responsibly to hold the executive to account.

In the National Assembly, the Speaker shielded Minister Dlamini from accountability. Like the true Houdini of Politics, as this crisis unfolded, Dlamini was often nowhere to be found and had very little to say. In her absence, she left her officials to face the music, which resulted in the public and MPs being furnished with lies, lies and more lies.

So when the Constitutional Court stepped in this week to rescue the grant payment system from total collapse it was only doing what Parliament had failed to do over the past year – to hold to account Minister Bathabile Dlamini.

The Constitutional Court laid the blame for social grants fiasco squarely at Dlamini's feet and gave her till the end of the month to motivate why she should not be held personally responsible for costs. She must pay.

It was another sad day for President Zuma's administration that a Court had to step in and do what the State should have been doing for at least the past three years.

CPS can now continue to make billions from the taxpayer, after already having taken the entire grant system for a ride. These billions should have been directed to the Post Office and to increasing the social grant.

The only question that remains now is: to what end did Minister Dlamini manufacture this crisis and whose interests is she serving?

There are allegations that suggest that Dlamini is close to those who were used as BEE fronts for CPS while the rumours in the corridors of Parliament is that CPS money will be used to fund the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma campaign. Yes these are only allegations. But there is never smoke without any fire. The Gupta state capture scandal shocked us but didn't surprise is. Whether CPS has captured our State remains unproven. Only time will tell. But is parasitic relationship with our Government must be condemned.

South Africans are owed an explanation. We demand answers. I will continue to lobby for the establishment of a Parliamentary ad hoc committee to probe the SASSA scandal.

I do so, because as MPs, it is our duty to continue to fight corrupted leadership with moral leadership. We must fight social injustice with principled action. We will hold this Government to account, until freedom, equality, hope and respect for the most vulnerable in our society become more than empty slogans.

South Africa is burning under weak leadership. At the heart of this SASSA crisis is not just whether the State was going to be able to fulfil its duty of paying out grant recipients on 1 April.

At the heart of this crisis is a crisis of accountability and a government disconnected from its people. At the heart of this crisis is a ruling party without a moral compass, who would put at risk the lives of the most vulnerable it, is meant to protect. At the heart of this scandal a leadership crisis.