14/03/2017 15:12 SAST | Updated 16/03/2017 08:40 SAST

Bathabile Dlamini's 'Point Woman' Fingered In Sassa Response To Court Questions

Social grants agency admits it didn't communicate crisis to court early enough.

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini's alleged "point woman" was the official responsible for determining that the South Africa Social Security Agency (Sassa) would not be able to pay the grants itself from the end of this month.

In a reply to questions by the Constitutional Court last week, the deputy director in the Department of Social Development, Wiseman Magasela, said Sassa's payment transition project manager Zodwa Mvulane "was responsible for the management of the project aimed at giving effect to the steps" set out in a report of November 5, 2015 in which Sassa said it would assume the duty to take over the payment function itself by the end of this month.

At least three CEOs have since then adopted her advice, including Virginia Petersen (CEO from May 2011 to May 2016), Rapaahle Ramogopa (from May 2016 to October 2016), and Thokozani Magwaza (from November 2016 to date).

In terms of the law the CEO is responsible for the management of Sassa subject to the direction of the minister, Magasela said.

"What has complicated things in this instance is, firstly, that the incumbent of the office has changed several times since 5 November 2015," Magasela said.

Magasela himself acted in the position for four days, March 8-12, while the current CEO, Thokozani Magwaza was taken ill.

News24 last month reported that officials have repeatedly complained that Mvulane was Dlamini's "point woman" in Sassa, allegedly taking instructions from her and not from the CEO.

Magasela said as far as he could determine, fingers point to Mvulane as the one making the determination on behalf of Sassa that it could not pay grants itself from March 31, when the contract of Cash Paymaster Services expire.

A court has ruled that this contract is invalid and could not continue.

Magasela further said there was no particular decision made not to inform the court that Sassa would not meet its deadlines on the payment of grants. Also, Sassa wanted to "concretise its plans" first. "I accept that the court ought to have been informed at a much earlier stage" that the time frame would not be met.

He said Mvulane already knew on April 19, 2016 that Sassa would not be able to pay grants itself from the end of this month, then-CEO Petersen was advised about this the next day, but Dlamini was only informed six months later.

Sassa has undertaken to provide the court with a concrete "road map" on how it would run a competitive bidding process for a new contractor within the next three months.

It also said it had no objection to independent monitoring of the payment of its grants, and in a draft order it suggested that this should be the Public Protector or the Auditor-General.