HOW BATHABILE EVADED ACCOUNTABILITY
The crisis around the payment of social grants has come to a head, but for months, Parliament enabled Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini to escape from scrutiny.
Since last year, Dlamini has been dismissive of persistent attempts by opposition MPs to deal with the matter and Parliament failed to call the minister to account.
For instance, on November 23 last year, Dlamini appeared before Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts – leading a delegation from her department and the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) – to account for, among others things, the irregular expenditure involving R316 million paid to Cash Paymaster Services.
Committee chairperson Themba Godi wanted assurance from Dlamini that the department would be ready to provide pension payments on April 1 2017, but she requested time to report on that separately and added that by April 1, all matters would be controlled and finalised.
She said “work streams” had started and that her department was looking at issues, solutions and readiness.
On November 30, during a question-and-answer session of the social security cluster, Dlamini continued to deflect and brush off questions about the crisis.
Pushed for straight answers by opposition MPs, she retorted in isiZulu: “Nishaya sengathi yini abongqo shishilizi. [You are going on as if you are in charge.]”
When asked by the African Christian Democratic Party’s Cheryllyn Dudley whether the in-house payment of social grants by Sassa wouldn’t necessitate changes to legislation, Dlamini responded that legal work had been done and there was a committee looking at regulations.
ANC MP Hope Malgas thanked the minister for her responses, adding that she could not be expected to keep providing feedback.
Dlamini spoke about how government wanted to have more say in how things were done, as it was concerned about deductions from grants without the consent of beneficiaries, including those of up to 10% by funeral schemes from pensioners’ grants.
Yet, when pressed on the details of government’s plan come April this year, Dlamini was not forthcoming. For example, the Inkatha Freedom Party’s Liezl van der Merwe said: “I would like to ask why you never considered partnering with the SA Post Office, because not only do they have the ability to pay out grants, but they desperately need government business to stay afloat.
“Can you also tell this House today whether, because you failed to plan, you will now be forced to simply extend the Cash Paymaster Services and Net1 contract, which will actually be a great failure on your part because it is the same crooks who continue to steal money from our vulnerable grants recipients each month.”
Dlamini’s only response was that government, too, liked the idea of disbursing grants through the Post Office because of accessibility, but the courts had ruled that the Post Office had to tender for the contract like all banks.
She did not have an answer for the second part of Van der Merwe’s question, saying that part of the question was financial and that she didn’t have those details. The rest of her reply was challenged as irrelevant.
This particular question had originally been put to the minister in writing three months before, and was raised by Van der Merwe after Dlamini’s failure to respond in writing.
House chairperson Cedric Frolick, who was presiding over the session, did nothing to push the minister to answer the question. Instead, he leapt to her defence.
“Yes, the honourable minister did indicate that she did not have those figures.”
Frolick ruled that Dlamini would provide an answer to the Office of the Speaker in writing and that this information would be published in Parliament papers.