HOW BATHA­BILE EVADED AC­COUNT­ABIL­ITY

CityPress - - News - ANDISIWE MAKINANA andisiwe.makinana@city­press.co.za

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.

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