SASSA BOSS SPEAKS

Thokozani Mag­waza in­sists he tried to en­list the court over­sight in the grants saga, but was re­peat­edly thwarted

CityPress - - News - SE­TUMO STONE se­tumo.stone@city­press.co.za

On sev­eral oc­ca­sions, So­cial De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Batha­bile Dlamini blocked des­per­ate ef­forts by the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer (CEO) of the SA So­cial Se­cu­rity Agency (Sassa) to re­port back to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court about the pay­ment of so­cial grants and di­rectly in­ter­fered with at­tempts to find a so­lu­tion to the cri­sis.

This is ac­cord­ing to Sassa CEO Thokozani Mag­waza, who this week broke his si­lence on the grants cri­sis.

He listed a num­ber of oc­ca­sions – dat­ing as far back as early Fe­bru­ary – when his of­fice was ready to pe­ti­tion the high­est court in the land for guid­ance, only to be abruptly halted by last-minute in­struc­tions from Dlamini.

He was speak­ing just days be­fore to­mor­row’s dead­line for Sassa to ex­plain to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court why it had han­dled the so­cial grants in the man­ner it did and why it had failed to com­mu­ni­cate with the court.

With the five-year con­tract awarded to Cash Pay­mas­ter Ser­vices (CPS) to dis­burse wel­fare grants to more than 17 mil­lion South Africans ex­pir­ing on March 31, cit­i­zens re­main in the dark about how the grants will be dis­trib­uted from April, and the costs in­volved in do­ing so.

Mag­waza, who has been on sick leave for more than a week amid spec­u­la­tion that he may be sus­pended, told City Press that:

Dlamini got in the way of pa­pers be­ing filed in the Con­sti­tu­tional Court three times;

The re­search re­port, sub­mit­ted in Oc­to­ber, which de­tailed Sassa’s in­abil­ity to take over grant pay­ments from CPS in April, was ini­tially with­held from him when he took of­fice in Novem­ber;

Dlamini’s aides told Sassa staff to take in­struc­tions from her at­tor­ney;

Dlamini tor­pe­doed plans to in­volve the SA Post Of­fice in the dis­tri­bu­tion of grants; and

He was be­ing vic­timised for rec­om­mend­ing a 12month tem­po­rary con­tract be se­cured with CPS, in­stead of the 24 to 36 months pre­ferred by oth­ers.

THE APEX COURT WILL GUIDE

Mag­waza spoke as the Con­sti­tu­tional Court gave strong hints in the di­rec­tives it is­sued to Sassa on Wed­nes­day that those re­spon­si­ble for the mess would, in the ab­sence of cred­i­ble ex­pla­na­tions, be held in con­tempt of court.

Sources close to Dlamini told City Press that ques­tions posed by the court this week – in­clud­ing whether Sassa and the min­is­ter had “any ob­jec­tion to in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor­ing of any agree­ment” – would be an­swered in a way that demon­strated “com­mit­ment to trans­parency”.

Tim Sukazi, Dlamini’s at­tor­ney, was work­ing around the clock this week to draft a con­tract that would be ac­cept­able to all par­ties, in­clud­ing the Trea­sury.

He said the in­for­ma­tion re­quested by the court would be an­swered can­didly “to clear up a lot of things”.

As part of Wed­nes­day’s di­rec­tive, the court has asked when it was de­ter­mined that Sassa would not be able to take over the grant pay­ments from CPS, and why it was not “im­me­di­ately” in­formed of this fact.

Sukazi said the cen­tral aim in fi­nal­is­ing the new deal with CPS would be to “min­imise the il­le­gal­ity” in the con­tract. This meant lim­it­ing the “time and scope” of the work that CPS would be ex­pected to do.

The deal would also in­volve CPS over a shorter time and re­move some of the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties it had pre­vi­ously ex­e­cuted, par­tic­u­larly those that Sassa could carry out.

This was meant to en­sure that if a de­vi­a­tion from the pro­cure­ment laws was con­sid­ered, the fees in­volved would be kept to a min­i­mum.

Fol­low­ing pre­sen­ta­tions to Cab­i­net this week from the so­cial de­vel­op­ment de­part­ment and Trea­sury, it ap­pears that con­sen­sus has been reached that the apex court will pro­vide guid­ance. Speak­ing in Par­lia­ment on Thurs­day, Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa said he was con­fi­dent the court would “deal with the so­cial grants mat­ter with the level of ur­gency it re­quires”.

On Fri­day, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma said the grants would be paid, fail­ing which, “let us see what hap­pens to those who were sup­posed to make them hap­pen”.

DRAMA AT SASSA

High drama con­tin­ued this week at Sassa’s of­fices, City Press heard, with some staff mem­bers com­plain­ing that they were un­der pres­sure to take de­ci­sions they did not agree with and oth­ers re­fus­ing to take in­struc­tions from ex­ter­nal peo­ple brought in by Dlamini’s aides.

By Thurs­day, the agency was on the verge of get­ting a new act­ing CEO as Thamo Mzobe was said to be sick. In­sid­ers said the name of Dlamini’s ad­viser, Wise­man Ma­gasela, was among those con­sid­ered to take over tem­po­rar­ily un­til Mag­waza re­turned on Mon­day.

Mzobe had been ap­pointed a week ago, af­ter in­cum­bent CEO Mag­waza was booked off ill.

In what is set to be an­other high-stakes week in the un­fold­ing saga, on Wed­nes­day the Con­sti­tu­tional Court will hear an ap­pli­ca­tion, brought by hu­man rights group Black Sash, de­mand­ing le­gal over­sight of any agree­ment with CPS. Black Sash also wants the court to re­ceive reg­u­lar progress re­ports re­gard­ing the search for a new ser­vice provider to pay out the grants.

On Mon­day, pub­lic in­ter­est group Free­dom Un­der Law asked to join the court ac­tion. It also de­manded that the court cap earn­ings by CPS, thereby en­sur­ing that the in­terim con­tract would be bro­kered in such a way that CPS would not profit from the cur­rent cri­sis.

Mag­waza said on his first day of leave he had been warned that he had to re­port to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court be­cause “as the CEO [he] is re­spon­si­ble for what is tak­ing place at Sassa”.

In­sid­ers said the Oc­to­ber re­port was sent to Sassa four days be­fore Mag­waza took of­fice. How­ever, he only heard about the re­port later and then, “in dribs and drabs”.

HOLD YOUR HORSES

Mag­waza said the af­fi­davit he filed in court on Fe­bru­ary 28 re­gard­ing Sassa’s in­abil­ity to take over grant pay­ments from CPS had been on Fe­bru­ary 6, but he had been com­pelled to with­hold it be­cause Dlamini had said she was not privy to its con­tents.

He told City Press: “I thought that as a CEO I am the one who is li­able to write an af­fi­davit to court.”

The process was then halted.

HOLD YOUR HORSES AGAIN

On Fe­bru­ary 14, he met with Dlamini in Cape Town, where they dis­cussed the af­fi­davit un­til af­ter mid­night and “agreed then that I was go­ing to file”.

But on his way home, Dlamini’s chief of staff phoned to say the min­is­ter wanted an­other meet­ing that day.

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