CARED

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

The con­tro­versy over social se­cu­rity has hogged news head­lines, din­ner-ta­ble talk and just about every other di­a­logue in the coun­try this month. But it was IFP MP Liezl van der Merwe who pushed con­cerns over the SA Social Se­cu­rity Agency’s (Sassa’s) pay­ments for more than a year.

From ques­tions to the pres­i­dent in March 2016 to reg­u­lar queries to of­fi­cials in brief­ings of the social devel­op­ment com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment a year ear­lier, Van der Merwe never got a straight an­swer – in­stead she was cas­ti­gated by fel­lows MPs from the ANC, laughed at by the pres­i­dent and gen­er­ally told she was mak­ing a moun­tain out of a mole­hill.

“I al­ways told my cau­cus ‘I will stick with this is­sue be­cause I feel it’s go­ing to be­come a na­tional cri­sis and a na­tional scan­dal’,” she said this week. “And I have been vin­di­cated,” she added.

As part of its rul­ing on Fri­day, the Con­sti­tu­tional Court banned Cash Pay­mas­ter Ser­vices (CPS) from dis­tribut­ing the pri­vate data of grants ben­e­fi­cia­ries to its sub­sidiary com­pa­nies.

The shared data have led to il­le­gal de­duc­tions of elec­tric­ity, cell­phone air­time and fu­neral in­sur­ances by these sub­sidiary com­pa­nies.

Van der Merwe first raised ques­tions about the mat­ter to Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma in March last year when she asked the pres­i­dent whether he would con­sider es­tab­lish­ing a com­mis­sion of in­quiry into il­le­gal de­duc­tions from the ac­counts of Sassa grant ben­e­fi­cia­ries, con­sid­er­ing that re­ports of such de­duc­tions were on the in­crease and that the min­is­te­rial task team had been un­able to re­solve ongoing con­cerns.

Zuma ad­mit­ted the il­le­gal de­duc­tions were on the rise but said the task team on de­duc­tions was suf­fi­cient. He said more than 13 000 cases of de­duc­tions had been re­ported to the task team and that it had as­sisted in the res­o­lu­tion of 10 500 of those cases and was busy ad­dress­ing about 2 000 cases that were out­stand­ing.

Zuma went on to say the devel­op­ment and im­ple­men­ta­tion of the re­course mech­a­nism was in the pipe­line. This week, al­most a year to the day he gave the above re­sponse, Zuma told Par­lia­ment he was not aware of any il­le­gal de­duc­tions and dared op­po­si­tion MPs to present him with ev­i­dence of such de­duc­tions.

Van der Merwe started ask­ing ques­tions back in 2015 but each time, she says, she hit a brick wall. “While the min­is­ter [Bathabile Dlamini] ac­knowl­edged know­ing about the prob­lem, she would ask me to bring her spe­cific cases. She dis­missed me, say­ing Sassa was look­ing into it each time I asked her about it. It seemed like I was hit­ting a brick wall,” added Van der Merwe and hence the de­ci­sion to es­ca­late the mat­ter to Zuma, ask­ing him to es­tab­lish a com­mis­sion of in­quiry.

“I was get­ting calls from nor­mal mem­bers of so­ci­ety, some peo­ple were even com­ing to my of­fice in Par­lia­ment with af­fi­davits say­ing ‘there is a cri­sis, our grants are dis­ap­pear­ing, there are de­duc­tions com­ing off and we never signed any­thing’.”

Dur­ing the course of last year, Van der Merwe – along­side other op­po­si­tion MPs – started rais­ing ques­tions about the CPS con­tract but, time and again, an­swers were not forth­com­ing and Par­lia­ment’s pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers en­abled the ex­ec­u­tive to es­cape scru­tiny.

Van der Merwe said she agreed with the Con­sti­tu­tional Court judges that Par­lia­ment’s port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on social devel­op­ment failed in its du­ties to hold Sassa and the social devel­op­ment depart­ment to ac­count.

“It was dif­fi­cult to raise these ques­tions in the com­mit­tee; ANC MPs in­sult you as a per­son while pro­tect­ing the min­is­ter from scru­tiny. I was bul­lied through­out,” she added.

Van der Merwe said she would be writ­ing to the Na­tional Assem­bly’s chair­per­son of com­mit­tees, Cedric Frolick, to com­plain about Zoleka Capa, the chair­per­son of the social devel­op­ment com­mit­tee, over her be­hav­iour as the chair­per­son of the com­mit­tee.

“I think she must shoul­der some blame. She con­fuses her role as chair­per­son of a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee with her role as an ANC na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber,” claimed Van der Merwe.

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