Ac­count­abil­ity, at last, for Sassa?

Court-appointed panel shows strong grasp of all is­sues

Financial Mail - - BOARDROOM TAILS - @an­ncrotty

Of­ten, when gov­ern­ment wants to stop pub­lic in­ter­ro­ga­tion of a con­tro­ver­sial is­sue, it ap­points a com­mis­sion of en­quiry. That ef­fec­tively ends the pub­lic’s in­volve­ment. From then on, ev­ery time some­one re­mem­bers to ask, we’re told not to worry — it will be dealt with ap­pro­pri­ately by the mem­bers of the com­mis­sion. The weeks drift into months and years, and we in­evitably for­get to check for an out­come be­cause we’ve been in­un­dated with so many more con­tro­ver­sial scan­dals.

The good news is that the con­sti­tu­tional court doesn’t work with this tem­plate. Prompted by civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions and a pend­ing cri­sis, it appointed a panel of ex­perts to look into the crit­i­cal and valu­able con­tract to dis­trib­ute so­cial grants.

In early Septem­ber the panel pre­sented its first re­port to the court. Though it deals with chill­ing is­sues, it is a de­light­ful doc­u­ment to read, rather like ad­vo­cate Ge­off Budlen­der’s re­port on Tril­lian Cap­i­tal. The panel seems to have an ex­cel­lent grasp of all the thorny is­sues.

Es­sen­tially, the find­ing is that there’s zero chance the SA So­cial Se­cu­rity Agency (Sassa) will be ready to take grant dis­tri­bu­tion in-house by April. This will come as no sur­prise to any­one who watched Sassa project man­ager Zodwa Mvu­lane de­liver an in­com­pre­hen­si­ble pre­sen­ta­tion on the “work­stream” plans to par­lia­ment last Novem­ber.

And there’s also lit­tle chance that the cur­rent ser­vice provider, Net1 sub­sidiary Cash Pay­mas­ter Ser­vices

(CPS), will not con­tinue to be in­volved in grant dis­tri­bu­tion for some time.

The big ques­tion over the past year or two has been whether the forces in Sassa re­spon­si­ble for in­sourc­ing, un­der the pro­tec­tion of so­cial de­vel­op­ment min­is­ter Batha­bile Dlamini, are ut­terly in­com­pe­tent or in fact ex­tremely cun­ning.

It’s very pos­si­ble that they’ve never had any in­ten­tion of bring­ing CPS’S role in-house. The plan might be to play for time and then, a few years later, in­form the pub­lic that a wellplaced BEE con­sor­tium has just ac­quired large parts of CPS for a few bil­lion rand of tax­pay­ers’ money. We would be told the con­sor­tium had to take over the R2bn/year con­tract be­cause there was no al­ter­na­tive.

Dlamini’s crew has demon­strated a stag­ger­ing level of con­tempt for the law, par­lia­men­tary process and civil so­ci­ety. Much of the panel’s first re­port de­tails the frus­tra­tions ex­pe­ri­enced in try­ing to en­gage with the team. It seems they never refuse to as­sist; they sim­ply don’t as­sist.

There is a chance Dlamini will suc­ceed — that she will con­tinue to treat par­lia­ment and the courts with con­tempt and win the big prize. Like so many in gov­ern­ment and state-owned en­ter­prises who have gone rogue, she has suf­fered ab­so­lutely no con­se­quences. We look on with in­creas­ing in­dig­na­tion and fear it is un­stop­pable.

But there is hope. Just as Budlen­der cre­ated con­se­quences for Mckin­sey, the de­ter­mined ex­pert panel appointed by the con­sti­tu­tional court might be able to cre­ate con­se­quences for Dlamini’s crew.

There’s zero chance Sassa will be ready to take grant dis­tri­bu­tion in-house by April

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