Accountability, at last, for Sassa?
Court-appointed panel shows strong grasp of all issues
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