SassaGate Inquiry: The truth ‘lost in elaboration’ as belligerent Bathabile Dlamini glowers, blames and evades


SassaGate Inquiry: The truth ‘lost in elaboration’ as belligerent Bathabile Dlamini glowers, blames and evades


Published Date: 2018-01-25 | Source: DailyMaverick | Author: Marianne Thamm

SassaGate Inquiry: The truth ‘lost in elaboration’ as belligerent Bathabile Dlamini glowers, blames and evades

Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini was visibly irritated at having to answer questions at Monday's historic inquiry, ordered by the Constitutional Court and headed by Judge Bernard Ngoepe, to determine the minister's role in the 2017 Sassa crisis. The inquiry will also determine whether she should personally cough up for legal fees. Dlamini denied that workstreams she had been responsible for setting up, at the cost of R47-million, had been irregular or had undermined the work of Sassa. By MARIANNE THAMM.

Apart from the translation from English to Zulu and back again, things moved relatively swiftly at the start on Monday of the Section 38 Inquiry at the Offices of the Chief Justice into Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini's culpability and responsibility for legal fees in the SassaGate near-crisis in March last year.

Dlamini's counsel, Advocate Ishmael Semenya, essentially led the minister through a 41-page affidavit that she had submitted earlier.

In her affidavit Dlamini blames former Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza (who barely had any time to pucker his seat when he suddenly "resigned") and other officials for the crisis. Dlamini also denied that she had delayed or frustrated the process in order to ensure that CPS remained contracted to Sassa in spite of the ConCourt ruling.

She could not explain on Monday why she had failed in her affidavit to inform the Constitutional Court of the existence of workstreams at the centre of the controversy. She said she had been side-tracked by the matter that she should be held responsible personally for legal costs.

The establishment of the workstreams came after recommendations by a Ministerial Advisory Committee, handpicked by Dlamini, and which had explored options for Sassa to take the payment of social grants in-house. This followed a ruling by the Constitutional Court that the contract awarded by Sasa to Net1, a subsidiary to CPS, had been irregular.

Some of the members of Dlamini's advisory committee were later appointed to head the workstreams - which had been necessary, said Dlamini, because of the urgency of the March 2017 deadline.

She denied that the workstreams, set up at the cost of around R47-million, had undermined the work of Sassa officials and had essentially been parallel structures that reported directly to her.

On Monday, Dlamini's demeanour changed visibly when the moment arrived for her to be cross-examined by Advocate Geoff Budlender, counsel for the Black Sash.

Dlamini glowered at Budlender, took her time to reply to questions and repeated several times that she did not understand what she was being asked.

Between shuffling her mound of papers, folding her arms and looking away, Dlamini was unable to reply to questions with a "yes" or "no", prompting Ngoepe to request that the minister answer simply, as her replies might "get lost in elaboration".

Dlamini refused to acknowledge that a letter from National Treasury had effectively confirmed that the R47-million spent on the workstreams was irregular. She also would not clarify what exactly her job as Minister of Social Development entailed, if not the payment of grants to 17-million beneficiaries.

Dlamini replied that a letter from National Treasury, to the effect that the establishment of the workstreams had been irregular, had simply been a "view". Asked whether she believed she knew more about procurement than Treasury, Dlamini replied belligerently that this was Budlender's opinion.

At first Budlender pressed on doggedly but he eventually asked Dlamini - who had forced the leaders of the workstreams on Sassa - what she would have done had Sassa officials rejected her preferred candidates.

Dlamini dodged the bullet, replying that she could not answer as this is not what had occurred.

An audibly annoyed Budlender shot back, "Because you are used to issuing instructions and people obey them whether they are lawful or not."

Also present at Monday's hearing was former Department of Social Development DG, Zane Dangor, who resigned because of the Sassa debacle.

The hearing continues on Tuesday. DM

Photo: Bathabile Dlamini, Minister of Social Development (GCIS)


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