Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini has on Tuesday re-assured Parliament’s public accounts committee that public grants will be paid before 1 April.
Dlamini appeared in front of the committee to explain why she has gone above the Constitutional court in forming a new two-year contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) for social grants in South Africa, and why the contract was left so late in the first place.
Dlamini, who appeared nervous and often incoherent in her answers, seemed to blame everyone but herself when answering the quickfire questions posed by opposition MPs.
“I think the issue of grants, I agree, was very important, and I don’t want South Africans to think I am arrogant because people have been coming to meetings I did not attend, but never asked why I didn’t attend,” she told the committee on Tuesday.
Dlamini also seemed resentful of the position she was placed in as social development minister.
“As the members before me can say when you join the party (ANC) you don’t join an organisation to be a minister. Ministers are appointed by the president.”
“They are well known, they are experts in the work they are doing, they also do research, they don’t thumb-suck info,” she said reading out a list of names that report directly to her on the grants issue.
However, when the minister did finally provide official answers for why South Africa was plunged into a grants crisis – she blamed a number of other parties for her department’s shortcomings.
Some of the minister’s responses have been edited slightly for clarity purposes.
Not enough time given by Constitutional Court
Despite the Constitutional judgement stating that Sassa could not use CPS for its social grants tender, Dlamini claimed she was not given enough time by the court to find a replacement.
“When the advisory committee started its work (in July 2016) it came back to us and said that the time you have set out for yourselves will not be met.”
“There was a meeting will all the members of the advisory committee and even representative from the reserve bank has said it openly that I would not have time.”
Media and opposition
Upon interruption by opposition MPs that her answers were contradictory, Dlamini stated that opposition parties and media were also responsible for the controversy surrounding the Sassa payments.
“I’m not an expert on some of the things and they are not going to force me to say things that are not accurate and then they come back later and call me a liar.”
Jacob Zuma and radical transformation
Opposition MPs specifically objected to Sassa contracting with CPS – a white-owned, American-based company – despite recent calls from the ANC to undergo radical economic transformation.
In response, Dlamini indicated that the transformation strategy was recently introduced by Zuma, while the grants issue was several years old.
“The way we now want to talk about the past and mix it with (what) the president said, again there I think we are mixing issues – whether that’s deliberate or not it’s also up to you to decide.”
“I think also because of pressure we did not look into the economic transformation issues – we can still look into them because we are still negotiating with them.”
Banks owe us money
Dlamini noted that a number of parties, most notably Standard Bank, were currently indebted to her ministry and that they were battling to get the money back.
When questioned if Dlamini was seriously implicating these parties as responsible for withholding money and contributing to the crises, Dlamini responded: “Maybe we should give you correspondence to show you that we are not sitting on our laurels.”
We were busy with other work
Dlamini was asked why it had take so long for her to address the Sassa contract knowing the expiry date of the contract as early as 2014.
“For two years we ran a tender and two bidders withdrew towards the end,” Dlamini said indicating that the withdrawal provided a serious speed bump to the process.
“Secondly we appointed the work-streams and in October they came to us to say that they will not be able to do this in the amount of time and not understanding that we need more time in order to do these things.”
“Those of you here know it is not easy to start a bank and the work we were doing is to pay out pensions and social development. And we had to explain that we were doing work on the sidelines, working with the CSIR developing biometric systems etc – it’s perceptions.”
Non-executive members and “accountants”
Dlamini was accused of leaving an avalanche of failures in her wake since being appointed minister. She responded that it was always executive members who seemed to get blamed and not the lower members of her ministry.
“Last year I called the accounting officer and the work-streams (around October) and asked them to present their work and I thought that after some time they would give their report but they never did.”
“I had to phone them and ask them to give them account. So if anyone wants to define that as incompetence or an avalanche of failures you can’t stop them from passing those insinuations.”
Why so late?
“Chairperson I think we all know now that we ran a tender process for two years and we thought that when it came to end we would appoint a service provider, we would have an extension of two years,” said Dlamini.
“The procurement for the work-streams started on the 1 November 2015 and officially began work in July 2016 because it kept on moving up and down and others asking questions about work-streams.”
“When they started doing their work it only took them a month to turn around and say ‘look we are sitting on a time bomb’.”