Despite all fingers pointing at Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini for the ongoing SASSA grant debacle, President Jacob Zuma has once again defended the minister saying there is no crisis in her department and there would be no need to have her fired.
The president, at his first question and answer session at the parliament, told members in the house that firing Dlamini would make the SA democracy look funny and that as a President he has seen nothing wrong the minister has yet done.
Zuma’s repeated comment about the SASSA grant debacle came after the state’s corruption watch joined numerous South Africans to call for minister Dlamini’s resignations for failing to find an alternative service provider to deliver social grants.
The organisation views the proposal by Sassa to extend or renew a contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) in a serious light, particularly following the Constitutional Court’s judgement that the award of the tender was invalid, and riddled by administrative irregularities which, in the words of the Court, are to be treated seriously because they may ‘betoken corruption’.
Over R10 billion is paid out in social welfare grants every month to beneficiaries. Yet, with just two weeks to go until government’s existing contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) expires, the welfare of 17-million South Africans is being risked by a government so cavalier it does not deign to respond to the situation as a crisis.
With Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng saying in no uncertain terms that Social Development department was in crisis, and Dlamini’s lawyer admitting to the Constitutional Court this week that the minister was “remiss” in fulfilling her responsibilities, the President continued to stand his ground saying that he cannot be expected to take action against the minister just yet.
“Why punish someone before anything happens? This is another kind of democracy that if you expect someone is going to make a mistake or is going to fail, that person must be punished before it happens. It’s a funny democracy,” Zuma said.
He, however, expressed regret over “the current situation” saying the government would make that there was never again any apprehension with regard to the payments of social grants. He assured social grants beneficiaries that there would be no interruption and people would get their money at the end of this month.
“Lessons will be learnt from the current unfortunate episode to ensure there is no recurrence. We will ensure a solution is found that is compliant with our BEE imperatives and all our laws,” he said.
Against Zuma’s insistence, public analysts say that the SASSA grant debacle is daring, being that it has failed to perform the function for which it was created.
The South African Social Security Agency Act of 2004 says the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) must “ensure the provision of comprehensive social security services against vulnerability and poverty within the constitutional legislative framework”.
And, confirming all that was going on in the department, Justice admitted that something must be done as quick as possible to salvage the department from failing totally.
“The consequences [of the SASSA grant debacle continuing] could be more catastrophic than we have the capacity to imagine. This is a crisis… We must do whatever it can to intervene to ensure that we don’t proliferate the crisis.” he said.
But Zuma, aside referring to the grants debacle as an “unfortunate episode” in his prepared text, also labeled the saga “isiphithiphithi” (commotion) as he explained – off the cuff – why it could not be used as the basis for evaluating Dlamini’s performance.
The president seemed to be basing his argument on the fact that grants would be paid beyond March 31 and not on how they would be paid.
“I thought the date we are talking about has not arrived, the 1st of April. This is another kind of democracy that if you suspect that somebody is going to fail or make a mistake you must punish that person before it happens; it’s a funny democracy,” said Zuma.
“It’s one thing for people to raise an issue that we are likely to get into trouble – that things may not be done; but to act as if the first [April 1] has come and grants have not been given, therefore action must be taken, I say it’s a funny democracy; punish the person before they fail …”
Zuma said he had been briefed by ministers about what they had been doing including that there were tenders that were put out by Sassa but were not taken up. But he did not know about the illegal deductions by CPS and linked companies.