Sassa saga stinks of a corruption scam

Cash Paymaster Service (CPS) may well pay social grants on March 31. That would mean its contract, which the Constitutional Court found illegal, would have been extended beyond the initial five-year period.

This could possibly go on for another year or two, enabling CPS to amass even more profit under an illegal contract.

The Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini would certainly not be disappointed with a decision to have CPS continue issuing social grants under an extension of an illegal contract.

Her contentment would have little to do with 17 million people receiving their grants, but be more to do with personal benefit.

CPS did not secure the contract fairly, but the tender process was manipulated in order to favour the company.

The manipulation came from inside the Social Development Department.

Why else would anyone rig a tender process if not for personal gain?

In other words, CPS was an internal favourite in return for personal benefit.

Assuming this logic is accurate, it then goes without saying that the insider would have subsequently sought to ensure that CPS retained the contract in order to continue securing the benefit.

That was certainly the impression of the Constitutional Court in its initial ruling back in April 2012 when it noted: “Sassa has adopted an unhelpful and almost obstructionist stance. It failed to furnish crucial information to AllPay regarding the implementation of the tender and to Corruption Watch in respect of steps it took to investigate irregularities in the bid and decision-making process. Its conduct must be deprecated …”

Having secured the contract for CPS in return for possible benefit, it was always inevitable that the insider would act to ensure the company retains it. The contract would be mutually beneficial.

What of that fact that the tender was re-run and only three companies submitted bids? Their applications were apparently inadequate, forcing the department to continue with CPS. That may be true, or false.

But it is difficult to take the department at its word, given the dubious manner in which the CPS contract was awarded in the first place.

In fact, the department knew, as per the 2012 ConCourt ruling, that if the re-run failed to yield a new appointment, then CPS would automatically continue as the distributor of grants until March 2017.

Given the vested interests of the insider in the retention of CPS, who says that the re-run was not itself manipulated?

The possibility of the re-run also being tainted, appears even likelier considering recent events.

For instance, Sassa realised last May that it would not be in a position to take over the disbursement of social grants from April 1 this year upon expiry of the CPS contract. It had made the undertaking to do this back in 2012.

Yet the ConCourt was not told, nor were any preparations apparently made to avoid CPS extending an illegal contract.

Nine months was surely sufficient time to look for alternatives, which would also have meant that the department was complying with the order of the ConCourt.

But we all discovered just a few weeks ago that Dlamini is planning on continuing with the illegal contract.

This saga has all the usual signs of a cover-up to perpetuate corruption.

Meanwhile, Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza disappeared. He was reportedly on sick leave.

Who takes sick leave in the middle of a crisis? And, why would the minister, or board, approve a CEO’s application to stay home over flu – I’m guessing – when the poor in our land might just rise up if they don’t get their monthly grants.

My guess was that Magwaza was pushed aside in order to silence him. The reports were that he wanted the SA Post Office to take over the distribution of grants.

This weekend, Magwaza resurfaced and broke his silence over the grants crisis.

He told City Press that indeed, Sassa did have plans to involve the Post Office in the distribution of grants but these were torpedoed by the minister.

He also said Dlamini had blocked his efforts to report back to the ConCourt about the payment of social grants.

He gave the newspaper a list of the occasions – dating as far back as early February – when his office had been ready to petition ConCourt for guidance, but were abruptly stopped by last-minute instructions from Dlamini.

And he said, Sassa staff were told by the minister’s aides to take instructions from her attorney.

Finally Magwaza claimed he was being victimised for recommending a 12-month temporary contract be secured with CPS, instead of 24 to 36 months.

The claim that no plan was prepared to take over from CPS was clearly a charade.

That’s probably why social development director-general Zane Dangor resigned.

He just couldn’t continue acting along, faking an emergency so CPS could prolong an illegal contract.

CPS may well continue beyond March. But, that won’t be the end of this saga. This is just the beginning.

It stinks of a scam, and the ConCourt appears to have picked that up.

The questions it has sent to the department in preparation for a hearing on Wednesday, seek to establish if, at all, the department ever made preparations for Sassa to take over from CPS; who took the decision that Sassa would not take over and on what basis; and what alternative plans did Sassa come up with upon realising this?

Apart from seeking the truth, the ConCourt is just not happy. Its court order has been defied. This has been a source of unhappiness within the judiciary.

This is the same reason why the Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, accompanied by his then deputy Dikgang Moseke, went to complain to the president last year that his government’s defiance of court orders was making a mockery of our constitutional democracy.

Zuma promised that government would comply. Dlamini has clearly not complied.

The ConCourt will ensure that it not only registers its disapproval of this persistence defiance, but also uncover any malfeasance so that the culprits are held accountable.

Jurists are fed up with public officials abusing state resources without any consequences. Now they even award costs against officials who lose cases that should have never been brought to court to start with. Dlamini may just be in for a surprise.

Regardless of what comes out of the ConCourt, one can’t see how Dlamini will come out of this matter unscathed. The trail of deceit is just too palpable. She can’t even fabricate a convenient story.

That’s why, until recently, she’s been avoiding parliament and the media.

Now she’s taken to being defiant in ignominy – uqin’ enyaleni!

Not only that, she’s gone native in the hope of enlisting racial solidarity.

She doesn’t want to address white journalists because, according to her, they don’t know anything about social grants.

Dlamini prefers black journalists instead and her spokeswoman Lumka Oliphant insisted on speaking IsiXhosa in an English medium radio station.

Oliphant wanted to address “her” people, as if to suggest that they are gullible enough to believe a sham.

Oliphant would have us believe that black folks cannot question why the minister insists on breaking the law, but will simply pray for her to pay them.

This nativism is warped. I don’t know of any black person, however illiterate, who would not ask a question in the face of an anomaly. Why would they not get their grants now, when they’ve been getting them every month for more than 20 years, from the same government?

That’s what poor black folks are asking themselves and can only reach one answer: it’s Dlamini’s fault.

Racial solidarity is not a cover to conceal ignominy.

Equally bad is that CPS’s Serg Belamant is not remorseful at all. He got the initial contract illegally and wants it continued because no-one else can distribute social grants, he says.

The Frenchman is telling us that no one in this country can do what he does. That’s what Dlamini brought us, and she claims to be pushing a radical economic agenda!

Mcebisi Ndletyana is associate professor of politics at the University of Johannesburg