Lost in translation: Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini was asked by the inquiry into Sassa procedures why an illegal contract with CPS was extended. Picture: RUVAN BOSHOFF
Lost in translation: Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini was asked by the inquiry into Sassa procedures why an illegal contract with CPS was extended. Picture: RUVAN BOSHOFF

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini evaded questions about the controversial South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) work streams on Monday, saying the determination that they had been appointed illegally was just "the view of someone" at the Treasury.

Dlamini was being cross-examined during a Constitutional Court-mandated inquiry into whether she should be held personally liable for the Sassa fiasco that led to the agency having to extend an illegal contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) for the administration of social grants.

Geoff Budlender, for the Black Sash, focused on Dlamini’s agreement or not with the Treasury’s determination of noncompliance with procedures when the work streams were appointed and what evidence existed that procurement was urgent.

When asked if she agreed with the fact that there was no urgency, Dlamini responded by saying "this is a view by someone at Treasury".

Budlender then asked the minister if she was saying that she knew better than a procurement officer at the Treasury, to which she responded "well, that might be your view".

The minister, who requested to testify in Zulu at the inquiry with an interpreter, was then asked several times whether she agreed or disagreed with  the determination.

After a back and forth between her and Budlender, Dlamini finally said she disagreed with the Treasury.

When pushed again, she said she disagreed "with the spirit" of the letter. "It is best for all people involved to respond because they know what processes they are following in procurement," Dlamini said through her interpreter in relation to a letter sent to then Sassa CE Thokozani Magwaza in May 2017.

Treasury said the deviation from normal procurement processes requested by the agency was not approved.

The letter was sent by the Treasury’s chief director of supply chain management, governance, monitoring and compliance, Solly Tshitangano.

In July, Magwaza cancelled the contracts.

The inquiry, led by judge Bernard Ngoepe, is investigating whether Dlamini sought the appointment of individuals to lead the work streams to report directly to her; details of the appointments in terms of when the individuals were appointed, who they reported to and the details of the dates and contents of the report of the work streams to the minister; and why she did not disclose this information to the court.

The work streams allegedly operated parallel to Sassa’s standard functions and appeared to usurp the agency’s roles and responsibilities. Dlamini has denied this.

She spent most of the first day’s proceedings going through her sworn statement.

Dlamini confirmed that she had directed Sassa to appoint the work streams and that they should report to her. But the work streams did not tell Sassa how to do its work.

It is said work stream leaders were appointed irregularly after first serving on an advisory panel to the minister in 2013. They advised on the establishment of the work streams and were later appointed to head these.

Dlamini explained that some of the members of the advisory panel were hired to lead the work streams to ensure that there was "consistency and institutional memory".

She said she had never been made aware that these teams were interfering in Sassa work or usurping its functions.

If she had been made aware, Dlamini said, she would have called a high-level meeting to deal with it.

Dlamini also denied that she and the work streams tried to derail Sassa from taking over the payment of social grants, in favour of CPS continuing with the contract.

She called on anyone with evidence of her alleged interference to come forward.

Magwaza, in an affidavit submitted to the Constitutional Court last year, accused Dlamini of lying about her role in the saga. The minister alleged that she only became aware that Sassa would be unable to take over the payment of social grants in October 2016 just a few months before the March 31 2017 deadline.

However, Magwaza alleged that she had been in control of the process since 2015.

Dlamini wrote to then Sassa CE Virginia Petersen in 2015, informing her about her decision to appoint work streams that would report directly to the minister so that she could "retain direct control of the implementation process".

He said the work streams were given a broad mandate to take over the implementation of the project and that Sassa was instructed "not to interrupt them or delay them".

Magwaza, and former social development director-general Zane Dangor, who also filed an affidavit in the Constitutional Court against Dlamini, will testify at the inquiry, which is set down until Friday.