Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has cleared former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini of deliberately misleading parliament over the social grants debacle.

“Based on the information and evidence obtained during the investigation, I could not make a finding on the allegation that ... Dlamini deliberately or inadvertently misled the national assembly and contravened the executive ethics code, when she delivered her budget vote speech on May 4 2016,” Mkhwebane said at a briefing on Wednesday. 

Dlamini said in her budget vote speech that SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) would take over paying grants in April 2017. At the last minute she approached the Constitutional Court to extend Cash Paymaster Services' contract to continue administering grants.  A year later Sassa had to approach the court to again extend the CPS contract to September 2018. The SA Post Office took over administrating the grants after that.

DA MP Bridget Masango complained to the public protector in March 2017 that when Dlamini delivered her speech in parliament it was unlikely that she did not know that Sassa “would not be ready to perform the function of distributing social grants”.

It was Masango's contention that Dlamini acted in contravention of the executive ethics code, which states that members of the executive may not “wilfully mislead the legislature to which they are accountable”.

Mkhwebane is currently embroiled in a legal battle with President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is challenging her report that found he deliberately misled parliament over a donation to his ANC presidential campaign by corruption-accused company Bosasa. This was despite Ramaphosa correcting his original response to parliament several days later.

Mkhwebane's vindication of Dlamini comes despite a scathing judgment by the Constitutional Court in September 2018 that found Dlamini's conduct was reckless and grossly negligent in the grants saga, and that she failed to disclose information before an inquiry into her role in the crisis in 2017.

The highest court in the land found that Dlamini, who is president of the ANC Women's League and a key ally of former president Jacob Zuma, should be personally liable for 20% of the legal costs incurred by the Black Sash Trust and Freedom Under Law application‚ including costs of two counsel in that case.

The court also asked the National Prosecuting Authority to investigate whether Dlamini should be prosecuted for perjury. She resigned as an ANC MP in July after being excluded from Ramaphosa's trimmed cabinet.

Mkhwebane, who is facing a credibility crisis after numerous adverse findings against her in court, stressed that she was not saying the constitutional court was wrong in its findings against Dlamini, adding: “That was their finding, which has got nothing to do with [Dlamini] misleading [parliament].”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za