Sassa debacle inquiry: Judge tells Dlamini to stop dodging questions

2018-01-23 13:10
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini with her unknown translator during cross-examination. (Lizeka Tandwa, News24)

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini with her unknown translator during cross-examination. (Lizeka Tandwa, News24)

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Johannesburg – Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini evaded questions during cross-examination on Tuesday. 

Dlamini was testifying at an inquiry into her personal role and liability in the 2017 social grants crisis, being held at the Office of the Chief Justice in Midrand.

On several occasions Judge Bernard Ngoepe had to intervene as Black Sash advocate Geoff Budlender attempted to get answers. 

In one instance, Ngoepe became visibly upset with Dlamini, telling her to stop dodging simple questions. 

"Minister, I'm going to have to note on record that you are not answering the question," he said.

Budlender had asked Dlamini why she was contradicting herself on record. He said that, in her testimony on Monday, she had said that former Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza had never brought it to her attention that there was dissatisfaction at the social security agency over the established workstreams. 

"Yesterday you said it was never brought to your attention that there was dissatisfaction... that is not true, because Magwaza brought it to your attention," Budlender inquired.

Dlamini responded that Magwaza had only informed her later when the workstreams had been established. 

'Minister, please answer'

Dissatisfied with her response, Budlender asked Dlamini again why she had contradicted her own statements. 

"For any impasse to be noted happened after Magwaza took office. This surprised me because he had initially agreed." 

Ngoepe then intervened, insisting that Dlamini respond to questions. 

"For my own piece of mind, Mr Budlender repeat the question... minister, please answer," Ngoepe said. 

The minister then said she could only answer the question later, "after seeing Magwaza's submissions". 

Ngoepe, running his hands acrooss his forehead in frustration, then told her: "We cannot keep repeating the same question, so what is the answer minister?" 

A defiant Dlamini said: "With all due respect, I would like to see submissions before I would be able to respond." 

The Constitutional Court appointed Ngoepe to head the inquiry into whether Dlamini should be held personally liable for the costs incurred during the South Africa Social Security Agency (Sassa) payment crisis.

The inquiry is investigating whether Dlamini sought the appointment of individuals, to lead the various "workstreams", who would report directly to her.

Minister reprimanded by translator

The three workstreams – which were "information and business management", "banking services and project management, legislative and policy requirements management", and "benefits and local economic development" – appeared to exist in parallel with the function of the department and Sassa.

The leaders of these workstreams acted as advisors to Dlamini, before they were appointed to lead the workstreams, a move that was said to be illegal and irregular.

Further, the Constitutional Court ordered the inquiry to investigate the 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 workstream's report to the minister. Lastly, the inquiry would consider why the minister did not disclose this information to the Constitutional Court, News24 earlier reported.

During the morning session, Dlamini often raised eyebrows by correcting her translator. She had elected to testify in isiZulu. 

On several occasions, she would interject while the translator was speaking and make her own submissions in English. 

On one such occasion, the translator reprimanded Dlamini, saying that she was not allowing him to do his job. Dlamini immediately apologised. 

The hearings are continuing.

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