R1.2m lost after Dlamini pulls plug on event to respond to Zuma directive

Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini. Picture: Charl Devenish/Foto24
Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini. Picture: Charl Devenish/Foto24

R1.2 million. This was what the minister of social development cost the public purse because of “a deployment from the office of the president” a day before the Constitutional Court judgment on Nkandla.

MPs in Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts drilled minister Bathabile Dlamini, the administrative leaders of her department and the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) on Wednesday over fruitless and wasteful expenditure totalling R10.9 million Sassa incurred in the 2015-2016 financial year.

This means the public purse saw no value for this money.

The agency also spent R1.1 billion irregularly in the same financial year due to officials flouting legal prescripts.

Dlamini, who is also president of the ANC Women’s League, has been widely labelled in the media as a Zuma confidante.

The R1.2 million of wasteful expenditure was incurred after an event planned for Sassa’s Project Mikondzo – which is aimed improving the living conditions of South Africa’s most impoverished citizens – had to be cancelled because Dlamini heeded the call from President Jacob Zuma’s office.

According to Sassa she was due to address the public at the event on March 30 this year, which means it was a day before the controversial Nkandla judgment.

The Constitutional Court found that President Jacob Zuma failed to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution as the supreme law of the land and ordered him to pay back a portion of the money spent on non-security upgrades at Nkandla.

Dlamini told MPs that she was deployed elsewhere by Zuma’s offices on that day in March and her deputy was also not available. She could not immediately recall where she was.

“I will have to ask my office to find out where exactly we were.”

Despite Dlamini’s absence Sassa still incurred costs of more than R1 million.

Marquees were already procured at a cost of almost R1 million. Sassa’s figures showed that R95 000 of the R828 480 earmarked for water and catering had already been spent, as was nearly R65 000 of the almost R75 000 that had been budgeted for security.

Furthermore, almost R90 000 had already been spent on media for the event.

Sassa’s financial head, Tsakeriwa Chauke, said the issue was still being investigated.

Scopa chairperson Themba Godi asked if Dlamini had at least told Zuma’s office that she had to be somewhere else, and that expenses had already been incurred.

“Did you communicate to the president’s office and inform them there would be this expenditure? R1.2 million is a lot to be lost purely due to a cancellation.”

Dlamini admitted that she didn’t inform Zuma’s office of the Sassa event.

“It was a wrong decision on my part.”

Dlamini, who had previously said that a social grant of R753 a month was enough to live on, also came under fire earlier this year over her stay in the luxurious Oyster Box hotel in Umhlanga Rocks. She still has not explained who paid for this.

Economic Freedom Fighters MP Veronica Mente cautioned about the wrong precedent this may create.

“Who is going to be responsible for this money wasted? Money cannot just be wasted because people get directives from elsewhere.

"This explanation is not enough for the person who do not have a grant at home. As a committee we will be at fault for allowing situations of this nature where directives are followed costing the country millions.

"What is put in place then to safeguard the public purse?”

Mente insisted the minister would have to say who was going to take responsibility.

ANC MP Mnyamezeli Booi tried to deflect these blows to the executive authority (political head) and rather lashed out at Sassa chief executive, Thokozani Magwaza, who had only been in his position for about a month.

“The accounting officer must take responsibility, he can’t look at the executive. When he said he’s taking responsibility for everything, what did he think he was saying?

"Does he think this is a Holiday Inn? If he cannot answer he must resign. He must say who is paying back the money.”

Alicestine October
Parliamentary journalist
Media24 Parliamentary Bureau
City Press
p:+27 11 713 9001
w:www.citypress.co.za  e: alicestine.october@24.com

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