Bathabile Dlamini tells Scopa to back off

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini. (Leon Sadiki, Gallo Images, City Press)
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini. (Leon Sadiki, Gallo Images, City Press)

Johannesburg - Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini has accused Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) of "increasingly overstepping the boundaries of its mandate" in its oversight of her department and the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa). 

Scopa has hauled Sassa and Dlamini before the committee over their progress in finding a new distributor of social grants for the more than 17 million beneficiaries. The minister also has a weekly obligation to report to the portfolio committee on social development on the same matter.

Dlamini has written to National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, appealing to her to intervene.

In the letter, seen by News24 and dated September 4, Dlamini complains that there is duplication of oversight between Scopa, chaired by Themba Godi, and the portfolio committee on social development, chaired by Rose Capa. 

She states that the social development committee is the more relevant parliamentary oversight structure. 

"Of major concern for me is that Scopa expects Sassa to report to it on a regular basis on a matter that in my considered view is the mandate of the portfolio committee." 

"Scopa has gone beyond its core mandate and is now duplicating the functions of the portfolio committee," Dlamini writes. 

News24 understands that Dlamini was also unhappy about plans by Godi to visit Sassa offices as part of the committee's oversight work. The minister says that is the work of the social development committee. Traditionally Scopa oversees financial management by departments.

Meetings 'exhausting'

Capa has backed Dlamini. She told News24 that her committee was concerned that officials were spending more time reporting to the two committees and this could compromise their commitment to service delivery.

"We will have to follow political protocol and ensure that we are guided by law. We will ask Parliament's legal unit for advice on how we can be able to approach Scopa, we don't want to interfere with their work.

"If they sit with Scopa until 19:00 to 23:00 and then come to us the next day, then they are [too] exhausted to participate.

"It is also costly for the department and they just don't have the time required to do their work," Capa said.

Also read: Sassa CEO was forced to resign – Scopa chair

Dlamini said in the letter to Mbete that the department and Sassa were not opposed to being held accountable, but the two committees had demanded that Sassa appear before them even when there was "nothing significant to report".

Dlamini appealed to Mbete for the two committees to give Sassa room to do its work, as the new payment solution was at a "sensitive procurement phase".

"We requested that Sassa should be given an opportunity to duly conclude the procurement process without compromise or perceived undue interference," Dlamini said. 

Attempts to reach Godi were unsuccessful.

R3.5m for experts

In the letter, Dlamini says that, in addition to the two parliamentary committees, her department and Sassa also had to report to the Constitutional Court and a panel of experts. 

In March, the Constitutional Court ordered Dlamini and the grants agency to file reports on affidavits every three months on how they plan to ensure the payment of social grants starting on April 1, 2018, when the Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) contract comes to an end.

This was after Dlamini and Sassa admitted that they would not be able to take over the distribution of grants, but would be forced to continue with CPS, despite the Constitutional Court ruling in 2012 that the contract with the company was invalid.

Read more here: Dlamini should still be held accountable for 'self-made' Sassa crisis - Scopa

The court established a panel of legal and technical experts, estimated to cost Sassa R3.5m, to evaluate the procurement process for the social grant payment provider. But the department has complained that there is no time frame or terms of reference for the panel's work.

Officials from Sassa and the South African Post Office (SAPO) appeared before Scopa on Wednesday, but SAPO could not present its detailed plan to help with the distribution of social grants.

Acting Sassa CEO Pearl Bhengu said the agency had been instructed by the inter-ministerial task team to do "due diligence" on SAPO's proposal before finalising an agreement.

R410 000 for due diligence

A visibly frustrated SAPO CEO Mark Barnes and his colleagues sat in the meeting until 23:00, while Bhengu explained the latest delay. 

The team then had to report to the portfolio committee on social development the next day.

In the letter, Dlamini also protests being called to report to Scopa, while the SAPO matter was being finalised.

She confirms that the inter-ministerial committee on comprehensive social security, chaired by President Jacob Zuma, had recommended that Sassa do "due diligence". 

Sassa has contracted the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to undertake the due diligence at a cost of R410 000. 

Ironically, Dlamini has faced criticism for missing parliamentary meetings or being late. 

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