/ 24 January 2018

Bathabile Dlamini will not say why ‘trusted’ subordinates too kept her in the dark

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini appeared before Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts on Tuesday.
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini appeared before Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts on Tuesday.

Social development minister Bathabile Dlamini on Wednesday declined to tell an inquiry why she thought two of her most trusted officials apparently hid a looming crisis from her for months.

Dlamini has persistently blamed two different officials, then social development director-general Zane Dangor and then CEO of the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) Thokozani Magwaza, for not telling her a deadline to bring the payments of social grants in house.

It was because Dangor and Magwaza did not tell her that she did not inform the Constitutional Court as she was obliged to do do, Dlamini has explained.

But under questioning from Magwaza’s counsel on Wednesday morning, Dlamini would not say why two other officials, Zodwa Mvulane and Raphaahle Ramokgopa, also apparently hid the true state of affairs from her.

Dlamini has accused Dangor and Magwaza of neglecting their duties and has implied that they conspired against her. But on Wednesday she confirmed that she trusted Mvulane and Ramokgopa and had no reason to believe they would mislead her.

Asked why Mvulane would hide the truth from her, Dlamini said: “I’m not sure whether this a point for me to say.”

Dlamini’s counsel stepped in to argue that a similar question about Ramokgopa was not relevant, but was overruled.

“I can not speak on her behalf,” said Dlamini.

“But can we safely assume that Mz Ramokgopa was a trusted colleague and subordinate, and that you had a good relationship with her?” asked Magwaza’s advocate Richard Solomon.

“Yes,” said Dlamini.

Shortly before Solomon had led Dlamini through documents that show Ramokgopa knew for six months that Sassa was unlikely to make a crucial deadline at least six months before Dlamini claims to have learnt the same thing. Missing the deadline, set by the Constitutional Court, presented a crisis in both legal and public relations terms, and could endanger the payment of 17 million monthly social grants.

Yet by Dlamini’s telling, Ramokgopa neglected to mention that for half a year.

Dlamini likewise confirmed that she had regular and detailed meetings with Mvulane, the project manager for the project to bring grant payments in house. She confirmed that she had oversight of Mvulane’s work, and a duty to apply her mind in these meetings. Yet Mvulane, apparently, also never mentioned that Sassa had already started to prepare for missing the deadline.

As on Monday and Tuesday, Dlamini continued to insist on providing what she deemed important context, but seemed mostly to be irrelevant detail, when asked even the most basic of questions.

“It will shorten proceedings, shorten your stay in the witness box, if you could just please try to answer the question, and once you have answered the question just stop,” presiding judge Bernard Ngoepe advised Dlamini during the morning session. “Because otherwise your stay in the witness box will be prolonged.”

The inquiry is due to end on Friday.