/ 10 August 2018

Dodgy official ‘parachuted’ into Sassa

Criticised: The new social development minister
Criticised: The new social development minister, Susan Shabangu (above), brought in Benedicta Monama despite her poor track record in the public sector. (David Harrison)

South African Social Services Agency (Sassa) officials fear that Social Development Minister Susan Shabangu is following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Bathabile Dlamini, by handpicking people to act as her proxies at the agency.

The officials have pointed out Shabangu’s appointment last month of a controversial former bureaucrat, Benedicta Monama, as her special adviser and, days later, Monama was announced as Sassa’s acting chief operating officer (COO).

Shabangu’s spokesperson, Thuli Nhlapo, said Monama’s appointment did not flout processes.

“In response to Sassa acting CEO’s [chief executive officer Abraham Mahlangu] request for a senior official to assist him in overseeing certain duties that were not
administrative in nature and did not include the signing of financial documents, the minister seconded Ms Monama to Sassa for a short period that ended on 31 July. The above was in line with the Public Service Act, 1994 (as amended),” she said.

Monama denied acting as the COO. Instead she said that it was just a position for practical reasons that she should have a position while advising the CEO.

“I wasn’t doing anything administrative there. For the sake of practicality, you can’t be hanging around an office without being in some position or some space,” said

But a senior Sassa official said Monama was still in the building. “She’s here every day. She has set up office at our building; she’s on the ninth floor with the acting CEO.”

Monama made headlines in 2011 as the head of Gauteng’s roads and transport department when the auditor general found that she had committed the province to a R3-billion contract with WestPoint Trading 123 to operate driver’s licence testing centres. It followed warnings by the provincial treasury that the contract would be illegal.

The Democratic Alliance’s Jack Bloom laid charges of gross negligence against her.

Monama denied having every signed any contract of R3-billion. On the Limpopo saga, she said she had only awarded contracts based on recommendations that were brought to her.

READ MORE: Shabangu promises Sassa will comply with ConCourt order

“I could not participate in the committees which chose the companies. It would have been wrong for me to interfere with the committee work without cause.”

Those charges did not impede Monama’s work elsewhere in the public sector. In 2015, the Mail & Guardian reported that Monama awarded 15 tenders valued at more than R230-million while acting as the municipal manager of Limpopo’s Sekhukhune district.

The provincial co-operative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs department recommended that the municipality terminate all 15 contracts.

Three years later, Monama re-emerged to oversee the multibillion-rand Sassa operation, which under the previous minister saw the agency’s money spent on the irregular appointment of “work streams” and bodyguards for officials.

But it’s not just Monama’s past that is dogging her. Her new role as an adviser twinned with a stint in administration has been flagged as a potential violation of regulations set out by the Cabinet last year, which determine the compensation and scope of work of special advisers.

According to the regulations cited by Nhlapo, “there shall be no relationship of authority between the special adviser and the head of department concerned. The special adviser shall direct his/her inputs to the executive authority and refrain from interfering in the administration and management of the department.”

One senior Sassa official said Monama’s appointment was a snub to Sassa’s many “qualified and capable officials”.

“Just to show how bad this situation is, no one is signing an appointment letter for B [Monama] because people here know that this disregards regulations of what an adviser is supposed to do. You can’t run the department you are advising the minister about,” she said.

Monama allegedly introduced herself as the new acting chief operating officer on July 13 at an executive committee meeting of Sassa.

But Monama says she was only advising the acting chief executive.

Another senior manager said this post was crucial because all the provincial Sassa offices reported to it. “She has no experience here at Sassa yet there are so many senior managers and executives which the minister could have chosen to head up the position. [It] needs someone who understands the business of Sassa and not for someone who has no idea about the Act to be parachuted in.”

Before the appointment of Monama, Shabangu had allegedly put all senior positions, including that of the chief operating officer, on ice.

“I remember that the COO position had been advertised and we were close to shortlisting but Shabangu said everything must be stopped,” the senior official said.

But Nhlapo said Shabangu had inherited a dysfunctional Sassa, in which governance structures had collapsed.

“It would have been reckless to advertise and fill up vacant positions without first putting structures in place. There are processes that must be undertaken to clean up Sassa. The minister will make an announcement to that regard in the near future.”

She added that Monama, like all senior government managers, was appointed pending the outcome of a security clearance by the security unit.