Sassa inquiry has wrapped up hearing evidence

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A Constitutional Court mandated inquiry into the grants crisis has wrapped up hearing evidence. The inquiry, which is being held at the Office of the Chief Justice in Midrand, was called to hear oral evidence after the Minister Bathabile Dlamini and her former trusted advisors turned on each other in court papers.

The Minister spent a gruelling four days in the witness stand, and had to be cautioned several times to answer questions.  By contrast, the testimony by both her former advisors was wrapped up in less than two days.

Former Director General and trusted advisor in the Department of Social Development, Zane Dangor, says he was compelled to testify before the inquiry.

“My own experience of the impact of parallel decision making structures where advice is sought from outside after formal advice given from those responsible as accounting officers and there is a change in direction and creating the kind of panic that we had.”

After being made aware in October 2016 that there was no concrete plan in place for the South Africa Social Security Agency (Sassa) to become the paymaster for social grants come 1 April 2017, Dangor says he set up a technical team to draft an emergency solution.

That resulted in an affidavit being drafted for the Constitutional Court, detailing exactly what lead to the looming crisis and asking for permission to extend the contract with CPS for one more year.

“A month later the Minister was reverting back to 24 months and in fact had decided that we no longer had to do a full disclosure to the ConCourt, a decision that I was not involved in, the CEO was not involved in, Mr Shezi was not involved in. A new plan was presented that said that given that the Constitutional Court had taken away its supervisory powers we no longer had to seek consent for the extension of CPS.”

This affidavit was subsequently filed by Sassa Chief Executive Officer Thokozani Magwaza on the same day that the Black Sash Trust alerted the court to the crisis. However, the Minister ordered Magwaza to withdraw his affidavit.

Dangor says that this sudden about turn by the Minister was his tipping point.

“The Minister consulted with people outside of the department. We do know that one of the people she was consulting with was the President because the President called Mr Magwaza and asked him why he is not at that meeting. In that meeting that new legal advice was canvassed by outside advisors and this is not a once off issue it happened time and again.”

Dangor says that he found it rather strange that the Minister would keep him out of the loop on such a critical issue.

“The relationship between me and the Minister was over, the years that whenever she had a problem and issue the first person or one of the first persons she would come to for advice was me, on this issue, curiously, I was omitted from almost every meeting related to the ministerial advisory committee and the work streams.”

The work streams came to replace work packages that Sassa had set up to prepare to take over grant payments.

In his affidavit before the court, Dangor said he had warned that an impression will be formed that the crisis was self-created to ensure that CPS continues paying grants despite the invalid contract.

Dangor told the inquiry that his public fallout with Minister Dlamini has come at a great cost.

“Aside from making the big decision of leaving a department that I was involved in for over 12 years, and an institution that I was involved in building which is Sassa and also previously to that I was part of civil society to extend social assistant grant. But since my resignation I’ve had armed guards at my house, I was followed, there was home invasion,  the intimidation level for some reason or another I’m not saying where it comes from because we don’t know but it’s been significant. So, ja!”

During cross-examination, the Minister’s lawyer, Ishmael Semenya tried to paint Dangor as an uncooperative witness.

Judge Bernard Ngoepe will hear closing arguments on the 9 March.

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