Business / Business News

Ray Mahlaka
3 minute read
21 Jul 2017
7:27 am

Dlamini appointing ‘buddy’ to Sassa top job raises eyebrows

Ray Mahlaka

Bhengu is a member of the ANC Woman’s League, which Dlamini is the president of.

The appointment of Pearl Bhengu as acting South Africa Social Security Agency (Sassa) CEO has raised a few eyebrows. Bhengu has close ties to Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, who has placed her friend and backer at the helm of the agency.

Bhengu is a member of the ANC Woman’s League (ANCWL), which Dlamini is the president of, and replaces the abruptly ousted Thokozani Magwaza.

Although Bhengu has extensive financial and managerial experience from the banking industry and, more recently, from her role as the head of Sassa in the KwaZulu-Natal region since 2012, her close relationship with Dlamini has been widely criticised.

With Bhengu at the helm on an acting basis, Dlamini is now expected to have her way when it comes to Sassa’s preparations to take over social grant payments or have another service provider be responsible for the payments beyond the incumbent Cash Paymaster Services (CPS).

Magwaza, who was appointed as Sassa’s CEO in June 2016, clashed with Dlamini over the handling of social grants payments and later cancelled the work streams that looked at Sassa taking over the payments when CPS’s contract expired in March 2018.

The work streams were cancelled after National Treasury, in its investigations, found that the R47 million spent on the work streams was irregular. Magwaza has been with the social development department, which supervises Sassa, for nearly five years.

The DA’s spokesperson on social development Bridget Masango said Bhengu comes into her new Sassa role “cold” as she expected a more senior executive at a crucial time when the agency has a constitutional mandate to replace the CPS contract with another service provider.

“We heard rumours that Bhengu is very close to the minister and she was given body guards in KZN, using Sassa funds for non-related agency events,” said Masango.  This couldn’t be confirmed by Moneyweb.

“It’s also concerning that a CEO would be changed when we are slap in the middle of the deadline [to appoint another service provider for social grant payments].”

CPS’s contract, which was initially declared invalid in 2015 as it didn’t go through the proper tender processes, was extended by the Constitutional Court for another year (ending March 2018) – giving Sassa time to take over social grant payments to 10.6 million beneficiaries or appoint another service provider.

Sassa and the Social Development Department have less than nine months to phase out the current CPS contract. The South African Post Office has been tipped to take over social grant payments but it’s yet to sign a contract with Sassa.

The department said Bhengu’s priority would be to stabilise Sassa.

Before joining Sassa, Bhengu was the regional director of FNB’s KZN public sector banking unit from 2008 and the ANCWL’s treasurer over that period. She also had a stint as chief financial officer at the Emnambithi-Ladysmith local municipality.

Lynnette Maart, the national director of civil rights group Black Sash, said social grant beneficiaries should not have to experience another extension of CPS’s “invalid” contract.

“Of particular concern is whether Sassa will lawfully procure services timeously to ensure the proper functioning and integrity of the agency’s national payment system, in accordance with its first report to the Constitutional Court, with the view that Sassa takes over its full mandate,” said Maart.

Black Sash dragged Dlamini to the court this year, asking the court to urgently supervise a new social grant contract when CPS’s contract expired on March 31 2017.

When Parliament reconvenes in August, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) will ask Dlamini to explain why Magwaza’s contract was terminated and for Sassa to provide a roadmap for phasing out CPS’s contract.

“The removal of Magwaza gives us the impetus to meet Dlamini. No other company, except the post office, has the capacity to take over grant payments. We prefer a state organ to pay social grants,” Scopa chairperson Themba Godi told Moneyweb.

Brought to you by Moneyweb