Newly-appointed acting Sassa CEO Pearl Bhengu and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini. Picture: @OfficialSASSA/Twitter

Cape Town - Opposition parties have expressed concern at new allegations regarding new acting South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) CEO Pearl Bhengu.
 
"After less than a week at the helm of Sassa, a number of serious allegations surrounding the independence and character of the new acting CEO Ms Pearl Bhengu are now being raised," Democratic Alliance spokesperson Bridget Masango said.

"While this is disturbing, it is not unexpected considering that Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini herself has acted in a highly questionable way for some time now," Masango said.

The DA would write to Dlamini to ask her a number of key questions regarding the CEO vacancy as well as Bhengu's suitability to hold the office of CEO of Sassa.

Specifically, Dlamini should answer when would the position for a permanent Sassa CEO be advertised? Whether the allegations that Dlamini's daughter Skhumbuzo Mazibuko and Bhengu were business partners were true? If so, this raised major questions about ethics and conflict of interest. And why had Bhengu been enjoying close protection, for how long, and who did the threat analysis and what was the nature of this threat?

The Constitutional Court deadline of March 31, 2018 for Sassa to procure the services of an alternative service provider was fast approaching, Masango said.

"The DA is of the belief that Dodging Dlamini manufactured the crisis in the first place, most likely to ensure that CPS [Cash Payment Services] would continue to distribute grants and that she or her cronies would somehow benefit financially.

"However, this time, the process must be transparent and not in the hands of individuals who seem to reside in the pockets of this disdainful and arrogant minister. 

"Seventeen million poor and vulnerable South Africans depend on social grants and they deserve to have people at the head of Sassa and the department of social development who work to improve the lives of the people, not just for selfish gain.

"The fact is that the minister must prioritise the appointment of a permanent and suitable Sassa CEO. The DA simply will not stand by and watch as another social grants crisis unfolds," Masango said.

Inkatha Freedom Party spokesperson Liezl van der Merwe MP said that with news emerging on Friday that Dlamini's daughter was in business with Bhengu it had become clear that Dlamini could no longer be trusted to administer Sassa and its billions of rand.

"The IFP therefore repeats our call for the urgent removal of the minister of social development. We know that Ms Bhengu and minister Dlamini are close friends and ANC Women’s League comrades, but we have also received information that Ms Bhengu is alleged to have been used by the minister to channel funds from Sassa for nefarious purposes in KwaZulu-Natal. Now the allegation that the two families are in business smacks of corruption as well, " van der Merwe said.

The IFP believed Dlamini "pushed out [former Sassa CEO Thokozani] Magwaza so that she and Ms Bhengu can have access to the coffers of Sassa".

"With allegations rife that CPS is linked to the ANC and its leadership campaigns, it is clear that the minister was hell-bent on keeping CPS's contract in place even though they continue to hold an unlawful contact. Now minister Dlamini has appointed a comrade to run Sassa, clearly so that they can abuse Sassa and its funds, especially to distribute food parcels for electioneering as the ruling party so routinely does. This is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the latest developments," said van der Merwe.

It was clear that yet another Sassa crisis was looming. The IFP would write to parliament's portfolio committee on social development chairwoman Rosemary Capa to urgently convene a meeting with Dlamini. 

"It is clear that Ms Bhengu is not suitable to be the acting CEO of Sassa and we want the minister to rescind this decision. We also need explanations as to why she chased Mr Magwaza away," van der Merwe said.

The IFP would soon table recommendations on how to save Sassa from the clutches of the minister and her dubious ways, she said.

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