Did Sassa CEO jump or was he pushed?

18 July 2017 - 06:44 By ERNEST MABUZA
Thokozani Magwaza.
Thokozani Magwaza.
Image: ALON SKUY/THE TIMES

Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza has resigned after death threats and public clashes with Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, raising questions over whether he may have been pushed out of the grant provision agency.

Magwaza's resignation, after a year at the helm of the SA Social Security Agency, came within hours of a strongly worded statement by parliament's standing committee on public accounts chairman Thembi Godi.

He called on government to protect Magwaza from the "brazen lawlessness by a criminal gang of rent seekers who want to intimidate Mr Magwaza out of his job".

The committee said it was "shocking" that Dlamini "has not said a word or stood in solidarity with Magwaza, thus making him feel he is on his own".

Dlamini and Magwaza had clashed publicly over how the department handled the controversial Cash Paymaster Services contract and subsequent court case.

 Magwaza also recently cancelled "work streams" set up by the minister to find the best solution for the payment of grants after Treasury indicated R47-million spent on them was irregular.

Magwaza is likely to testify against Dlamini in a public hearing set up to probe whether she should be liable for the costs of the payment crisis.

Magwaza's departure was announced in a short e-mail statement in which the department thanked him and wished him well.

 He would not comment on why he left and department spokesman Lumka Oliphant would not say who would replace him.

Godi said Magwaza's departure could not have come at a worse time as Sassa has until March 2018 to ensure it has replaced the CPS contract with an internal system.

"Mr Magwaza is hardly a year in office. He has left at the time when we were managing the transition from Cash Paymaster Services to the South African Post Office. We think this should not have happened for the sake of stability."

Earlier, Godi said he had a long discussion with Magwaza about the alleged death threats.

David Lewis, executive director of Corruption Watch, was concerned that Dlamini "failed to comment" on death threats against Magwaza. He said Magwaza had taken on the task of sorting out the mess at Sassa.

"Everybody would have been much better off if the minister, and not the CEO, had resigned. He had to resign because of the impossible situation he was in as long as she was minister. She has worked to undermine Sassa."

Lewis said Magwaza was leading negotiations with the Post Office to take over the payment of the grants from Cash Paymaster Services.

"We would be entitled to ask whether he had been pressurised to resign to derail those negotiations," Lewis said.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) has also questioned the circumstances leading to Magwaza's departure.

"We read into this development that he was pushed out after his work environment was made unbearable with death threats, the tension with Minister Bathabile Dlamini, Magwaza's closure of the minister's lucrative work streams and his attempts to get the Post Office to take over the social grants delivery," says Dominique Msibi, Outa portfolio director.

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