Dear Reader: A highwayman's view

Wet blanket

On the letters page readers will find a brief summary of a much longer letter received from the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) objecting to the content and drift of a report that appeared in nose204 about its ongoing plans to redirect the N3 highway between Gauteng and Durban.

It is intended that the highway will cross the escarpment via the De Beer’s Pass, rather than its current, more laborious, Van Reenen route. Among the many objections raised against the proposed De Beer’s Pass route is that the highway will permanently destroy wetlands in an important Vaal River catchment area, negatively affecting critical water supplies to Gauteng.

In response, Sanral says it did take account of the wetlands, but then raises two important qualifiers: it wants us to note that its environmental impact assessments also (uniquely) included a resource economics study – which presumably found that the economic advantages of the highway outweighed the environmental disadvantages of driving a highway through a pristine wetland at the source of a major river.

In case the public did not swallow that one, Sanral goes on to point out that “It is also well known that the Vaal River system is under threat from the drought, unlawful irrigation practices and from different pollution sources, such as sewage from inadequate municipal waste water treatment works, industrial effluents, acid mine drainage and other activities taking place within the Vaal River System.”

By implication, Sanral considers that the Vaal is in such a mess anyway, that it is not worth bothering about preserving the wetland that filters the river water at source.

We thought you ought to be told.

Department of Social Insecurity

The Department of Social Security has been ominously silent about its plans for distributing more than 17 million social grants once its contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) – the company that has performed that service for several years – terminates in less than three months’ time.

More than a year ago the government announced that the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) would no longer call for tenders to manage the system, and would manage it “in house”. From time to time it announced the appointment of “work streams” to research and design the system at a cost of millions.

For months, Minister of Social Security Bathabile Dlamini has refused to reveal how the government planned to administer the system itself and what it would cost.

When at a session of Parliament’s Select Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) , the DA’s Bridget Masango once more posed these questions, Dlamini slipped into Zulu, the better to drive her answer home: Kukhona abazama ukuthola amanzietsheni, angeke bawathole! You are trying to draw water from a stone – and you won’t get it!

Sassa did reveal that it would take them two years or more to “phase in” their plans.  And in the interim? There is only one possible answer.

Despite the Constitutional Court having ordered Sassa to cancel its contract with CPS because the tender was illegal, Sassa now plans to contract CPS for another two years while it supposedly “phases in” a plan it has yet to decide upon – and CPS can now charge just about anything it wants for the extra two-or-more years.

What the minister won’t tell Parliament, the Chairman and CEO of Net 1, CPS’s holding company, Serge Belamant told his major shareholders in early November: “More urgently, Sassa has asked us to propose a plan that would allow for all current Sassa cards to continue to operate for a further 24 months after April 1, 2017.

“This required us to update all cards with new MasterCard and Net 1 cryptographic key sets, and [new] expiry date. If these updates are not performed by April 1, 2017, these cards would no longer be operational.

“Net 1 has designed a plan that would allow such updates to take place at Sassa offices… Contingency plans have also been put in place to ensure that grant distribution will not be affected after April 1, 2017. Net 1 continues to work with Sassa…

“Any Sassa business continuity is welcomed by Net 1 if under favourable terms and conditions.” [Noseweek’s emphasis],” Belamant said. “Sassa remains the most critical organ of state.”

As Noseweek warned in August 2016: “If these ‘survival’ grants are not paid, the national crisis would be on the scale of war.”

The Editor

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