ConCourt wants 'culprits' behind grants crisis - experts

2017-03-08 21:23
The Constitutional Court. (Lizeka Tandwa, News24)

The Constitutional Court. (Lizeka Tandwa, News24)

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Johannesburg – The Constitutional Court’s questions to the social development department indicate it wants to hold the culprits behind the social grants crisis accountable, two experts said on Wednesday.

“The line of questioning in the directive seems to hint at a desire by the court to pinpoint a culprit and assign liability for the debacle,” Constitution expert and director at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Phephalaphi Dube, told News24.

The court had sent questions to the department and SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) following their March 3 report that they would not be able to take over the grants payment system. They told the court on November 5, 2015, that they would be able to do so.

They are now negotiating for the current service provider, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) to continue making the payments to 17 million beneficiaries.

There was no precedent for the Sassa debacle, Dube said.

“It may mean that if the culprit is the minister of social development, that the Constitutional Court intends to hold her in contempt of court if it is found that she acted negligently or failed her oversight duties,” Dube said.

The court wants to know when the department became aware it was not going to have its own grants payment system in place by the time the invalid CPS contract expires on March 31.

It wants to know who at Sassa is responsible for determining whether or not the agency could pay grants by the end of March.

It has asked if Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini was informed about the matter and, if so, when.  

Another Constitutional Court expert, Marinus Wiechers, said the court’s questions indicated it wanted to see if Dlamini exercised her duties fairly and reasonably and in accordance with good governance standards.

In papers Sassa filed on March 3, Dlamini and Sassa accept responsibility for delays in identifying and redressing deficiencies in the initial plan submitted in November 2015. This plan contained time frames for implementation of the process leading up to the takeover of the system.

According to the papers, it was only in late August or early September 2016 that Sassa officials started to fully appreciate they would not be able to take over the system. Dlamini only realised it a month later.

The court also wants details of Sassa’s new agreement with CPS.

Senior counsel Wim Trengove advised Sassa to inform the court in October last year that it would no longer be able to pay the grants. However, Sassa made the submission five months later.  

Treasury had said it would only approve a new deal with CPS if the court agreed to it.

In 2014, the court ruled that the contract with CPS was invalid because the tender process was flawed. It however suspended its order of invalidity to give Sassa and the department time to make a new arrangement for paying grants.

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