Johannesburg - A frustrated chief justice asked on Wednesday how Sassa and Minister Bathabile Dlamini came to make themselves look incompetent in the social grants payment debacle.
"How do you get to the level where your clients make themselves look like they are incompetent and you can't even explain how you got to this point?" a frustrated Mogoeng Mogoeng asked Andrew Breitenbach, for Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa), in the Constitutional Court.
Mogoeng repeatedly pressed Breitenbach for answers about why Dlamini did nothing when she learnt that Sassa would not be able to pay grants on its own. Ensuring grants got paid was one of Dlamini's core responsibilities. She should have demanded progress reports from Sassa, he insisted.
"You can't just say she was remiss. It is what she is a minister for. Please help us understand."
Breitenbach cautioned the court against drawing adverse inferences against Dlamini. He said the inference that Dlamini was "utterly supine" in her handling of the matter was not the only one that could be made.
Mogoeng said he was not drawing an inference, but merely wanted to know why there was no plan about who would pay grants when the current illegal contract with Cash Paymaster Services expires on March 31.
"What explanation is there? There is no explanation."
Breitenbach said there was nothing in his papers he could submit by way of an answer.
"I don't know. Mea culpa as far as that is concerned. My clients accept that they ought to have come to court sooner."
He said his clients would agree to an order that Sassa and CPS continue their existing contract for 18 months, and on the same terms as the one negotiated in 2012.
Mogoeng asked him why 18 months. Breitenbach said his instructions were to ask for 18 months. He refused to agree to Mogoeng's suggestion for 12 months.
The court was hearing an application by the Black Sash for an order that it exercise "supervisory jurisdiction" over any new contract to pay social grants, and its implementation.
Earlier, the South African Post Office (SAPO) arguing through Aslam Bava, said the state-owned entity was more than capable of rendering services to beneficiaries.
"SAPO is standing in the wings," he said.
The SAPO was applying to be admitted as a friend of the court in the case.
Bava told the court a SAPO technical team had assured him they could take over the payment of grants within in a month. Bava said the Post Bank had six million accounts, and with the help of subcontractors which CPS used, they could get the job done.
"We are submitting that there is a crisis in this country and this crisis needs to be dealt with," Bava said.
Breitenbach said his clients would look with an open mind at any proposals from SAPO.
In 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that the contract Sassa signed with CPS in 2012 was illegal and invalid. It suspended the order of invalidity until March 31 2017 to allow the department and Sassa to insource the administrative requirements to distribute grants.
A task team of Cabinet ministers rejected the proposed extension of Sassa's contract with CPS.
On Sunday, the Democratic Alliance released a letter it received from the social development department confirming there was still no new contract between the department or Sassa with CPS for the distribution of social grants from April 1.