Concourt set to rule on welfare grants issue
IT APPEARS that the Constitutional Court will have to decide whether it will grant an order to allow Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) to continue paying welfare grants after April 1.
Yesterday morning, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini had yet to decide whether to seek an order from the Constitutional Court. However, she assured that grants would be paid on April 1.
Yet, while Dlamini’s department was unwilling to comment on its Concourt action, yesterday afternoon, the South Africa Social Security Agency (Sassa) itself revealed that it would be approaching the highest court to extend its contract with CPS.
Dlamini, when asked directly, refused to say how she planned to resolve the impasse that is threaten- ing the continued payment of grants to almost 18 million beneficiaries once the Concourt’s suspension of the invalidity of the contract with CPS expires on March 31.
The ministry spoke after yesterday’s meeting of Parliament’s portfolio committee on social development was cancelled – the second meeting on the crisis this year to be scrapped.
The cancellation notice appeared to lay the blame at the door of the National Treasury, saying the meeting could not go ahead as the ministry was not available.
However, a letter sent to the committee by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to tender the National Treasury’s apology made plain that the payment of grants was not the responsibility of his department.
“Payments of social grants does not fall within the mandate of the National Treasury,” Gordhan said.
“This is the statutory responsibility of my colleague, Minister Bathabile Dlamini.
“Therefore, Sassa, the Department of Social Development and the relevant executive authority have the responsibility to account to the committee on this matter.”
He added that the National Treasury would nonetheless advise and support the department and Sassa to ensure that the payment of grants was managed within “the correct legal and financial framework”.
Insiders and the opposition said the portfolio meeting should have gone ahead as Gordhan was correct in noting that his role was purely an advisory one.
Bridget Masango, the DA spokesperson on social development, called for Dlamini to be sacked over what she termed the “social grants fiasco”.
“For us it would have been of no consequence that Treasury could not be there. The meeting should have gone ahead because, at the end of the day, the responsibility is that of the department and Sassa,” she said.
“But the minister and Sassa have been unable to do anything for the past three years,” she added.
Dlamini’s spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said the National Treasury was “a very important stakeholder” and the purpose of the meeting had been to hear from it.
She dismissed reports that Dlamini and Sassa would approach the Constitutional Court to allow the contract with CPS to run for another year.
Two weeks ago, Sassa said it planned to take this route at a committee meeting where Raphaahle Ramokgopa, the agency’s manager for strategy and business development, said it had yet to find a response.
Ramokgopa said Sassa had considered six options – option one being that the CPS contract be extended.
However, National Treasury has warned that this would be irregular expenditure since the Concourt ruled in 2013 that the contract was illegal and invalid.
Other options were procur- ing the services of banks or the Post Office. But banks said they needed at least six months to prepare, meaning beneficiaries would not get paid on April 1.
Resorting to the Post Office was also ruled out as it lacks branches in deep rural areas.
The DA has asked President Jacob Zuma to issue a proclamation giving Gordhan the lead role in negotiations with CPS and the appointment of a new service provider, claiming Dlamini’s handling of the matter was “negligent”.
CPS is a subsidiary of American company Net1, which has been accused of illegal deductions from beneficiaries’ grants. – ANA. Additional reporting by Shain Germaner