Con­court set to rule on wel­fare grants is­sue

The Star Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - EM­SIE FER­REIRA

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

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