There were harsh words in the Constitutional Court on Wednesday about the way Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini failed to account to the public on what has been happening in the South Africa Social Security Agency.
Advocate Geoff Budlender, for the Black Sash, pointed a finger straight at Bathabile for the mess which meant that, with just over two weeks to go to find a replacement for invalid service provider Cash Payment Services (CPS) to pay out social grants.
Black Sash took Dlamini and Sassa to court with the hope of finding the best way to keep paying social grants while finding a new contractor or helping Sassa to do so itself.
Here is how Budlender said she failed in her duty:
- The payment of social grants is Dlamini's most important responsibility, and ministers should know about things they are responsible for.
- The minister insists there is no crisis and the media and others are making people anxious. Anybody not anxious about the situation was not paying attention, he said.
- Both the minister and Sassa knew by at least October last year that there would be problems.
- Dlamini disclosed that Sassa's biometric system would not be ready by April this year, but didn't disclose they would not be ready – for years – but she has not answered on why she didn't tell the public. The minister doesn't say whether she was misled, or where the information was concealed from her, or what happened. She simply said she didn't know.
- In November last year there was a meeting of parliament's social development portfolio committee, but the department didn't disclose to the committee and the public that Sassa only the month before told lawyers it would not be able to take over the payment function and needed years rather than just months, and that it needed an interim arrangement. In fact, Sassa knew this in April last year already.
- In the welter of paper submitted to the court, "one seeks in vain for an explanation for what she did, why she did it and when". There is no explanation for the minister's actions or her inactions, and no apology for her lack of accountability "stretching over several years". The minister in the court papers only said she ought to have been aware of this earlier and negotiations should have started earlier.
- Dlamini blames everything on her CEO Wiseman Magasela, who was only appointed a few weeks earlier. She "takes a gratuitous swipe at the CEO for attempts that were hapless, but at least they were attempts to remedy the situation".
- South Africa's system of social grants is one of the features of our life we can be proud of. "It is something not many countries can match, it is a remarkable achievement." The "painful truth" however, was that the executive had failed in its duties in this regard. Parliament also failed, because it didn't call her to order, so it was up to the courts now.