17/03/2017 11:00 SAST | Updated 17/03/2017 11:33 SAST

The ConCourt And Sassa: The Adults Are Back In Charge

The highest court in the land delivered a scathing indictment of executive authority.



The highest court in the land delivered a scathing indictment of Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini and President Jacob Zuma on Friday, putting the executive on a short leash and taking charge of the debacle around the payment of social grants.

The Constitutional Court, in a short, pointed judgment read out by Justice Johan Froneman, extended the controversial contract between Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) and the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) for 12 months, but with strict oversight managed by the court.

The court was asked by the civil rights organisation, Black Sash, to give clarity on the contracting and payment of social grants. The contract with CPS was due to expire on March 31.

Friday's judgment follows less than 24 hours after Zuma told the National Assembly "there is no crisis" with the payment of grants. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on Wednesday said that indeed, there was "a crisis".

It was Dlamini, however, who took the most flak. The court called the management of the fiasco "extraordinary", that assurances given to the court by her department had "no foundation", that she took "no steps" to remedy the situation and that the court's efforts to figure out how seriously Dlamini took the matter "drew a blank".

In a significant and important development –- which may have serious repercussions for other members of the executive -– the court has requested Dlamini to file papers to explain why she should not be held personally liable for the costs. The court has reserved a costs order until she files papers.

The civil rights organisation Black Sash and others brought an application to the Constitutional Court on Wednesday asking the court to give clarity on the contract with CPS and how the department of social development should proceed with it.

This was a landmark judgment in which the court affirmed social rights enshrined in the constitution, championing the rights of the most vulnerable in society to receive social assistance –- and in which it didn't hesitate to put strict conditions on a private company and censure the executive.

The court's orders included direction that:

  1. CPS must continue to deliver services for 12 months on the same terms as the current contract;
  2. The company may request amendment to its contract with Sassa, subject to scrutiny by National Treasury and the court;
  3. CPS must, within 30 days of its contract ending, file detailed financial statements with the court and that Sassa must obtain a separate, independent audit opinion;
  4. Dlamini has to file detailed affidavits every three months giving details of progress around the procuring of a new service provider to replace CPS;
  5. Data of beneficiaries are to be safeguarded and not used for anything other than the paying of social grants;
  6. The auditor-general will supervise the payments, evaluate the department and Sassa's efforts to procure a new service provider and report to the court every three months; and
  7. Dlamini must file an affidavit explaining to the court why she should be joined as a respondent in her personal capacity.