In The News South Africa

Black Sash leads Constitutional Court application over Sassa grants today

JOHANNESBURG, 15 (ANA) – The Constitutional Court would on Wednesday hear an application for direct access by non-governmental organisation Black Sash seeking the reinstatement of the court’s oversight role regarding the payment of social grants to millions of South African beneficiaries.

Black Sash would be joined by Freedom Under Law for the same application.

“The Black Sash has made an urgent application for direct access, in the public interest and in the interests of all grant beneficiaries, most of whom are unable to litigate themselves, to seek the reinstatement of the oversight role of the court for the payment of social grants,” the organisation said.

“The Black Sash brings its application to ensure that Sassa complies with its constitutional obligations to provide social assistance, to do so in a lawful manner, and to protect grant beneficiaries from unlawful depletion of their grants.”

In 2012, the Social Development Department’s South African Social Assistance Agency (Sassa) contracted Net1 subsidiary Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) to pay billions in social grants and pensions on its behalf. The contract was declared invalid by the Constitutional Court in 2014, the court challenges against CPS were brought by losing bidder AllPay.

The CPS contract ends on March 31.

The court retained supervisory jurisdiction over the matter after the invalidity was suspended. On November 5, 2015 Sassa filed a report stating that it would not award a new contract, but intended to take over the payment function of social grants from April 1, 2017 when the suspension of invalidity would lapse. On this basis, the court discharged its supervisory jurisdiction. Black Sash said it became apparent that Sassa was not in a position to take over the grants payment function as it had previously assured the court.

“Sassa is not able to take over the payment of social grants on 1 April 2017. It appears that at this stage, a revised or new contract between Sassa and CPS is the only way to ensure that grant beneficiaries are paid. Sassa now intends to enter into a further contract with CPS to continue the payment of grants for an unspecified period…the contract price may also be increased more than the inflation rate,” the organisation said.

Black Sash added that Social Development minister Bathabile Dlamini and Sassa knew in 2016 that Sassa would not be ready to pay grants by April this year, but failed to seek guidance from the Constitutional Court.

The organisation said it brought its application in the interest of the public and that of all grant beneficiaries to seek reinstatement of the oversight role of the highest court in the land. Black Sash wanted to ensure that Sassa complied with its constitutional obligations to provide social assistance “in a lawful manner that is in line with constitutional rights and values.”

Briefing Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts on Tuesday, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said grants would be paid come April, but raised ethical questions about the CPS contract. He said government would, however, be guided by the outcome of the court application.

Gordhan further added that a task team established to deal with the grants debacle on Monday handed National Treasury a formal request for a deviation from standard public finance rules. Procurement officials were considering it, said Gordhan, and if they agreed, talks with CPS would start afresh.

Dlamini and Sassa do not oppose Black Sash’s application, but they do oppose certain aspects in FUL’s application.

The SA Post Bank and Corruption Watch were admitted as friends of the court in the application.

-African News Agency (ANA)

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