I’m not responsible for Sassa problems‚ Minister Dlamini tells court

Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini. Picture: RUVAN BOSHOFF
Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini.
Picture: RUVAN BOSHOFF

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini says she ought to have demanded greater accountability and more frequent updates from South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) officials on its plan to pay grant recipients by April 1 this year.

Dlamini made this submission before the Constitutional Court on Friday.

She sought to answer the court’s questions in its judgment in March on why she should not personally be joined in the proceedings by the Black Sash‚ and why she should not be ordered to pay the costs of the application from her own pocket.

The Black Sash Trust approached the court earlier this month after Sassa’s acknowledgement it would not be able to pay millions of grants itself‚ despite promising the court in November 2015 it would do so.

The court had‚ in 2014‚ suspended the invalidity of a contract Sassa entered into with Cash Paymaster Services to disburse the grants.

The suspension was on the premise that Sassa would find new contractors to distribute grants from April 1 2017‚ or that it would make payments on its own.

In her affidavit filed with the court on Friday‚ Dlamini said she had not sought frequent updates from the Sassa team because she assumed the existing communication channels were working and that she would be informed if anything of consequence arose.

“This has proven with time to have been an error on my part.”

She said she had no reason to believe that Sassa would not report issues of such critical importance to her.

Dlamini said during April 2016‚ she met Sassa officials regarding the printing of beneficiary cards.

She said it was clear to Sassa officials during this period that the agency would not be ready to take over fully from Cash Paymaster Services by April 1.

Dlamini said Sassa officials sought legal advice in relation to what the legal implications of not meeting the court order were.

She said the opinion received in June‚ from Nazeer Cassim SC‚ advised the agency to approach the Constitutional Court to request directions as to whether it wished to resume its supervisory jurisdiction.

“I pause to stress that although Sassa sought this advice‚ I was not notified of this nor was given sight of Adv Cassim’s opinion‚ until after October 2016‚” Dlamini said.

Dlamini said another relevant factor the court should consider related to the turnover of leadership at Sassa between 2012 and 2016.

“This is relevant because it provides some explanation of the disconnect between the information at SASSA’s disposal and the information provided to me during this period.

Dlamini said it was only in October 2016 when she was informed SASSA would not be in a position to pay social grants itself by 31 March 2017.

“It was only at that point that it became apparent to me that the undertaking made to the court on November 5 2015 was unattainable. Before that date‚ I was genuinely unaware that the undertakings were not capable of attainment.”
Dlamini also expressed personal contrition and regret for the anxiety that it must have cost social grants recipients that on April 1 this year‚ there was a chance there would not be a legally valid platform for the payment of those grants.

“This was not wilful … but a function‚ in part‚ of the fact that I relied on the accuracy of the plan that was presented to me and ultimately to the Court on 5 November 2015.”

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