South Africa – Black Sash pushes Sassa in courts over social grants

BD Live

15 March 2017 – 09:19 AM Nomahlubi Jordaan And Ernest Mabuza
Constitutional Court. picture: SOWETAN
Constitutional Court. picture: SOWETAN

With a little more than two weeks to go before the contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) to pay social grant recipients expires‚ the Constitutional Court finds itself having to deal with the matter again.

At the same time‚ CPS has said if it does not to sign an interim contract with the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) on Wednesday‚ it will not be able to pay grants on April 1. Company CEO Serge Belamant has said it takes 12 working days for the process to be concluded‚ based on five years of experience paying grants.

On Wednesday‚ the court will hear an urgent application by the rights group Black Sash for the court to play an oversight role in the payment of social grants in SA.

Sassa and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini do not oppose the relief sought by Black Sash.

The court relinquished its earlier role supervising Sassa after a routine report submitted by the agency in November 2015 stated it would not award a new contract but would rather take over the payment of social grants in April 2017.

In 2014 the court declared the five-year Sassa contract with CPS‚ signed in 2012‚ invalid due to tender irregularities.

However‚ the court allowed CPS to continue administering the grants‚ while Sassa devised an in-house payment system.

But on March 3 this year‚ Sassa and the Social Development Department informed the court that it was not in a position to take over the payment functions from CPS.

The department also informed the court that Sassa would enter into an emergency contract with CPS‚ without following proper tender processes‚ to ensure that more than 17-million grant payments would be made.

The court‚ in separate proceedings‚ sought to get answers on Sassa’s inability to pay grants on its own‚ as the agency had promised in 2015.

Last week‚ the Constitutional Court asked Dlamini and Sassa to provide details about when Sassa became aware that the agency would not be able to pay grants on its own from April 1.

In a reply filed late on Monday‚ acting Sassa chief executive Wiseman Magasela said the person responsible for determining whether the agency would be able to pay the grants by the end of March was Virginia Petersen‚ who was CEO of Sassa until May 2016.

In the court application to be heard on Wednesday‚ Freedom Under Law also seeks to be admitted as a second applicant.

Freedom Under Law wants to ensure that Sassa complies with its constitutional obligations to provide social assistance in a lawful manner and ensure that CPS does not raise its prices now that its 2012 contract has come to an end.

Freedom under Law also wants the court to determine the length and cost of the interim contract between CPS and Sassa‚ but Sassa has said this would result in the court overstepping its legal boundaries. Sassa says it will make details of the cost and length of contract public after it is signed.

Freedom Under Law’s application will be heard together with the main application by Black Sash.

The court also issued directions that applications by Corruption Watch and the Post Office to be admitted as friends of the court will be heard on Wednesday.

In the main application‚ Black Sash wants the court to make an order to deal with the use of the personal data of grant beneficiaries that result in unauthorised deductions from their accounts.

The organisation had been raising concerns about deductions from social grants that are not sanctioned by the Social Assistance Act.

CPS has promised in its filings to the court that it will not pass on details of its recipients to other companies to make deductions for funeral and insurance policies or airtime.

The Post Office has said that it can pay grants to recipients and it would take three to six months to set up a grant payment system‚ costing R20 per recipient to pay. It told the court that CPS no longer needed to be involved.

CPS then responded to the Post Office‚ saying that its quote was at least R2 billion more expensive over two years than the services of CPS would be.

CPS warned that it would not be able to pay grants on time on April 1‚ if it did not have a signed contract on Wednesday.

The interim contract with CPS and Sassa was cancelled by a ministerial task team‚ which wants Treasury to first approve an emergency contract‚ as Sassa did not follow tender procedures.

Sassa lawyers are currently working on an application to obtain Treasury permission to enter into a contract from April 1 for grant payments‚ despite it not following the tender process.

TMG Digital

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