/ 30 April 2008

Minister not in contempt of court, says govt

Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya was not in contempt of court and was respecting a high court ruling for social grants to be given to applicants with alternative forms of identification, his department said on Wednesday.

The Department of Social Development said Skweyiya and the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) were in the process of implementing the court’s decision.

This follows a media article, published on Wednesday, which said that Skweyiya was in contempt of court and could face jail time or a fine if an urgent application by the Alliance for Children’s Entitlement to Social Security (Acess) succeeded.

Acess told the Star that Skweyiya had failed to facilitate grants for poor children with alternative proof of identity — those without ID documents and birth certificates.

”I had, subsequent to the high court order, directed the Department of Social Development and the CEO of Sassa to begin instituting measures to comply without delay,” said Skweyiya.

He said he shared Acess’s concern that more children should have access to the child-support grant (CSG) and other grants.

”There are thousands of children who cannot access the CSG due to living in remote areas where information is not readily available, through not having the correct form of identification or having no money to apply for the identity documents.

”We are aware of these challenges and are working with the Department of Home Affairs and other partners to find solutions. It would be wrong to reach a conclusion that we are trying to prevent children from accessing social grants.”

The department said that in implementing the court order, it and Sassa also wanted to ensure that fraud and corruption were prevented.

The department’s anti-fraud campaign, run in partnership with the special investigating unit, had saved the government approximately R7,7-billion.

”We are keen not to reverse our gains in the fight against fraud, while also ensuring access to the CSG and other grants by deserving beneficiaries,” said Skweyiya.

Sassa was also currently in the process of briefing its 6 700 officials in more than 500 offices, which the department said had made an overnight implementation of the court order almost impossible.

”The decision must be properly communicated and a new grants application process developed. Further, the IT system must be redesigned, new forms printed, and staff retrained.

As an interim measure, the department would provide social relief of distress in the form of money or food parcels to the same value as a person’s grant in order to alleviate poverty and suffering. — Sapa