ConCourt summons Sassa to reach agreement

The Constitutional Court has said the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) and all other parties involved in the grants payment saga must appear in court on March 15 to reach an agreement.

The court was responding to an application made by human rights organisation Black Sash. In papers submitted to the court earlier this week, the Black Sash asked the court to allow Sassa to continue its relationship with Cash Paymaster Service (CPS) so that grants can be paid on April 1.

The Black Sash argued that if Sassa’s contract with CPS was not renewed after it expires on March 31, 17-million South African would not receive their grants. Both Sassa and CPS are respondents in the Black Sash applications.

The court’s notice comes after Sassa withdrew its own application there, which was filed on the same day as the Black Sash application. Sassa asked the court to authorise its negotiations with CPS, but within 24 hours it served a notice for the application to be withdrawn.

But despite Sassa’s u-turn on its decision to approach the court, the Constitutional Court has now said that Sassa must appear before the court to reach an agreement on grant payments.

In a show of seriousness, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has also issued a directive saying that all parties who wish to oppose the Black Sash application must do so before 4.30pm today. Sassa has just hours to oppose the application, failing which they will have to make a presentation in court come March 15.

Delay tactics and u-turns
Sassa had initially said it would approach the court on February 8 after it faced increasing pressure to do so urgently.

In order for Sassa’s contract with CPS to be lawful after March 31, the social security agency needs permission from the court to allow CPS to remain its service provider.

In 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that Sassa’s contract with CPS was unlawful because it did not go through a correct tender process. Sassa was meant to come up with a plan for a grant system that would not require CPS’s services, but instead the agency continued to use CPS.

Depite suggesting it would return to court on February 8, Sassa only approached the court on February 28. Sassa told Parliament’s committee on public accounts that it would not approach the court with regards to CPS, but would submit supplementary papers on its plan to deliver grants.

The social security agency asked the court to authorise its negotiations with CPS, only to promptly withdraw its application.

Negotiations with CPS forged ahead earlier this week, but it remains unclear just how close Sassa and CPS are towards reaching an agreement before March 31.

In the meantime, South African Post Office CEO Mark Barnes has said that Sassa had sent a letter requesting the Post Office’s assistance to deliver grants. Sassa said in court papers to the Constitutional Court that if the CPS contract was not successful, then beneficiaries would suffer.

The move to contact the Post Office is yet another signal that the social security agency has not yet ironed out a plan to pay grants.

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