Sassa, Dlamini propose 18-month contract to unimpressed Mogoeng

Lawyers for Black Sash, Corruption Watch and Freedom Under Law have argued CPS is constitutionally obliged to pay grants even if its terms are not met.   (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Lawyers for Black Sash, Corruption Watch and Freedom Under Law have argued CPS is constitutionally obliged to pay grants even if its terms are not met. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Andrew Breitenbach, the lawyer representing the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, on Wednesday told the Constitutional Court that the deal with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) should expire in 18 months.

But Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng challenged the proposal.

Breitenbach presented the court with the instructions that Sassa and the social development ministry had given him after hearing the court’s deliberations earlier in the morning.

Two of the options he presented were that the court impose a new contract on Sassa for 18 months that would have the same terms as the old one or that it orders CPS to render services to Sassa for 18 months.

Breitenbach said Sassa could not prevent grant payments being interrupted if CPS was not involved. The agency would need 12 to 18 months to run a competitive bidding process and to phase in a successful bidder. Mogoeng immediately zeroed in on the period it would take.

“So 12 months is viable?” Mogoeng asked.

“I am instructed to say 12 to 18 months,” Breitenbach responded.

“No, you are instructed to say 12,” Mogoeng replied.

The chief justice questioned why Sassa could not take over grant payments itself when it told the court it would do so in 2015.

“How is it possible, then, for Sassa to say to the court that we will be able to carry this [grants distribution] out?” Mogoeng asked.

“And the same Sassa turns around and says we didn’t know as much as we were supposed to,” he said.

He said that grant payments are Sassa’s “core business” and if the agency had the “willpower to do what is right” then it would focus on the insourcing of services to deliver grants.

Breitenbach said that Sassa had been “overambitious” in telling the court in 2015 that it could pay grants itself. Mogoeng interrupted the lawyer with an incredulous look and asked: “They were overambitious in relation to their core business?” 

Mogoeng also asked why Dlamini had not explained how Sassa and her department had reached this crisis point. “It’s what she is minister for - to make sure beneficiaries receive their benefits.” 

He referred to the 2014 Constitutional Court ruling on CPS contract as “embarrassing” for the minister.

Mogoeng said Dlamini should have demanded frequent reports from Sassa on the plans to deliver grants and questioned how Sassa was allowed to “embarrass” her.

Breitenbach quoted court papers and the affidavit filed by Sassa acting chief executive Wiseman Magasela late on Monday night in response to questions sent by the court.

But Mogoeng turned his neck sideways in a stretch, rested in his chair and then turned to speak to acting deputy Chief Justice Bess Nkabinde.

“You know Mr Breitenbach, I’m getting more and more frustrated as I listen to you,” Mogoeng said. 

“You don’t ensure that the right thing, the obvious thing, happens and you can’t explain how you got to this point,” he continued. 

The South African Post Office (PostBank) and CPS have said they are willing to pay the grants and lawyers for Black Sash, Corruption Watch and Freedom Under Law have argued CPS is constitutionally obliged to pay grants even if its terms are not met. 

 
Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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