The Constitutional Court yesterday left the taxpayer to foot the bill for the SA Social Security Agency’s (Sassa) application to extend the suspension of a contract between them and Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), when it made former Sassa acting CEO Pearl Bhengu liable for costs in her official capacity.
Former social services minister Bathabile Dlamini managed to dodge costs entirely, with Justice Nyaole Jafta’s judgment finding Dlamini’s deferring to the inter-ministerial committee on comprehensive social security a mistake – but not enough to constitute bad faith or gross negligence.
Jafta found the refusal to extend the period of suspension would have severely prejudiced grant recipients, otherwise the application could have been dismissed, before making Bhengu and Sassa jointly liable for costs, including the costs of two counsel.
“The court was clearly exasperated with Sassa and the department and showed they had clearly placed the court over a barrel,” said Nicole Fritz, Freedom Under Law’s executive officer.
“To some extent the court was cynically manipulated: even though Sassa must pay social grant recipients, it effectively said we’re going to trust in the court and you’re not going to be able to contemplate an interruption in the payment of the grants.”
Jafta noted in his judgment yesterday about 2.8 million recipients would have been affected by the dispute.
“The original award of the tender to CPS in 2012 has generated no less than five cases in this court alone,” Jafta said. “The uncertainty in relation to whether social grants would be paid must come to an end.”
However, CPS said on Wednesday about 800 000 grant recipients with old Sassa cards, who have withdrawn their grants at pay points from the CPS mobile ATMs in the past, have been removed from the CPS payment file.
“It would appear that the majority of these grant recipients have not been issued with the new cards,” CPS said in a statement.
It also noted about 900 000 grant recipients who opted for their grants to be paid into an EasyPay Everywhere bank account would not receive their September grants as Sassa allegedly failed to process the paperwork.
Sassa has yet to comment on the claims.
The ConCourt must still rule on costs regarding an inquiry into Dlamini’s personal liability in the entire saga.
Sassa has said it will abide by the ConCourt’s decision.