The R120 billion contract to distribute social welfare grants to beneficiaries has been a bone of contention for months.
Cape Town – The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) has failed to file papers with the Constitutional Court as planned to seek approval for arrangements on paying welfare grants from April. 

"Nothing was filed," a clerk of the highest court confirmed on Friday afternoon.

Sassa had said that it would file papers this week setting out various options for a grant payment system once the court's permission for the extension of the current contract with Cash Payment Services lapses on March 31.

The contract was declared unlawful in 2013, but the ruling was suspended so as not to compromise welfare beneficiaries until Sassa could itself assume responsibility for grant payments.

However, the entity finds itself far from ready to do so, and therefore has to reach for alternatives, with one option being to extend CPS's contract for a limited period.

No comment was forthcoming from Sassa about its failure to approach the court, but earlier on Friday both Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and the African National Congress Women's League, which she heads, issued statements regarding the impasse on continued grant distribution.

Dlamini, who stressed that it was her responsibility to select an option to follow from April that will ensure uninterrupted payment of grants, denied persistent reports that the issue had fallen hostage to tension between herself and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. She said they had co-operated on finding a solution and therefore had joint ownership of all options on the table.

Turning to a legal opinion by Wim Trengove SC on whether extending the contract with CPS would be lawful, the minister said it that it was not the only opinion solicited on the matter.

"Therefore, the comprehensive opinion by Win Tengrove SC was part of the minister's attempt to make Sassa a better organisation. It was one of three legal opinions sought, given the complex legal issues associated with a contract deemed invalid by the country's highest court," explained the department.

Trengove concluded that it would be unlawful to perpetuate the current contract as Sassa would not meet the criteria for a deviation from public finance rules as it appeared the emergency had been of its own making.

"It is due indeed to Sassa's own failure to get its ducks in a row in time," the respected lawyer wrote.

The ANCWL, for its part, rubbished a proposal, believed to be favoured by National Treasury, for banks to play a key role in a new grant distribution system. It said commercial banks had shown themselves to untrustworthy and greedy.