Johannesburg - Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini ignored legal advice that she immediately inform the Constitutional Court on Sassa's imminent failure to meet the deadline to take over grant payments from Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), forcing rights groups Black Sash to approach the court, an inquiry into the grants crisis heard on Thursday.
Vincent Maleka, for former social development director general and Dlamini's adviser Zane Dangor, told the inquiry that advocate Nazeer Cassim presented the legal opinion to Dlamini in 2016.
''What Mr Cassim was suggesting was that if the court is not told about the possibility that Sassa would not meet the deadline, an impression would be created that the Constitutional Court was being deceived. I take you did appreciate that view when you read Mr Cassim's opinion in October 2016?'' asked Maleka.
Dlamini said she agreed with Maleka on the legal advice. She added that she received the legal advice and it was decided that the work streams ''consolidate their plan'' as the crisis raged on.
Maleka told Dlamini that the legal advice was not acted on for months.
''Sassa did not go to court in October after receiving legal advice...it did not go to court either in January, February...March 2017. Black Sash, joined by other [non-governmental organisations] NGOs in fact went to court,'' Maleka said.
Dlamini replied: ''Yes...it was a puzzling coincidence.''
Efforts by Dangor to persuade Dlamini to heed the legal advice drew a blank. She further ignored his advice that a plan be devised urgently to take over grant payments.
The delay, said Maleka, had far reaching consequences for Sassa.
Furthermore, Dlamini brushed aside Dangor’s concern about the work streams. He raised the issue again in his resignation letter to Dlamini dated March 2017.
“His concern was that the parallel decision-making bodies at Sassa created tensions, and that is before he and [former CEO Thokozani] Magwaza filed affidavits in the ConCourt. Your comment?”
Dlamini said concerns about the contentious work streams and their mandate at Sassa had been discussed before.
“The issue of a parallel structure was addressed. The former DG himself held his own meetings and excluded others. I can speak about a meeting he and Magwaza held with the SA Reserve Bank where there was an exchange of words between them,” she said.
“They also attended separate meetings without informing each other...I didn’t take that seriously as mistakes happen along the way.”
Dlamini remained evasive on the fourth day of the inquiry, forcing Maleka to refuse repeating a question to her at some point.
The grants crisis saw rights group Black Sash taking the department to the country’s highest court to ensure that over 17 million beneficiaries continued to receive grants, after the court ruled in 2014 that the CPS contract to dispense grants was invalid.
In March 2017, the ConCourt ordered that CPS continue to pay grants for a further twelve months, after it was found that Sassa was unable to meet the deadline and take over grant payments.
African News Agency/ANA