File photo: Michael Hulley
Pretoria – The presidency on Sunday flatly denied any knowledge of President Jacob Zuma's legal advisor Michael Hulley's participation in South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) meeting about grants payments. 

The presidency said in a terse statement it had noted a report in the Sunday Times newspaper stating that Hulley had participated in "what the paper calls secret meetings with top managers" of the Sassa on the payment of social grants. 

"The presidency is not aware of the said meetings," it concluded. According to the Sunday Times report, Hulley played a key role in ensuring that Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) would keep the lucrative contract to deliver more than 17 million social grants to recipients. 

"His intervention coincided with Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini flatly rejecting any payment option that did not involve CPS, raising questions about why the minister was so intent on retaining the company," the newspaper reported. 

"Secret meetings between top managers of the South African Social Services Agency and Michael Hulley, Zuma's special adviser, have raised questions about the presidency's role in the fiasco. Hulley has been named as the person who advised Dlamini to go against advocate Wim Trengove SC and three other independent legal opinions that recommended that she should let the Constitutional Court decide the fate of the CPS contract," the Sunday Times reported. 

"Four independent sources told the Sunday Times this week that Hulley had two meetings with Dlamini and top Sassa officials in December last year, when he is said to have advised them to continue with the CPS contract. 

"His participation was very skewed towards CPS and extending their contract and [finding] ways of dealing with the legalities around it. He was very dismissive of Trengove's opinion and that of three other senior counsel," the newspaper quoted an official who attended the meeting as having said. The Constitutional Court declared the CPS contract invalid in 2014. 

The contract comes to an end on March 31 and there appears to be much uncertainty regarding grants payments to the 17 million recipients as of April 1.