MISTAKEN: Former minister of social development Bathabile Dlamini
The  Constitutional Court handed down a stinging ruling on the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) grants mess despite not holding former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini personally liable for the costs.

The Constitutional Court said ministers should not take the appointment of high-level panels by the president as a ticket allowing them to abdicate their responsibility from crisis-torn state agencies.

It made this point clear to Dlamini in its latest ruling on the grants debacle.

The judgment, written by Justice Chris Jafta, which explained an order handed down on March 23, was delivered on Thursday.

The March order granted an urgent application by Sassa to extend its controversial contract with Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) by a further six months.

Justice Jafta on Thursday revealed the court’s decision to slap Sassa and its former acting chief executive, Pearl Bengu, with the costs of the court proceedings.

Bengu was ordered to pay in her official capacity.

Justice Jafta said the favourable order in March was granted only because declining it would have left 2.8 million grant recipients unpaid, hence Sassa had to be liable for costs.

“Were it not for the fact that the refusal to extend the period of suspension would have severely prejudiced innocent grant recipients, the application could have been dismissed,” Justice Jafta said.

“Consequently, the applicants must bear the costs of the application.”

The CPS contract was declared invalid by the Constitutional Court in 2013. It kept getting extended in a bid to avoid cutting payments to recipients.

Justice Jafta ruled against holding Dlamini personally liable for the costs of court applications, saying her “unsatisfactory” explanations for why Sassa failed to comply with previous orders did not warrant such an order.

But Justice Jafta had some stinging words for Dlamini, who is now minister of women. He called her out for taking advantage of a panel appointed by former president Jacob Zuma.

Her affidavit revealed that she deferred the grant payment crisis to the inter-ministerial committee of comprehensive social security that Zuma established, the judge said.

“It is evident from the record that the minister did not apply an effective supervisory role, particularly after it had come to her attention that Sassa had failed to comply with previous orders,” wrote Justice Jafta.

“One would have expected that the minister would demand that she be furnished with reports at frequent intervals, setting out steps taken by Sassa to carry out court orders, and for her to intervene as soon as it became clear that difficulties which put payment of social grants at risk had arisen.”

Justice Jafta said legislation mandated the minister to lead the way in sorting out the grant crisis. Zuma’s panel could only lend a hand to her efforts.

“It is, however, clear that the duty to give direction to Sassa is imposed on the minister by the South African Social Security Act.

“Therefore the committee established by the president could not relieve the minister from her statutory duty. On the contrary, the committee could only support her in performing her statutory duty. But the minister’s deference to the committee was mistaken.

“Ultimately, the duty to see to it that Sassa attains the objectives for which it was established rests on the minister,” Justice Jafta said.

Dlamini’s action did not constitute bad faith or gross negligence, though, he concluded.