Civil society organisations, the Black Sash Trust and Freedom Under Law (FUL) on Thursday welcomed the decision by former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini to finally pay the costs awarded against her personally by the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) for her role in the social grants crisis almost three years ago.
The Centre for Applied Legal Studies, which represented the Black Sash Trust in the landmark ruling that held a sitting Cabinet minister personally responsible for the crisis, announced Dlamini had paid costs of around R650,000 in total.
In September 2018, the ConCourt ruled that Dlamini was liable to pay 20% of the costs of litigation brought by the civil society organisations after finding that the failure to appoint a new company to distribute social grants was largely caused by her negligence and recklessness.
At the time, the ConCourt had admonished the minister for the repeated extension of the contract between Sassa and its former grants distributor, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS). The apex court declared the contract unlawful in 2014.
Lynette Maart, the national director of the Black Sash Trust, said Dlamini had made every effort to avoid paying the costs she owed to the organisation and FUL. She said the former minister was not only ignoring letters of demand, but even went so far as to change attorneys in the process.
“Despite the delay tactics that the former minister has tried, right up until actually even changing her attorney to ensure that the process is halted, we had to wait for the payment. We had to take drastic measures to the extent of actually going to the Sheriff of the court in order to have her assets attached just to make an example that this historic ruling be adhered too,” Maart told The Citizen.
Stern warning to ministers, state officials
Maart agreed with the CEO of FUL, Nicole Fritz, that the 2018 ConCourt judgment sent a stern warning to Cabinet ministers and government officials who fail to discharge their responsibilities that they can be held personally liable.
“We appreciate the fact that the former minister has finally made payment of the legal costs owed to the Black Sash and Freedom Under Law.
“But we also hope that this is a stern warning to sitting ministers that they can be held accountable for negligence for their failure to perform their duties. We also hope it sends a stern warning to ministers and officials who are indulging in corruption that they can be held accountable,” she said.
NPA yet to make decision on perjury charge
Despite issuing a personal costs order against Dlamini, the ConCourt also instructed the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to establish whether Dlamini should face a charge of perjury for lying under oath to a section 39 inquiry chaired by judge Bernard Ngoepe in 2018. The inquiry was established to decide whether Dlamini should pay the legal bills from her own pocket.
Judge Ngoepe found that Dlamini had failed to disclose to the ConCourt the extent of her involvement in the social grants crisis.
Maart raised concerns over the delays by the NPA to make a decision on the matter.
“We are still not getting any joy out of that. The question is whether the NPA has the capability and teeth to take political deployees to task for things that the court has found them accountable for.”