Concourt rules Dlamini subject to 14-day probe into personal liability

The social development minister must explain why she shouldn't personally be held liable for millions in legal costs.

On Thursday morning, the Constitutional Court’s Justice Johan Froneman ruled that Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini has two weeks to explain what her role was in the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) grants debacle.

It ordered a probe into the matter, which will be refereed by someone who is still to be appointed. The court explained in its ruling that the reason public officials could conceivably be made to pay for costs in such matters was because it was important to drive home the point that their actions in positions of great responsibility carry serious consequences, which could affect them personally.

Dlamini is a formerly convicted fraudster who was found to have defrauded the state in the Travelgate scandal.

The ConCourt has been dealing with the issue of why the minister should not cough up personally for the legal fees racked up during the social grants crisis. The Constitutional Court ordered Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini in March to provide an affidavit explaining why she should not personally pay the costs of her legal fees over the social grants saga.

She filed her affidavit electronically at the end of March. Other affidavits were also filed by former director-general in her department Zane Dangor, who quit his job in protest at Dlamini’s handling of the crisis.

Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza was placed on sick leave owing to ill health and stress related to the grants crisis. He alleged publicly that Dlamini intentionally blocked him from reporting back to the Constitutional Court about the payment of grants.

He also filed an affidavit against her and arguing that the matter could not have been his fault since he was only appointed in November.

Dlamini had attempted to blame Magwaza, Dangor and other Sassa officials for the crisis.

In March, Dlamini offered an unreserved apology for the anxiety and fear caused about the uncertainty around the payment of social grants.

The ConCourt had earlier ruled that the minister was responsible for the crisis that led to Sassa being unable to give assurances for the payment of about 17 million social grants to poor and vulnerable citizens dependent on government for social assistance on April 1. In its judgment, the court was scathing about her competence.

The court extended Sassa’s contract with service provider Cash Paymaster Services for another 12 months following an application by The Black Sash Trust, which asked the court to resume its supervisory role over the payment of grants. The ConCourt had ruled in 2014 that the contract with CPS was constitutionally invalid.

On Thursday, the unanimous order of the court that was handed down regarding Dlamini’s personal liability said that:

1. The minister is joined as a party to the proceedings.

2. The parties must, within 14 days, report to this court whether they have agreed on a process in terms of section 38 of the Superior Courts Act 10 of 2013 in order to determine the issues relating to the minister’s role and responsibility in the establishment and functioning of the workstreams referred to in the affidavits filed by the minister, Mr Magwaza and Mr Dangor.

3. Failing agreement, the court will issue directives determining the process.

Magwaza told eNCA on Thursday morning that his relationship with Dlamini was now “very good”.

He had raised the issue of the “workstreams” not necessarily being lawful.

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