Grant beneficiaries saved by the Court – again

Opposition MPs have welcomed a recent court order that averted another grants crisis in the social security agency (Sassa) and spared Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini another national embarrassment. This time the crisis loomed for foster care grants. This is the second time the courts had to intervene to ensure continued payment of grants. The DA and IFP also vowed to ensure legislation is amended for a more sustainable solution to foster care grants in the country when Parliament reopens next year.

Had the court not intervened as it did recently, thousands of foster grant beneficiaries would have lost their grants that were due to lapse at the end of this month. This despite concerns raised by opposition parties earlier this year and Dlamini’s insistence that backlogs in the foster grant system was being managed. In 2014 an estimated 300 000 foster care placements had expired representing over 60% of all foster care grants.

The High Court was scathing in its recent finding declaring Dlamini’s handling of the crisis “unlawful and unconstitutional” insofar as she delayed the introduction of necessary legal amendments for a more comprehensive solution to foster care grants. Her delays to put in place the necessary “mechanisms, structures and resources to ensure the foster care system operates in a sustainable and effective way is unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid”, the court found. The court order provides for the continued payment of foster care grants for the next two years and gives Dlamini a timeline to fix the problem. She was given 15 months to prepare and introduce the necessary legal amendments and must submit progress reports to the court every six months.

Certain opposition parties and civil society groupings slammed Dlamini for her “incompetence” and question her fitness for office. IFP MP Liezel van der Merwe told ParlyBeat her party is pleased that the court order now means “vulnerable families and their children will continue to receive their grants despite the gross incompetence and maladministration of the Minister and her team”.

“It is once again shocking that just like the Sassa grant crisis (with Cash Paymaster Services), the Minister has ignored the court, and left this matter unattended for the past six years. She deliberately engineered yet another full-blown crisis putting the lives of the most vulnerable at risk,” van der Merwe said. “Again, the courts had to step in to do the job, which a caring and competent Minister of Social Development, should have done.” According to van der Merwe, the court order confirms yet again “that the Minister is unfit for the position she holds and that she must be relieved of her duties without any further delay”. “The IFP will ensure that when Parliament reopens in the New Year, pressure is exercised through parliamentary channels and procedures to ensure that legislation is amended as per the High Court's instructions without further delay.”

DA MP Karen Jooste told ParlyBeat her party will once parliament resumes next year submit a motion to debate Dlamini’s fitness for office. “The Minister’s lack of action was already clearly visible when an urgent meeting was held in the last week before the parliamentary recess to discuss the foster care grant crisis after the DA submitted a letter to the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Social Development. Jooste explained it has now been 6 years since the initial finding against the Minister and Sassa was made by the High Court, and 3 years since the first extension was granted to allow the Minister and Sassa time to resolve the foster care grant backlog. “I honestly don’t know what this Minister does all day,” Jooste wrote in a letter to the chair of the Portfolio Committee on Social Development. “The payment of grants constitutes 95% of the work of the Department of Social Development and yet the Minister is unable for years on end to get it right.”

In a parliamentary question on steps taken by her department to prevent a foster grant crisis earlier this year, Dlamini referred to work done by the provincial departments of social development that include “administrative mechanisms to manage the extension of foster care orders that were put in place and “allocation of social workers to conduct investigations, compile reports with recommendations for extension of foster care orders”. These measures, however, were mainly aimed at addressing the backlogs but nothing was done to effect legal amendments.

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