“This is all rubbish,” Cash Paymaster Services chief executive Serge Belamant tells me as we stand in the Constitutional Court foyer, watching a television screen. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng is grilling the lawyer for the social security agency and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini over the lack of urgency in reporting back to court that the plan to take over grant payments would flop.
“They keep going around and around on the same issue,” Belamant says, adding that there is only one option to get us out of a looming social grant crisis that could see the elderly, poor and disabled not getting their grant payments.
He does not have to spell it out, but it is common knowledge that his company, CPS, is Sassa and Dlamini’s get-out-of-jail-free card. He also laughs off the proposal by the South African Post Office, put before court, that it could be able to pay grants in the space of a month.
“They must first deliver post in a month,” says Belamant with a big smile, before he walks away and goes into the chambers.
He wasn’t the first person to laugh at the suggestion that the post office could be our saviour and it could do it in record time.
Even Mogoeng asked earlier whether the proposal was “over-ambitious”, to which Post Office’s lawyer advocate Aslam Bava said: “There is no room for mistakes and a technical team assured him they would take over in a month.”
Ahead of the Post Office’s presentation it was the turn of human rights group the Black Sash and civil society group Freedom Under Law to convince that court to supervise any agreement that Sassa would sign, particularly involving CPS.
Black Sash lawyer, Advocate Geoff Budlender, grappled with explaining to the court that it had jurisdiction over the matter.
Freedom Under Law’s Advocate David Unterhalter explained that in terms of the two previous judgments that declared the CPS contract with Sassa invalid, CPS was “an organ of state” and could be ordered to continue paying grants under the same terms as the current invalid contract.
Mogoeng repeatedly wanted to know why CPS would then be entitled to negotiate new terms but Unterhalter said the principle was that the company should not work at a loss, but it should also not make a profit.
Sassa and Dlamini’s lawyer, Advocate Andrew Breitenbach, had a torrid time explaining why Dlamini did not take extra measures to supervise Sassa’s promise to the court in November 2015 that it would be able to pay grants on its own.
The agreement saw the court reversing the supervisory role that it had assumed over the social grants tender.
Mogoeng also wanted to know how Sassa could get its promise wrong and call it “optimistic” when it was the authority in charge of appointing service providers who do the same work.
He cautioned, repeatedly, that the court would not want to infer that the there was incompetence on the part of Sassa and Dlamini.
Breitenbach said: “I could not give any other explanation.”
Belamant laughed. “There is only one way out of this and they know it,” he said.