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Highway Aged closes its doors forever

"The lack of transparency in the record keeping suggests the management were either unable to, or did not seek to, maintain transparent financial management," said Doug Engelbrecht, current chairman of Highway Aged.

A GROUP of former employees of the welfare agency, Highway Aged, has accused head officials of mismanagement, forcing them to close its doors.

The allegations include non-payment or delayed payment in employees’ salaries, mismanagement of funds and donated goods, unpaid utility bills (no telephone lines made it difficult for employees to work), abuse of vehicles, and lack of resources to allow staff to carry out their duties.

Brian Mabasao, a social worker, who was in Highway Aged’s employ from January 2014 to 31 October last year, said, his salary was short paid.

“We were only informed about the mismanagement of funds at Highway Aged’s special general meeting on Thursday, 12 October. The general manager, Kevin Moodley, was present as well as senior board members. The board shared they were only informed about the financial crisis in August and that the organisation was in huge debt and could not operate until that debt is paid. It was suggested a new committee be elected, which was done later,” said Mabaso.

He added that on Friday, 13 October, Moodley came in early and left early. The following Monday, he brought the company vehicle in, along with a resignation letter and left, without informing anyone.

With regards to the allegations, Mabaso said Woolworths among many other sponsors, donated food to Highway Aged for its senior citizens. However, very little was given to the social workers to hand out to its senior citizens. “Most of the food was packed in the vehicles and taken to the director’s house in Chatsworth.

ALSO READ: Highway Aged faces financial crisis

“In terms of doing work, it was okay in the beginning. There were five vehicles for our social workers to use to visit our clients, but as time passed, the vehicles were sold until there were only two vehicles left which were used by Moodley and the director.

“Our social work was interrupted due to them wanting to use the car, which caused huge problems for our clients and their families. The social workers put money together from our own pockets for fuel to use our own personal cars to assist our clients,” said Mabaso.

He said the same thing happened with the telephone lines. The lines were cut in August 2016 and social workers had to use their own phones at work. The Neotel lines the manager provided, were only used for a short while as the managers used it more and only handed the phones back to the employees when the airtime was finished.

Patience Masango, a social auxillary worker for 16 years at Highway Aged, said salaries were paid in dribs and drabs. They never received a pay slip and management would only print a copy for them if they begged or proved that they needed it for Fica purposes.

Most of the employees are breadwinners supporting large families and haven’t had any income for the last four months. They are now questioning why the Department of Social Development couldn’t assist them in their time of need?

They also questioned the welfare of their elderly clients who have no clue of what has happened to the social welfare organisation over the last couple of months.

Highway Mail was first contacted by concerned members of the community at the end of January last year regarding allegations of managerial corruption at the welfare agency.

When Highway Aged manager, Kevin Moodley, was asked to respond to the allegations in 2017, he insisted that none of it was true and the truth was that the welfare agency was in fact facing a financial crisis and was calling on the community for assistance.

However, Doug Engelbrecht, a veteran UKZN academic and governance specialist, said that was just the tip of the iceberg.

He said Highway Aged was originally constituted in the 1970s as a voluntary association with the aim of protecting the interests of the highway elderly, however, it was transformed 15 years ago into a welfare agency.

“Highway Aged provided social work services to individuals and communities from all walks of life in the area and became a respected and integral part of Upper Highway life. The organisation was partly funded by the Department of Social Development and by the concerned and caring community that characterises the Upper Highway. However, it is now in the final throes of dissolution,” said Engelbrecht.

Highway Aged employees’ salaries were paid out in dribs and drabs. Three other employees (fundraisers) were excluded from the table above.

How the axe fell

He said the Pinetown Department of Social Development (DSD) began a series of consultative meetings with the management of Highway Aged early last year.

Having been informed by concerned members of the public that operations did not appear to be above board, the DSD tried to find out what they might have missed in their regular monitoring of the Highway Aged’s operations. What they found appeared at first to be the non-payment of salaries to social workers and other staff.

Instructing the management to enter into agreements to pay the outstanding amounts, the DSD also found that the governing board of community members were at loggerheads with the Highway Aged management.

The DSD consequently forced the governing body to schedule a special general meeting, held on 12 October with the purpose of dissolving the governing body of Highway Aged, and electing a new governing body.

“This stormy meeting, which was not advertised in the media and to which media were not invited, also saw management attempt to limit attendance. The DSD ran this meeting, explaining to all those present that the Highway Aged was paralysed by a lack of funds,” said Engelbrecht.

A new governing body was duly nominated, elected, and office-bearers decided. Engelbrecht was unanimously elected as current chairman.

In the following week, a forensic investigation conducted by Engelbrecht, unearthed a myriad of problems.

“The new governing body was presented with evidence on 18 October suggesting negligence on the part of the management since the assumption of control in June 2013 by a group of citizens claiming to represent the interests of the Upper Highway elderly.

“The investigation established that records had not been kept in a satisfactory state, with incomplete document trails, a preponderance of hand-drawn schedules, and inadequately recorded and vouched cash transactions.

“The lack of transparency in the record keeping suggests the management were either unable to, or did not seek to, maintain transparent financial management,” said Engelbrecht.

He added that even the alleged auditor of Highway Aged’s books was unable to verify if he had in fact prepared the annual financial statements on which his name appears, for the two years 2015 and 2016.

The investigation also revealed the auditor had not been paid, and neither had the company of auditors who had prepared the 2014 annual financial statements.

“With R20 in the bank, the governing body was duty-bound to consider the interests of creditors, believed to be owed well in excess of half a million rand. Salvaging Highway Aged will be difficult and the governing body, with grave concern for the future of Upper Highway elderly, took the decision to close the doors for the last time,” said Engelbrecht.

How could it come to this?

Knowing that welfare organisations are only registered by the Department of Social Development when they have a constitution, The Highway Mail asked the current chairman of Highway Aged’s governing body to clarify the existence of a constitution committing management and directors to good governance.

Engelbrecht said: “The constitution adopted many years ago by the founders of Highway Aged, was changed at some point in time by the governing body that came to power in June 2013. The new constitution contradicts several primary principles of good governance, locating a centre of power that rendered day-to-day management opaque,” he said.

He pointed out that the character of an organisation is established in principle by the values embodied in its constitution. He added that the new constitution concentrated on defending the rights of a select elected body of beneficiaries to take decisions, with no consequence for bad decisions.

“The governing body members suffer no consequence for inadequate decision making and poor direction. Highway Aged simply ran out of money because the beneficiaries, in their simultaneous role as directors, never paused to ask whether the business was sustainable,” he said.

Where governing body members dissented, they were typically “placed on leave of absence” and rooted out of the organisation, with the remaining members assuming for themselves right and title to decide what was acceptable welfare organisation management.

“What I find is evidence that the interests of staff, beneficiaries, government and crucially, donors, were abandoned by a mix of wilful recklessness and woeful ignorance,” Engelbrecht concluded.

No response

Kevin Moodley, former manager of the Highway Aged refused to comment and instead directed Highway Mail’s questions to the Department of Social Development to answer.

Thandiswa Blose (manager at the Department of Social Development Pinetown district) and her senior social worker, Sibahle Ngidi, has still not responded to Highway Mail’s questions emailed to them two weeks ago.

 

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