Gauteng Premier breaks promise to pay organisations by 24 May

Department of Social Development claims court order obtained by organisations last week “supersedes” its earlier commitments

Despite promises by Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi that they would be paid by 24 May, many non-profit organisations across the province say they are yet to receive their subsidies from the provincial Department of Social Development.

In a meeting with organisations on 14 May, Lesufi promised that those which had concluded funding agreements with the department would receive their subsidies by 24 May. The new financial year started on 1 April, but many organisations have still not received subsidies for the first quarter of the year.

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Delays in funding have forced several organisations to close and others to limit their work. A number of organisations are on the brink of closure. GroundUp is aware of many organisations with successful funding applications that have still not received service-level agreements.

Department spokesperson Themba Gadebe told GroundUp that a recent court order, compelling the department to finalise funding agreements by 30 May and to pay subsidies within seven days of the agreements being signed, “supersedes” Lesufi’s promise to pay organisations by 24 May.

“The Department is compelled to stick to the timelines given by the court,” said Gadebe.

The court order was obtained by the Gauteng Care Crisis Committee, a voluntary body of non-profit organisations. The committee had approached the court on an urgent basis last week.

In an affidavit presented to the court, the department’s head Bongani Ngomane argued that a court order was not necessary, because “the Department anticipates having completed [the funding process] on or before 24 May 2024, and to have informed all applicants of the outcome of their applications by that date.”

Organisations told GroundUp that things were “chaotic” at the department’s offices on Friday, as people sought answers about agreements and the payment of subsidies. They said a lack of communication from the department forced them to go to the department’s offices in person.

Epilepsy Gauteng was one of the organisations that received and signed service-level agreements almost a month ago, yet no funds have been paid to its account.

Director Aileen Langley said they have no money to cover expenses including food and staff salaries. “We have already received notice that our electricity will be cut and our staff won’t be paid for the second month in a row,” she said.

Included in the services run by Epilepsy Gauteng are residential programmes that provide 24-hour care for people living with epilepsy, neurological disorders and intellectual disabilities. The organisation has had to rely on staff members to work on a voluntary basis, and there are not always enough to care for all the residents.

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“A resident was physically attacked by another resident over the weekend. This is a direct result of not having an adequate number of staff on duty to prevent or manage such incidents,” Langley said.

Thoko Budaza, executive director of People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), said she rushed to the department’s offices on Friday after hearing at the last minute that she had to physically collect the service-level agreements.

“There were about a hundred people when I got there. We were all being treated so inhumanely. Most of the officials couldn’t give us answers,” she said. Many people, herself included, went home empty-handed, without a service-level agreement or an explanation.

One delay after another

In her founding affidavit in the court case, the Gauteng Care Crisis Committee’s chair Lisa Vetten said the funding process had been beset by delays and confusion since September 2023:

  • By September 2023, some organisations submitted new business plans for the next financial year, “at the request of regional offices”.
  • But during a meeting with senior officials on 4 October 2023, the Department said an official call for the submission of business plans would be circulated the following week. This did not happen.
  • Meanwhile, some regional offices were telling organisations that they did not need to submit new business plans.
  • At a meeting with senior officials on 24 October, organisations were told again that the call for submissions would be made the following week.
  • On 26 October, a voice note from a department official informed organisations that the call for submissions would appear in newspapers the following week, that the previous three-year funding cycle would be terminated, so all organisations would have to submit new business plans, and that “strict compliance” would be required.
  • On 1 November, the call for submissions was advertised in newspapers, the closing date being 3pm on 20 November 2023.
  • A template for the business plans was distributed on 3 November.
  • On 6 November a new template was provided.
  • On 10 November a WhatsApp voice note from a department official told organisations to submit the applications to the Agriculture department, not the Social Development department (MEC Mbali Hlophe is the MEC for both departments).
  • On 20 November, the day of the deadline, the department confirmed the address had changed to the Agriculture department and the deadline for submissions was extended to 27 November.
  • On 3 December, organisations received a Funding Checklist, which required new documentation. Organisations had already submitted business plans without knowing about the new compliance criteria.
  • The adjudication panels were supposed to meet between 7 February and 28 February 2024, but only on 20 March did the Department announce that the funding allocations will be finalised by the end of March and funding would follow by the end of April.
  • Funding applications were not finalised by the end of March, but in April, after the start of the financial year, did the Department announce that allocations had been completed.

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In his affidavit to the court, the department head said that the delays had “not been unreasonable”, because the funding process had been restructured to prevent fraud and corruption.

He added that “the office of the HOD has also been recently vacated, resulting in some administrative challenges within the Department.”

The contract of the previous Head of Department, Matilda Gasela, came to an end in April. Gasela had been appointed to head the department in 2023, despite an SIU investigation recommending her criminal prosecution for fraud allegations dating to her time at the Department of Agriculture.

This article originally appeared on GroundUp and was republished with permission. Read the original article here.