South Africa

Not so great expectations: but the NYDA wants some R-E-S-P-E-C-T

By Rebecca Davis 17 October 2013

The government’s National Youth Development Agency is only four years old, but became synonymous with wasteful expenditure after its 2010 splurge of R106 million on the World Festival of Youth and Students. The past fortnight alone has seen the arrest of a former NYDA head by the Hawks, and the dismissal of the body’s CEO for mismanagement. But with the release of the NYDA’s latest annual report, leaders are adamant that the NYDA has come of age and is worth its money. It’s a hard sell. By REBECCA DAVIS.

It’s been a torrid few weeks for the NYDA. In July the youth agency suspended its CEO, Steven Ngubeni, without giving any reasons why. Last week Wednesday, the NYDA announced that Ngubeni was dismissed with immediate effect for seven charges relating to financial misconduct, based on the findings of an independent disciplinary inquiry.

Just two days later, former NYDA head, Andile Lungisa, was arrested by the Hawks after allegedly having stolen R2,5 million from the Department of Arts and Culture for an R Kelly performance at the Nelson Mandela Sports Day concert which never materialised. Lungisa and three others had been paid the money to organise Kelly’s performance, but it emerged that the R&B star’s management remained blissfully unaware of these plans.

Lungisa wasn’t involved with the NYDA at the time, so it might seem unfair to class these two incidents together. But the fact remains that the NYDA struggles to cast off its reputation for corrupt leadership and financial mismanagement. Among the most relentless of its critics has been DA Youth leader, Mbali Ntuli, who has taken every opportunity to draw public attention to the NYDA’s failings.

In possibly the most colourful stunt to date, Ntuli and a crowd of supporters destroyed Monopoly money outside the NYDA offices in Midrand in early October, to suggest that the agency’s leaders were izikhothane: the flashy South African youth subculture which sees participants demonstrate their affluence through allegedly burning money.

This particular protest was sparked by the revelation that performance bonuses of almost R7,6 million were paid to the NYDA’s top management and staff this year. NYDA leadership has been “having nice times while young people go to bed hungry at night,” Ntuli said. “NYDA has been skhoting so hard for the longest time.”

Appearing before Parliament’s standing committee on appropriations on Wednesday, NYDA leaders made it clear that they believed they were being perceived unfairly. They pointed to the recently released annual report which is, on the surface of it, actually rather impressive. Over 2012/2013, it records, the NYDA has overcome obstacles like not having a board in place to achieve 85% of its targets and 47 out of 55 of its KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). These are figures that would indeed be the envy of some government departments.

NYDA projects include a Matric re-write programme which has seen 2,950 young people who failed Matric – mostly by four subjects or more – sit the exam once again. As was pointed out by MPs, however, we are not privy to the information of how they fared the second time round. In a press release, the agency gave the example of an 18-year-old from Mpumalanga who achieved 60% for Mathematics and Physical Science on the second attempt, which was a result presumably selected for highlighting due to its unusual success.

The NYDA also provides career guidance sessions and has set up a free online database for young jobseekers. It runs job preparedness training workshops, and supports young entrepreneurs who want to start SMEs. Some 36,164 young entrepreneurs were “supported” over the past year.

All this sounds pretty impressive. But one of the reasons why the NYDA was able to meet its targets so successfully – and in some cases surpass them by over 300% – was because its targets were so low. One objective, for instance, was “to design and implement specific interventions for young women, persons with disabilities and youth in rural areas”. The result? “Four outreach activities. The annual target has been achieved.”

Another objective was to disburse scholarships to those in need. In this case, the annual target was “achieved and exceeded by 10%” – because instead of giving away 10 scholarships, they gave away 11. The NYDA aimed to set up “youth development information and knowledge access points”. They beat this target by 88%, because they aimed for 8 and set up 15.

To point this out is not mere churlishness. When the NYDA’s R7,5 million bonuses were criticised, they were defended on the basis that they were performance-related. There is therefore a strong financial incentive for the agency to keep targets low, though chair Yershen Pillay also defended the low targets on the grounds of their limited funds. (The NYDA’s total grant from the presidency was R376 million, and they raised an additional R22 million.)

On the note of finances, leaders pointed with pride to the fact that the NYDA received an “unqualified audit” from the Auditor General. But this nonetheless made note of irregular expenditure amounting to R62 million, which was a vast improvement on the previous year’s irregular expenditure of R133 million. Subsequent to the audit, disciplinary processes have been started “against officials who cause irregular expenditure”. The NYDA is also owed R212 million in loans, with R192 million of that looking like it may have to be written off due to “doubtful” recoverability.

If NYDA chair Pillay is reading this, he will be shaking his head in an “I-knew-it” way. In Parliament on Tuesday he hit out at the media’s coverage of the NYDA, saying it was obsessively focused on the negative. “There’s no positive things that the media wants to talk about [regarding the NYDA],” Pillay said. “But we’re not out to please the media.”

(While he was saying this, an ANC MP nodded meaningfully and, fixing assembled journalists with a beady glare, said “The media is unpatriotic”.)

Pillay said that due to the media’s negativity, the current leadership of the NYDA was struggling to move the agency out of the “dark cloud” that had been hanging over them ever since 2010’s notorious R106 million expenditure on the World Festival of Youth and Students.

IFP Youth Brigade leader, Mkhuleko Hlengwa, asked the Public Protector to investigate this expenditure in 2011 – an investigation that is still not complete. “It has become a verbal tug of war [between the NYDA and the Public Protector],” Hlengwa told the Daily Maverick. “I understand the scope of the investigation, but I still think it needs to be treated with urgency. If the Public Protector needs to use her powers of subpoena, then she must do that. We need to get to the bottom of this, because if we don’t, we are basically giving [the NYDA] a blank cheque.”

The IFP, much like the DA, want the NYDA in its current form to be scrapped. In the IFP’s case, they want to see it replaced with a fully-fledged Ministry for Youth Affairs, with the NYDA to become just one entity falling under it. Nonetheless, Hlengwa said that as long as the NYDA continued to exist, they would attempt to support it and scrutinise its affairs closely. “If public money is being pumped into this agency, then we have every responsibility, irrespective of whether we agree with its running, to ensure that those public monies are used within the scope of the law.”

During Tuesday’s Parliamentary session, Hlengwa asked for an update on the Public Protector’s report, which prompted a slanging match between MPs as to whether the matter should be aired. Pillay said, however, that they were happy to discuss the issue and were keen to see the report completed as soon as possible. He also said that the NYDA had provided the office of the Public Protector with all necessary information to complete their report.

That’s not what the Public Protector says, though. Spokesperson Kgalalelo Masibi told the Daily Maverick that the NYDA “has not been fully cooperating” with their investigation. “Although the institution eventually furnished the Public Protector with most of the information and records requested for a certain period, not all information and records were supplied. The Public Protector is still awaiting the outstanding information,” Masibi said.

It’s all very well for the NYDA to criticise the media for presenting a consistently negative view of the agency. But the truth is that the NYDA does more than enough on its own to earn its bad press. DM

Read more:

  • NYDA confirms CEO Steven Ngubeni’s dismissal, on the M&G

Photo: NYDA chair, Yershen Pillay. (NYDA)

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