South Africa

amabhungane

Government ‘punishes’ non-profits in charge of the Community Work Programme

Government ‘punishes’ non-profits in charge of the Community Work Programme
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

For the past three months, the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs has not paid the non-profits which manage the Community Work Programme, claiming that they have failed to account for how government’s money was spent.

Nine implementing agents have received no project management fees from the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) for the last three months.

The non-profits are contracted by Cogta to implement the Community Work Programme (CWP), the department’s signature job-creation scheme.

As a result, the implementing agents have had to dip into their cash reserves, take out loans, apply for the UIF’s temporary relief scheme and in some cases begin the process of retrenching employees. 

The delay in payment, according to a department statement on 9 June, is “due to non-compliance with [the] service level agreement (SLA)”.

Cogta said it would not pay delinquent non-profits if they did not account for the money given to them.

However, not all the non-profits, known as implementing agents, are guilty of non-compliance. 

Frustrated, the implementing agents sent representatives from across the country to march to Cogta’s Tshwane offices on Wednesday 10 June. Equipped with warm blankets, they threatened to camp outside Cogta’s offices “until all are paid”.

A message sent before the march rallied representatives:

“Kindly advise your staff to be ready with their laptops and data tomorrow in Pretoria in case these selfish inconsiderate unethical and brutal Cogta officials… pull the usual expired song of  ‘Non-submissions and SLA’.”

The message alleged that Cogta officials “shamelessly exploit, purposely suffocate black service providers while indulging themselves on public purse meant for the poor”.

However, the night before the march, Cogta issued a statement declaring its intention to pay compliant implementing agents as well as the remaining 37% of Community Work Programme participants whose wages for May have also not been paid.

Despite this, the march continued, and a meeting took place at Cogta’s offices where the department promised to meet with the implementing agents to address any compliance shortcomings so that all implementing agents could be paid on Friday.

NPOs speak outside the Cogta offices. (Photo supplied)

One of the march’s organisers, Michael Themba, said he was satisfied with the resolution following the meeting with Cogta. However, he added: “I don’t understand why the department is concerned about [service level agreement] compliance only now…”

Michael Themba briefs some of his colleagues while waiting for the delegation inside the Cogta offices. (Photo supplied)

“Cogta should not wait for the financial year to end for them to implement [service level agreement] compliance, that is a month to month activity as we report to them on a monthly basis,” Themba explained.

Many of the implementing agents said they struggled to send the accounting documents Cogta required because not all of them had the permits required to travel across the province, and in some cases, across the country during lockdown. 

In at least one case, Cogta asked for documents dating back to 2018 and did this during the height of lockdown when movement was most restricted. 

“Most paperwork is happening at the site level,” explained Johannesburg site manager Velaphi Ndaba. Because Cogta has not paid the implementing agents’ project management fees, these organisations could not pay their employees. 

“How can you expect people to travel to work when they have no money?” Ndaba asked.  

In other cases, the implementing agents could not gain access to their offices during Level 4 and Level 5 lockdowns because their offices were housed in shuttered municipal buildings. 

Ndaba alleged that there is also mismanagement at the department: “Cogta loses reports [from 2018 and 2019] and wants to penalise implementing agents for non-compliance.” 

However, Cogta has been scrutinising the Community Work Programme for some time. 

It appears the decision to delay the payment of agents partly stemmed from the department’s decision to implement recommendations from the auditor-general and its internal investigations.

Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma conceded in a reply to a parliamentary committee meeting in February that the R4-billion-a-year programme was beset by corruption and mismanagement and needed to be overhauled.

“[The Community Work Programme] concerns me a lot because it has a lot of money,” Dlamini Zuma told the committee.

[The Community Work Programme] should be remodelled, we should look afresh. For instance, the [implementing agents] … get hundreds of millions just to manage [the programme]. And they are non-profits, but they make probably more profit than any company, and this concerns me,” Dlamini Zuma said.

AmaBhungane’s own investigations into the Community Work Programme showed it faced problems with some implementing agents using public money to benefit businesses run by family members.

In May, one of the implementing agents, the South African Youth Movement (SAYM), approached the Pretoria High Court on an urgent basis, demanding that Cogta pay its fees regardless because it could not collect the data requested by Cogta because of lockdown restrictions.

SAYM claimed it had to resort to taking loans to meet its R1.4-million monthly salary bill and could end up retrenching some of its 109 staff members.

The court dismissed the case this week for lack of urgency.

According to Cogta, SAYM is the only implementing agent with outstanding documentation, making it the one implementing agent in danger of not receiving payment from the department on Friday 12 June. 

SAYM was the subject of an amaBhungane and Daily Dispatch investigation earlier this year, where we revealed how it used what were essentially public funds to benefit companies linked to family and staff members.

When asked for comment regarding the march and subsequent meeting between provincial representatives and Cogta, SAYM told amaBhungane it was not aware of Wednesday’s meeting nor had it received any correspondence following the meeting.

“In relation to working with Cogta, we have a service level agreement… which we respect and adhere to at all times, and we plan to continue to do so until the end of [the] contract,” SAYM explained.

Also read: Who’s eating the Community Work Programme? Explore the data.

 *The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, an independent non-profit, produced this story. Like it?  Be an amaB Supporter to help us do more. Sign up for our newsletter to get more.

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