DM168

Caring for the elderly during lockdown was ‘fruitless and wasteful’ expenditure

By Estelle Ellis 22 November 2020

A caregiver from Imbumba Association for the Aged attending to a patient. (Photo: Supplied)

Melumzi Hubert Sauka said Imbumba firmly believed that if it did not continue with its assistance to the elderly, those in its care would have died.

First published in Daily Maverick 168.

The Eastern Cape Department of Social Development has dug in its heels over paying a R70 food subsidy to organisations caring for the elderly for the months that the country was in lockdown, saying that they can find no proof of food being given to the elderly beneficiaries.

In October 2020, the Makhanda High Court ordered the Eastern Cape Department of Social Development to honour service-level agreements with 25 caregiver organisations looking after the elderly. Several organisations province-wide are, however, also waiting for their service centre subsidies to be paid.

Withdrawal of subsidies

The Department of Social Development withdrew subsidies payable to the organisations earlier this year, saying they cannot receive funding for service centres, where the elderly were looked after and fed for the period that the country was in lockdown, as the elderly were not supposed to leave their homes.

The department’s decision, as conveyed to the court by the head of the department, Ntombi Baart, who has since been placed on precautionary suspension, was that paying Imbumba Association for the Aged, which represents the organisations, to care for the 1,500 beneficiaries would amount to “fruitless and wasteful expenditure”, as the caregivers “broke the lockdown regulations”.

Judge Judith Roberson overturned this decision and ordered that the subsidies owed to the organisation in terms of service-level agreements had to be paid for the months that the country was in lockdown.

Back to court

Six weeks later Imbumba is heading back to court, as the department still refuses to pay part of the subsidies.

Melumzi Hubert Sauka from Imbumba said that after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster in March, one of the first regulations imposed was that the elderly should remain at home. He said the caregivers at Imbumba had decided to continue their assistance to the elderly at their homes.

“The lockdown did not do away with older persons’ need of care,” he said. “It also did not suddenly have other adults materialise to undertake this work.”

Sauka said Imbumba firmly believed that if it did not continue with its assistance to the elderly, those in its care would have died, as most were over 60, many were unable to care for themselves, were impoverished and could not manage their own finances. Roberson agreed.

But the department only paid caregiver subsidies.

Amid allegations that some of the caregiver organisations were bullied into signing addendums to their service-level agreements that reduced the money owed to them, Imbumba headed back to court to ask that Baart and the MEC of social development, Siphokazi Mani-Lusithi, be held in contempt of court.

R70 subsidy could not be justified

The department’s chief director of development of social welfare services, Wandile Ncapai, deposed to a 126-page affidavit including reports from social development saying that the R70 subsidy for food could not be justified.

He said the R200 monthly subsidy they paid for the care of certain needy elderly people included a R70 allowance per month for food.

He said he could find no proof after scrutinising the reports from Imbumba’s member organisations that the elderly were given food.

The R200 subsidies in question had not been increased since 2007.

Ncapai said they “acknowledge the spirit of the judgment” and that there was no evidence to support Imbumba’s claims that member organisations were forced to sign addendums to their contracts.

Lack of proof

He said after they called for sworn affidavits the organisations could not provide proof of having to shoulder the “financial burden” of looking after the elderly and nor could they find proof that they had incurred “any expenditure”.

“Not all services were rendered and some centres could not prove any services rendered,” he said.

But the organisations’ attorneys have explained in correspondence to the state that food parcels were made up from food that was donated to the organisations and they did not have proof, as the caregivers considered it unconscionable to make the elderly sign for food during lockdown. DM168

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