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A computer tender and conflicting interest – the divisive money matters within a historic organisation

A computer tender and conflicting interest – the divisive money matters within a historic organisation
Homeless people during lockdown in Cape Town on 27 March 2020. (Photo: Gallo Images / Ziyaad Douglas)

The awarding of a computer programme tender and bursaries to a family are among the many issues that raised concern at the Community Chest of the Western Cape, which is now the focus of financial mismanagement allegations. This is part three of a four-part investigative series.

In 2014, the Community Chest of the Western Cape’s (CCWC) board wanted a computerised system to capture internal financial matters because the use of spreadsheets was creating challenges.

A tender for a computer programme was advertised and a board member, who later became board chairperson, Carol Fleurs-Goddard, submitted a bid for her company, Computer Specialists (Pty) Ltd.

She was and still is the chief executive of that company. 

Even though Fleurs-Goddard told Daily Maverick she excused herself from the CCWC’s board while the tender was still under deliberation – it was eventually awarded to her company – the issue is among several that staff flagged as problematic.

A Daily Maverick investigation has revealed that the CCWC, a non-profit organisation geared towards poverty alleviation and which has been operating for nearly 100 years, is a hotbed of accusations and counteraccusations of wrongdoing.

Most of these relate to financial mismanagement and staff insisting that they had to put up with a toxic workplace.

Lorenzo Davids, who was the CCWC’s chief executive from March 2013 to March 2021, was the target of several accusations.

But he explained his version of events (see part two) and effectively claimed he had been the target of a smear campaign, was intent on helping people who needed it and that others in the organisation were very selective about to whom and where they directed money.

Computer tender and ‘conflicting interests’

The computer tender matter dates back nearly a decade.

A letter of tender award was addressed from CCWC to Fleurs-Goddard’s Computer Specialists, dated 15 July 2014, the agreement commenced on 17 November 2014, and the contract was signed off on 30 November 2014. 

Initially worth R1.8-million, the tender grew to more than R6-million.

And it turns out the computer system was never used.

A law firm previously tasked with investigating the tender (Daily Maverick has seen the findings) found that there was a conflict of interest in awarding it to a board member and recommended that the money be recouped from Computer Specialists. 

The findings have not been made public by CCWC yet but are at the root of the forensic investigation that is expected to be carried out at the organisation. 

Staff members previously also pointed to the awarding of the tender as creating a conflict of interest.

‘All above board’

Fleurs-Goddard told Daily Maverick that she had excused herself from the CCWC before the tender was awarded and had not been included in any meetings or discussions relating to the tender. 

“Computer Specialists (Pty) Ltd was certainly awarded a tender late in 2014, but this was not because [the company] solicited the project,” she explained. 

“We were sent a R.F.I. (Request for Information) – probably along with several other companies – and in due course we were sent the tender. It was sent out twice more after this and eventually, when everyone was comfortable with the result, we were awarded the tender.” 

Fleurs-Goddard added that she did not see any conflict of interest because it had gone out to tender three times and she had never been included in any meetings or discussions relating to the tender. 

They have taken aid hostage and used it as ransom money instead of the greatest deed on earth to assist someone to emerge from poverty into dignity.

During the tender adjudications, her company offered the best price compared with those of others which were in the range of R4-million to R6-million.

Explaining how the tender awarded to her company grew to more than R6-million, Fleurs-Goddard said: “The system we initially quoted on was expected to result in about 500 functions, but the system CCWC received was in excess of 1,500 functions. In addition, we were continually training and retraining their staff, we loan[ed] CCWC an H.P. Computer in order to get the system started and we attended countless site visits and meetings.”

‘She should recuse herself’

Meanwhile, Davids provided his version of the circumstances surrounding the tender – he was still the CCWC’s CEO when the issue developed.

“The decision to go to tender to build a custom-designed donor system was a decision taken by the board,” he said. “I had no vote in this matter.”

Davids said that after consideration, the board agreed that Fleurs-Goddard could tender.

“At tender adjudication it was later decided that if she received the tender she would have to recuse herself from the board,” Davids said.

“A major disagreement then occurred when the board person who submitted the tender [presumably Fleurs-Goddard] said that she doesn’t see why she should recuse herself from the board.”

‘It was a fiasco’

Davids said the whole computer tender project eventually wrapped up and staff were trained.

“But because… staff were unhappy with the fact that this board member [was] given the tender and that the project developed beyond the original scope, there was a complete unwillingness… by staff to use the system,” he said.

Part of the tender agreement was that the CCWC would own the licence to the software and could on-sell the programme to others and so, over time, recover the money it had spent. 

But, Davids said: “The project was [a] fiasco.”

The progamme was simply not used.

“Somewhere in 2019,” Davids said, “I put a halt to the entire project. I cancelled in writing all maintenance agreements and all other contractual obligations to the contract.”

Current CCWC chairperson Richard Noor told Daily Maverick that the computer tender would be included in a broader forensic investigation into the organisation’s affairs.

The investigation would look into how much could possibly be recovered of the roughly R6-million spent on the project. 

Family bursary

Another financial issue that staff were unhappy about involved a family with links to Davids and the awarding of seven bursaries that included stipends and equipment. (Children in the family, according to former employees who delivered some items to their home, had referred to Davids as “uncle”.)

The family’s father had also joined his children to further his studies. 

Davids, according to some staffers, allegedly made employees be signatories while he was in the background directing where the bursaries should go. 

Daily Maverick is in possession of emails between staff and a project manager who was made a signatory in the family bursary project. 

In the emails, the manager tells the staff that the recipients of the bursary were part of “a complex family situation with harsh realities”.

The email further reads that a CCWC executive unsuccessfully tried to process the bursary through “proper channels”. 

This led to the executive taking a decision on the way forward, which was to award the bursaries. 

More than R300,000 was spent on the family bursary project.  

Noor told Daily Maverick that there was no evidence that the CCWC’s board had approved the bursaries. 

‘Operational decisions’

However, Davids told Daily Maverick the board never approved any bursaries but approved “gross allocation of funding annually and we made the operational decisions about this”. 

[Daily Maverick, meanwhile, has established that a clause in the CCWC’s constitution, relating to assistance to beneficiaries, states: “Any donations, which include money and donations in any kind, may be allocated… with the approval of the board, acting on the recommendations of the Grant Management Committee of the Organisation which shall consider each application on its merits.”]

Davids said the family applied for bursaries on 2 December 2020 via a letter sent to the Head of Bursaries.

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

“In his letter to us… (the father) states that he has been unemployed for five years and has five children and two others from his partner. 

“He further states in the letter that his children were often bullied and victimised at school, in part because he could not afford school fees and in part because their biological mother chose the life of a homeless person, right in the area where we all lived.”

Davids confirmed knowing the father as he had lived in a childcare facility Davids once managed in 1994. 

He said he lost contact with him in 1996 and around 2019 they bumped into each other again. 

‘They have taken aid hostage’

In a lengthy overall response to Daily Maverick’s questions about his time as the CCWC’s chief executive, Davids listed several other instances where the organisation contributed money to schooling.

One case, he said, involved R350,000 paid for a student, who he did not know before the money was awarded, to go to university.

“I went about helping real people,” Davids said. “People who truly fitted the criteria of aid… 

“How dare some staff be so selective as to who they will help and not help? They have held aid ransom to their selfish preferences… They have taken aid hostage and used it as ransom money instead of the greatest deed on Earth, to assist someone to emerge from poverty into dignity. It angered me.” 

Credit card claims

Some CCWC staff, though, also claimed Davids misused one of the organisation’s credit cards.

Davids allegedly withdrew cash from it while the CCWC credit card policy stated that no cash withdrawals could be made from the Corporate Credit Card under any circumstances. 

The policy also stated that no unbudgeted expenditure was allowed. 

Daily Maverick has seen a letter by Davids acknowledging that the CCWC  may deduct, from his payout, whatever he effectively owed it.

It is not yet clear how much Davids was set to pay the CCWC, but R122,214.52 was recovered from him and a forensic investigation is set to determine whether more still needs to be recovered. 

Noor, without naming anyone, confirmed to Daily Maverick that: “We have recovered a small portion of the money and efforts to recover the remainder are ongoing. The organisation has been stabilised, and the current financial position has improved in the current financial year.”

‘I paid back every cent’

Responding to Daily Maverick’s questions about the credit card claims, Davids said he and all the senior managers were given credit cards and for seven years he never had problems with managing his cards.

“However, during that same period some of my senior managers – now my detractors and accusers – were called out by the auditors – for the abuse of their credit cards. This is in an audit report. I never had any of those issues over my previous seven years on staff,” he said.

He said that whenever he had lost a credit card slip, he would take personal responsibility and pay the amount over to CCWC as if it was a personal expense – even if it was a legitimate CCWC expense.

“I paid back the money through funds due to me when I resigned,” he added.

“I paid every cent back to Community Chest. In addition, there is an email on record where I state to the Finance Office that I spent R25,000 of my own funds to help the homeless.”

‘Money spent on a humanitarian crisis’

During 2020, with financial difficulties linked to Covid-19 and lockdowns, Davids said the CCWC relied heavily on investments until post-lockdown or until their financials improved. 

“This was standard practice for most NGOs during that time,” he said. 

“With the homeless project my core responsibility from May 2020 until I left in March 2021, in addition to my other duties, it was agreed that where we had cash shortfalls we could use our credit cards to fund certain project expenses. 

“This was a concession made for lockdown. My expenses, as the record will show, was cash we drew to pay for a range of expenses for 183 homeless people. I state unequivocally that we spent money on the homeless persons because of the humanitarian crisis.” DM

Read Part 1 and Part 2  and Part 4


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