Anger at civil society exclusion from Presidential summit

3,500 organisations have sent a letter to the presidency demanding an explanation

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About 3,500 civil society organisations have written a joint letter to the President demanding an explanation as to why they were excluded from the Presidential Social Sector Summit. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

  • About 3,500 civil society organisations say they were excluded from the Presidential Social Sector Summit in August, where important decisions were made for them and about them.
  • They have demanded an explanation and wish to make submissions on the outcome of the summit.
  • The presidency has not yet responded.

Some 3,500 civil society organisations from across the country have sent a joint letter to the presidency demanding an explanation as to why they were excluded from the Presidential Social Sector Summit held in Gauteng on 5 August.The summit was intended to “strengthen collaboration” between the state and civil society, and make policy decisions about the social sector.

“While many of us were invited to participate in either the 2019 provincial summits and/or the national summit, initially scheduled for March 2020 (and rescheduled due to the lockdown), almost all of us only learned about the 2022 summit after the fact,” the letter says.

One outcome from the summit was a decision to establish a central fund for civil society. But Lisa Vetten, who helped draft the letter to the presidency, said this decision was taken without proper consultation with civil society organisations. She described it as “very concerning” and “undemocratic”.

Femada Shamam, CEO of The Association for the Aged (TAFTA), said they are concerned about who will administer such a fund and the potential for corruption. “Because we see this is rife within the context of public spending,” she said.

Another concern raised is the inclusion of the National Lotteries Commission (NLC), which has been “mired in controversy over the distribution of its funds to civil society organisations”.

The letter also notes a lack of discussion around corruption and maladministration at the NLC.

Vetten said the state was also disproportionately represented. The only civil society body on the summit’s oversight committee was the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC). The rest were: the presidency, the departments of social development, planning, monitoring and evaluation, employment and labour, and the National Development Agency, and the NLC.

The organisations are demanding:

  • that the legal status of the summit’s framework declaration and whether the summit decisions are binding to civil society organisations be confirmed;
  • that presidency call for and accept additional submissions to the framework agreement;
  • that a representative and inclusive structure of civil society organisations that is equivalent in number to the state departments be established; and
  • that the resolutions from the summit be made available.

Shamam, of TAFTA, said civil society organisations are diverse and any framework must take that into consideration, especially the needs of at-risk groups.

Vetten said they had received no feedback from the presidency. GroundUp also sent questions and follow-up questions to the presidency but received no response.

Vetten said many issues were not addressed and “long-festering problems are just being swept under the carpet”.

TOPICS:  Civil Society Government

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