Gauteng government rejects request for public-funding information

GroundUp asked for details of billions of rands in grants the Department of Social Development paid to non-profit organisations

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The Gauteng Department of Social Development has rejected a Promotion of Access to Information request for details of billions of rands in publicly-funded grants it paid to non-profit organisations between 2014 and 2024. Archive photo: Masego Mafata

The Gauteng Department of Social Development has declined an access to information request by GroundUp for details of grants paid to a beauty academy that received tens of millions of rands over two years.

It also rejected GroundUp’s Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) request for details of billions of rands in publicly-funded grants it paid to non-profit organisations between 2014 and 2024.

GroundUp reported earlier this year that The Beauty Hub, which offers hair and beauty treatment training, received almost R64-million in grants from the department in the 2022/23 and 2023/24 financial years. Daracorp, a farming skills training organisation, received almost R50-million during the same period.

The funding to these two organisations was granted at a time when the department had slashed grant funding to non-profit organisations that deliver essential services to poor and vulnerable people.

After the story appeared, the department issued a statement revealing that The Beauty Hub and Daracorp were among an unspecified number of organisations under investigation. The statement also revealed that several department staff members had been suspended.

GroundUp subsequently learned that at least 13 senior officials, including chief directors, directors and regional managers had been placed on precautionary suspension.

The brief letter rejecting our PAIA request was signed by former social development department head Matilda Gasela, who left her position under a cloud of corruption allegations at the end of April when her contract was not renewed. She signed the rejection letter on 30 April, her last day on the job.

“This communication serves to inform you that after careful consideration of your request, the department has elected to reject same [the PAIA request]”, Gasela wrote in the brief letter that gave no reasons for why the application was rejected.

The PAIA Act stipulates that if a request for access to information held by the state is refused, the notice of rejection must give adequate reasons for the refusal, including the provisions of the Act, relied on.

The notice must also state that the requester may lodge an internal appeal, a complaint to the Information Regulator or bring an application to court against the refusal of the request. It must also state the procedure, including the period for appealing, a complaint to the Information Regulator or a court application.

The rejection letter failed to stipulate any of the statutory requirements.

It is also unusual that Gasela, the head of the department, signed the letter.

As head of the department, Gasela signed off on many of the programmes under investigation by external audit firms retained by the department and her role could be the subject of ongoing forensic audit probes.

Gasela is also not the department’s designated Information Officer, who delegates PAIA duties to a deputy information officer, usually someone working in the organisation’s legal department.

There is no evidence on the department’s website that such authority has ever been delegated to Gasela.

TOPICS:  Government Social Development mismanagement

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