Mystery surrounds Gauteng government’s multi-million rand adjudication panels

Money to pay for them diverted from funding for dignity packs

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Photo of Gauteng DSD office

There are serious questions about the Gauteng Department of Social Development’s funding of non-profit organisations. Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee

  • The establishment of new adjudication panels for grants from the Gauteng Social Development Department is shrouded in mystery.
  • This comes as the department is investigating corruption in the awarding of grants.
  • The department has diverted millions for supplying dignity packs for women to fund the panels.
  • At the same time, the Gauteng Care Crisis Committee has found that the department has cut its budget for services to vulnerable people by R223-million.
  • Non-profit organisations dependent on funding from the department are growing increasingly worried about the status of their grant applications.

The Gauteng Department of Social Development (GDSD) has put aside over R15-million to fund new independent panels that will adjudicate grant applications. But the process of appointing the panels has been opaque and shrouded in secrecy.

Both GroundUp and civil society organisations have been unable to get any information about the panels and the names of panellists, or even if they have already been appointed.

Furthermore, the department diverted the money from a programme meant to supply dignity packs for women.

This, it said, was because the dignity pack funding “will not be spent in full due to the late finalisation of procurement processes”.

It had anticipated that the tender for dignity packs would “possibly” be appointed in the fourth quarter (ending 31 March).

Some of the diverted dignity pack funding will also be used to pay for “tools of the trade” for Gauteng’s Youth Brigades, whose members work as teacher assistants in public schools across the province.

An additional R83.4-million was diverted from other areas of the social service budget to cover the appointment of the Youth Brigades and contract workers. The Youth Brigades are part of the Gauteng government’s flagship Nasi iSpani Mass Recruitment Programme.

Drastic budget cuts

According to a note in the province’s 2023/4 adjusted estimates of revenue and expenditure: “The goods and services budget decreased by R56-million, mainly due to reprioritisation of funds from the provision of dignity packs.”

With the departmental financial year ending at the end of March, non-profit organisations dependent on the Gauteng department’s funding have grown increasingly worried about the lack of transparency around the panels and the status of their applications.

They are concerned that delays could have a profound effect on non-profit organisations, many of which are already struggling to survive, as are the people that depend on them.

An analysis for the Gauteng Care Crisis Committee (GCCC) of the 2024/25 budget by Lisa Vetten, a research associate at Wits University’s Southern Centre for Inequality Studies, shows a R223-million cut in services to vulnerable people, compared to the previous financial year.

“This latest development mirrors the crisis of 2023/24 when the [national] DSD initially attempted to slash R417.6-million from the budget earmarked for social care services, inciting widespread protests from non-profit organisations (NPOs) across the province,” the crisis committee stated.

“Although the Premier subsequently announced a reversal of the decision on 2 May 2023, funding was not restored in full; R172-million was still cut from NPO funding in 2023/24. What this means, taking this year’s cuts into account is that vulnerable people have lost R395-million worth of services between 2023/4 and 2024/5.”

Corruption investigated

The Gauteng social development department is currently investigating corruption involving the allocation of grants to organisations and has suspended several senior officials.

In January GroundUp revealed how Beauty Hub and Daracorp, two organisations offering skills development training, one in hairdressing and beauty care and the other in agriculture, had received funding totalling over R114-million. This was at a time when the development budget was being slashed. Both organisations are among an unknown number of non-profit organisations under investigation.

The department issued a statement after GroundUp’s story was published in January, admitting that the decision to appoint the independent panels was because of “concerns stemming from our oversight bodies”.

One of the measures to address this was the “creation of an independent Non-Profit Organisation Evaluation and Adjudication panel”, the department said. Previously, adjudication of grant applications was done internally.

Meanwhile, the department has called on organisations to “be patient” while it “finalises” the investigation and the adjudication of applications for the next financial year.

“The department notes that there is much anxiety amongst some NPOs, who want to know how far the process is and the outcomes of the investigation as the processing of applications takes place this year in a climate of investigations, where troubling findings are being made,” Themba Gadebe, spokesperson for the social development MEC, stated.

“The investigation will be concluded soon, and its damning outcomes will be revealed,” he said.

Panels shrouded in mystery

In responding to questions from GroundUp, the department failed to disclose whether the panels had yet been appointed, and if so whether they had begun adjudicating grants, and the identities of the panellists.

Instead, we were sent a generic media statement released earlier in the day.

When we pointed this out via WhatsApp, a spokesperson responded by quoting a paragraph from the media release: “The Gauteng Department of Social Development has called on NPOs to be patient, as it finalises the investigation and the adjudication of applications for the next financial year.”

Head of Department Matilda Gasela has not responded to two letters from the Gauteng Care Crisis Committee – one in November last year and a second in January this year – requesting information about the panels.

Matters finally came to a head last week when the crisis committee, a network of over 50 Gauteng organisations, issued a statement describing the cuts in the 2024/24 budget.

“The facts of the cut were discovered by NPOs earlier this week following the announcement by Gauteng Treasury of the budget for the province,” the crisis committee said. “With less than a month to go before the start of the new financial year, the GDSD has yet to inform the NPO sector where the axe will fall. We reject the cuts and condemn the GDSD for failing to communicate its decisions to NPOs.”

Vetten’s analysis of funding databases the department submitted to the provincial portfolio committee for social development found that many organisations have closed down after they failed to get funding.

“In 2022/23, 1,778 NPO services were funded by GDSD. In 2023/24, only 1,340 services were funded – a loss of 338 services [20%] that also translates into unemployment across the social care sector. This destruction of jobs in the NPO sector comes at a time when the GDSD lists creating employment as one of its priorities.”

TOPICS:  Social Development mismanagement

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Dear Editor

When is corruption ever going to be curtailed. We citizens cannot even catch our breath and there is another corruption scandal. All these culprits do not fear the consequences because there are none. The needy are the ones really facing the consequences as there is no more money left.

Dear Mr President, please take the reins and save whatever is left of this country!

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