250‚000 livelihoods at stake as Cogta’s employment scheme dragged to court
The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs is embroiled in a court battle over alleged procurement irregularities in one of the country’s largest and most successful employment programmes.
Scathing affidavits suggest that the department may have flouted its own rules and procurement processes when appointing 11 new implementing agents to manage its Community Work Programme (CWP) – a national employment project with a R12-billion budget.
Put at stake are the livelihoods of a quarter of a million low-waged workers employed across the country through the programme.
The CWP is a government-funded initiative designed to cushion the poorest of the poor by providing regular low-skilled work opportunities like road maintenance‚ home and community-based care work‚ planting trees and maintaining food gardens‚ and fixing classrooms.
Participants are managed at various sites across the country by implementing agents‚ normally NGOs‚ who manage a sizeable chunk of the programme’s budget.
The programme‚ rolled out in 2008‚ continued largely unnoticed and scandal-free until April this year when the Seriti Institute – the most experienced implementing agent contracted by the department since the inception of the programme – lodged an urgent court application.
Citing non-compliance with various procurement regulations‚ Seriti – whose bid for the new three-year contract was declined from the start – approached the High Court in Pretoria to set the department’s decision aside and review the entire procurement process.
But it is in Seriti’s supplementary founding affidavit‚ after it inspected the department’s record of decision for the successful appointments‚ that “extensive material irregularities” are revealed.
According to the findings of a verification committee set up by the department‚ there were a host of red flags that emerged at the outset from within NGOs that were eventually appointed as implementing agents on the programme.
One of them‚ Out the Box Foundation‚ is “a small organisation based in Bela-Bela township that appears to be struggling to stay afloat”.
The report states: “Of particular concern is the location and state of their offices. The said office is a back (outside) room in a private home… There is an evident capacity challenge‚ as there are only four people that are officially contracted‚ and the rest of the staff complement consists of volunteers”.
The committee found that another successful bidder‚ Icembe Foundation‚ did not have any prior experience in government work or an existing governance structure.
“They currently do not have a board of trustees or directors to effect governance oversight to their operations‚” the report states.
Seriti also alleges that another successful applicant‚ Beulah Africa Development‚ who partnered with another company for the tender‚ was not included in the list of pre-qualified bidders; and that the bids of eight NGOs eventually appointed as implementing agents were found to be non-compliant and had been disqualified by a pre-qualification committee at the outset.
According to Seriti CEO Juanita Pardesi‚ the organisation was one of two that piloted the CWP in 2008 and has been an Implementing Agent from then until March this year.
“The Seriti board feels strongly that we need to bring to light the irregular process followed in awarding the tenders to manage the implementation of a public employment programme‚ which has a budget of over R12-billion over the current MTEF [medium term expenditure framework]. Seriti requested a review of the CWP tender process due to concerns regarding the awarding of the tender‚” Pardesi said.
“In Seriti’s case‚ Cogta failed to send the request for documents to the correct email address resulting in Seriti’s erroneous and unfair disqualification before its proposal could be evaluated for functionality... These irregularities stripped the CWP procurement process of its fairness and support additional grounds of review in respect of both the procurement process and the appointments of the new NPOs.”
Pardesi said the outcomes of the process saw five of the most experienced Implementing Agencies not being re-appointed – in a context in which “functionality” – including relevant experience‚ was the main criteria.
Cogta spokesperson Legadima Leso said the department would not comment while the matter was before court.