Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

The court orders the Gauteng department to pay for orphanages that are on the verge of closure

By Vaseline May31,2024
The court orders the Gauteng department to pay for orphanages that are on the verge of closure

The court orders the Gauteng department to pay for orphanages that are on the verge of closure

NPOs and beneficiaries hold signs and protest outside the Gauteng Department Social Development office in Johannesburg. (Iviwe Mzandisi/News24)

  • The Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg has ordered the provincial social development department to begin subsidy payments to Epworth Children’s Home and Bethany House Trust, following a court application.
  • The court’s order, handed down Thursday evening, includes immediate payment terms, extension of service agreements and negotiations on future financing.
  • Epworth director Penny-Ann Lundie says the court ruling is a “lifeline” as the facility was expected to close on Friday.

The Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg has ordered the provincial social development department to begin disbursing grants owed to the Epworth Children’s Home and Bethany House Trust from Friday afternoon.

The ruling, which was handed down on Thursday evening, followed an urgent request from the two organisations, who begged the court to help keep them going.

Epworth is home to 84 children, and Bethany House Trust has over 140 children in full-time care or benefiting from their programmes.

Penny-Ann Lundie, director of Epworth Children’s Home, said: “The order takes the immediate pressure off so we are not facing a threatened closure on May 31. That obviously relieves a lot of the stress on staff and especially the children.”

“It is satisfactory that the government has recognized the crisis caused by their funding process and has reinstated the 2023/2024 funding model on an interim basis until September 30.”

READ | NPOs are taking legal action against Gauteng’s social development department over unpaid funds

Epworth Children’s Home and Bethany House Trust submitted their urgent application on Tuesday to process outstanding payments from the Gauteng Department of Social Development.

Epworth claims more than R1.9 million in outstanding payments between October and December 2022, January 2023 and November 2023.

Bethany House is seeking the R4.1 million it is owed for its child and youth care centers across the province and programs such as victim empowerment, covering the period from April to June 2024.

READ ALSO | Christmas crisis for children’s homes as Gauteng government ‘blocks’ subsidies

Judge Thina Siwendu ruled that the department:

  • Pay Epworth and Bethany their grants, the first of which is due Friday by 4 p.m.;
  • Extend the existing service level agreements of the organizations from financial year 2023/24 to the first two quarters of the current financial year (April 2024 to September 2024);
  • Provide reasons for rejecting funding applications for some of Bethany’s programs;
  • And enter into negotiations with Epworth and Bethany to close outstanding service level agreements before the end of September.

Bethany House Trust CEO Gert Jonker said: “In practice, the court order implies that Bethany House has a lifeline for a few months to remain operational for the benefit of our beneficiaries, who are primarily vulnerable children and young people.”

Lundie added: “This is an interim arrangement, and the fear is that Epworth and other NPOs will be placed in the same situation on September 30. We will approach our agreements with the government in good faith in the hope that another potential disaster can be avoided. .”

The NPOs’ filing on Tuesday asked that the department not deny or withdraw their current funding.

It is also requested that the status quo of their existing agreements for the last financial year be maintained, and that the department should disburse their grants on or before the seventh day of the month.

Siwendu directed the department to submit an interim payment plan.

READ ALSO | The century-old Epworth Children’s Home in Joburg has been forced to close after failing to secure funding

This year, the department overhauled its funding process by creating external panels to determine who it will subsidize and who it will not.

At a meeting with the non-governmental organizations earlier this month, Gauteng Prime Minister Panyaza Lesufi announced an increase in the sector’s budget to R2.4 billion for the 2024/25 financial year, up from the previously allocated R1 .8 million.

However, the NGOs were skeptical as they had gone months without their grants or any feedback from the department on why.

The department blamed the delays on several forensic audits launched over the past year.

Reacting to Thursday evening’s court order, Thabo Gadebe, spokesperson for the department, said they “agree with the order and reiterate that this was indicated during the meeting with the Prime Minister that where cuts were made, the department would review them”.

Gadebe added:

Despite this agreement, the NPOs still chose to go to court.

Jonker said the Bethany House Trust would continue to work with the department “as we have done for decades – and with the entire welfare sector to ensure the voices of Gauteng’s poor, marginalized and vulnerable citizens are heard loud and clear”.

The department backtracked on its initial deadline to complete service level agreements and pay organizations by May 24, saying a court order issued last week by Judge Ingrid Opperman “supersedes” its previous commitment.

Opperman’s order forces the department to enter into service-level agreements by May 30 and pay for them within seven days of signing the agreement.

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