Bhisho U-turn on welfare budgets

Eastern Cape Social Development MEC Nancy Sihlwayi
Picture: Brian Witbooi

Social development department promises to reallocate funding

The Eastern Cape’s Department of Social Development has unreservedly apologised for its decision to slash the budgets of several non-profit welfare organisations in Buffalo City and Nelson Mandela Bay.

The department has also committed to review the budget cuts as early as tomorrow. Some of the non-profit organisations’ (NPO) budgets had been cut by more than 1 000% compared to the past financial year.

Addressing the media in King William’s Town yesterday, acting head of department Ntombi Baart said: “We are sorry for the inconvenience caused to all the NPOs by the subsidy reductions and we are committing to revise the budget and see how we [can] reallocate the funds, looking at the service offered by the different NPOs.”

Baart said the U-turn on the earlier decision to force the NPOs to adjust to the new allocations was a result of pressure from MEC Nancy Sihlwayi and portfolio committee head Christian Martin, who both insisted that she had to devise a new plan and review the massive cuts.

“We admit that there was lack of communication from the department and maybe we should have introduced the reductions in phases, but we are making a commitment to revisit these subsidies,” Baart said.

Tomorrow, senior officials, including Baart, will meet with each affected NPO to find ways to bridge the gaps caused by the cuts, which saw centres such as East London Child Welfare in Southernwood closing temporarily last week, and retrenching all of its 12 social workers.

Baart said the reductions were influenced by the department’s need to reach a wider population. She said NPOs in areas such as the Buffalo City and Nelson Mandela Bay regions had an over-abundance of social workers and the department wanted to make sure the two regions were in line with its social workers’ supervision framework.

She also defended Sihlwayi, saying the decision to effect the cuts was an administrative decision which should have been introduced in phases. “I want to place on record that the MEC had no influence on how the subsidies were reduced,” Baart said.

In the Border region which was hardest hit by the cuts, the organisations affected include CMR King William’s Town, Childline, Child Welfare East London and SA National Council on Alcoholism (Sanca) Several Port Elizabeth organisations, including Mental Health and the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca), have also been hit.

Reacting to the department’s apology yesterday, CMR director Magdalena von Solms said it was welcome but it was unfortunate that it came two months after many social workers had already lost their jobs.

Convener of the provincial Non-Profit Organisations’ For um, Vuyiswa Duma, said if affected NPOs had approached the forum, rather than approaching the department directly, the problem could have been sorted out earlier.

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