Lotto board slow to pay

2009-10-05 00:00

NON-PROFIT organisations struggling to cope with administrative delays on the part of the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund have added their voices to calls for greater accountability and efficiency from the NLDTF and its six-member board and 107 staff members.

Pietermaritzburg and Districts Council for the Care of the Aged (Padca) NCEO Margie van Zyl is among a number of NGO heads, some who declined to be named, who said Lotto funds are slow in coming through and that communication between the fund and beneficiaries is poor.

“Only if you are constantly beating down their door do you get anywhere,” Van Zyl told The Witness.

She said she spends “a fortune” on weekly follow-up phone calls to Lotto in Pretoria.

Padca’s funding request for 2007 came through at the beginning of 2009. The organisation is yet to hear about its application made in 2008.

“Lotto has billions of rand to distribute, but the process of assessment and of reverting to beneficiaries is lengthy and time-consuming. It’s appalling for a public funder. They need to be held accountable.”

Feedback from three Children in Distress Network (Cindi) member organisations also reflects concerns about protracted applications processes — some of up to two years and delays of up to four months between being told by Lotto of an approved payment and the organisation receiving the money.

The Witness canvassed the views of several non-profit organisations after last week’s revelations that Lotto is sitting on R2,2 billion in approved funds to charities for the 2008/9 financial year and a staggering R6,9 billion during the past four years.

Democratic Alliance MP Kobus Marais, who raised the issue in a parliamentary question, said the amount of unpaid approved funds for the current financial year has increased by 21,8% from the previous year.

A spokesman for the NLB and NLDTF, Sershan Naidoo, told The Witness he does not know how the Trade and Industry figure of R2,2 billion Marais cites was arrived at.

He said Lotto applications — about 7 000 per year totalling R14 billion — were processed chronologically and enjoyed a turnaround time of between two and 12 months.

Naidoo said there is concern about high levels of expectancy and dependency on the NLDTF for operational expenses. “The Lotteries Act clearly uses the term ‘projects’. Applicants also need to look to other sources of funding,” he said.

“The only time the NLDTF grant should enter their [the applicants’] budget is when they have written notification of a grant,” he told The Witness.

But for NGOs already struggling to stay afloat in a hostile economic clinate, Lotto is a critical source of funds.

“If you go to anyone now, even AngloGold, they say, ‘we are laying off staff, how can you ask us to give you money?’,” said Deon de Villiers, executive director of the National Institute for the Deaf. “So in that context, it’s shocking that Lotto money is just sitting there, not being used.”

The institute serves 33 000 deaf people in South Africa and has a total budget of R25 million. De Villiers said his organisation put in a proposal to Lotto for R6,5 million in July 2007 and received just R1 million in August this year. The original proposal got lost four times, prompting him eventually to turn to the media.

For NGOs, inefficiency on the part of Lotto and its administrators means being unable to budget, said Padca’s Van Zyl.

“You have to treat Lotto money as a windfall if it comes.

“Lotto is there to support NGOs to reach out and these needs are increasing by the day and this public funder simply is not being held accountable,” she said.

She said her organisation lost a number of home-based carers as a result of delayed funding because they could not be paid a stipend.

“We are a large NGO, so do have access to other resources, but smaller NGOs battle because they depend on Lotto for their survival,” she said.

For Cindi director Rekha Nathoo the current economic climate and the fact that international donors are pulling out of South Africa makes efficiency on the part of local donor agencies even more important.

“Feedback to applicants is vital because in the NGO sector, we work on operational plans, often based on proposals that we have submitted.”

She said the anxiety caused by the delays could be avoided by better communication systems.

“Local donors need to treat their beneficiaries as equal partners in the development process,” said Nathoo. “As much as we need the Lotto to fund us, they also need us in order to be able to deliver on their targets of expenditure. Professional respect is needed on both sides. If we meet their application criteria, then Lotto must meet our obligations as well by communicating with us in a timeous and efficient manner.”

Marais told The Witness that the relevant portfolio committee will review the current legislation governing Lotto early in the new year with a view to improving effectiveness and accountability of the board and ensuring the process of applying for funding is not so onerous as to exclude less established charities.

He said he also believes the board composition needed to be examined. “I believe the board needs to contain people with disabilities or people who can empathise with disability.

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