NPO under investigation

2020-01-21 06:00

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An estate agent for Wynberg Youth Centre has received a letter from the department of social development (DSD), requesting the sale of the property located at 59 Innis Road be put on hold pending the outcome of an investigation into the owners’ non-profit organisation (NPO) registration.

In an email to People’s Post, Luyanda Ngonyama of DSD confirmed that the Wynberg Youth Centre’s registration as an NPO has been flagged as under investigation by its NPO directorate monitoring and compliance department. According to the department, the NPO has not submitted reports or audited financial statements since 2016.

“The issue was escalated by a concerned member of the public to the presidency and the department has been requested to investigate,” says Ngonyama.

Simon Solomon of Safcom Properties told People’s Post he received a letter from DSD but says the estate agency is going ahead with the sale.

“I don’t understand the need to put it on hold. We have looked at the title deed and we don’t see any legal reason why we should,” Solomon says.

Colin Arendse, a co-opted member of the Wynberg East Civic Association (Weca), disagrees. Arendse is the “concerned member of the public” who first alerted DSD to the matter.

In his letter to the department, the paralegal wrote “a registered and compliant NPO may not dispose of any of its property/assets; neither may any of its office bearers benefit from the sale thereof. And if, for any reason, upon dissolution, the NPO decides to proceed with such dissolution, the property and all assets must be transferred to another NPO with similar objectives”.

A community meeting was called at the Vigilance hall in Bega Road on Sunday 12 January after the property was listed online a few days earlier. The ad describes the property as a perfect development opportunity. “The erf is large at 1 877sqm and can easily be turned into a residential development for the astute investor,” it reads.

This is exactly what the community is afraid of. A People’s Post article (“Development concerns for residents”) published on 22 October described residents’ growing apprehension over the rise of apartment blocks on land where single-unit homes once stood. Ironically, these “concerns” were raised at a Weca meeting held at the centre.

Yunus Karriem, acting chair of Weca, however, says the problem goes even deeper. Karriem says the centre is a beacon of hope for residents to keep the youth away from the streets, drugs and gangs.

“The community gave us the mandate to oppose the sale and we have put together a steering committee in response,” he says.

Karriem says they have studied the centre’s title deed and the NPO’s constitution and they have quite a few questions for the NPO.

“We want to see the minutes of the NPO’s AGM when it was decided to sell the property, we want to know the reasons for the decision and we want to know who the money raised from the sale will go to,” he says.

Weca representatives hoped to get answers on Wednesday 15 January, when they, with residents and tenants of the premises, met at the youth centre at 10:00.

An article which appeared in the Cape Argus on 13 January (“Wynberg residents fear youth centre will be sold to developers”), quoted the chair of the NPO, Joan Reagon, as saying: “I invite you to come to our meeting on Wednesday and we will be able to give a full report on why we decided to sell.”

However, on the day, Reagon told the small crowd the NPO’s committee meeting that morning was not open to the public.

About 20 minutes later, Reagon again addressed them, saying there is no meeting and that she didn’t have to answer any questions. She said the centre was not a community hall; did not belong to the City and that nothing they said would stop the sale. 

“Estate agents are busy with the sale of this property. It is too late,” she said.

Speaking to People’s Post, Reagon explained the invitation to the NPO’s meeting was meant for the Cape Argus reporter only. 

She said the NPO submitted audited financial statements to DSD every year and that they had reached the decision to sell the property at an AGM meeting held in April 2019: all of the trustee members voted in favour of the sale. 

She said the decision to sell the building was difficult because they had been running the centre since 1976 but that they had no choice. The cost of maintaining to building far exceeded its income.

Reagon claimed past pleas to the community for support went unanswered. 

“Nobody was interested in the building. People who did want to rent the building wanted it for peanuts. We only charge R45 an hour as it is. And there are no kids here. These days, they all just sit on their phones,” she said. 

Reagon said she had been receiving rude calls from the public. “Everybody thinks we just want the money but that is not true ... We have been the people putting money in, not taking money out. We work on a volunteer basis. Only the caretaker gets paid, and that is only R300 a month (and lodging).”

She said the NPO would ask their bank (Standard Bank) to distribute the money received for the sale among charities. Reagon said they had not discussed this with the bank yet; they were waiting for the sale to be completed before doing so. 

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