Children's future at Bosasa youth centres in the balance as liquidator sends 'termination' notice

2019-08-31 07:48
Gavin Watson, former Bosasa CEO, with former president Jacob Zuma at the company's Krugersdrop headquarters. (Supplied)

Gavin Watson, former Bosasa CEO, with former president Jacob Zuma at the company's Krugersdrop headquarters. (Supplied) (Supplied)

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The future of the children at 10 Bosasa youth development centres across the country hangs in the balance after liquidators for the company, now known as African Global Operations (AGO), sent notice to stop rendering services by the end of October.

The centres house youth who have severe behavioural challenges and/or are in conflict with the law.

A letter was sent to the centres on August 8, titled: "Notice of termination of the service level agreements - and termination of employment."

The national social development department, however, said it was waiting for a redrafted version of the letter that cited adequate reasons for the "termination".

In the August 8 letter, liquidator Ralph Lutchman said: "The fact that we have been operating while in liquidation has placed a tremendous strain on the business operations and staff morale has been significantly impacted."

He added this had caused the liquidators to reconsider the "commercial viability of the current security and secure care operations" within the centres.

Lutchman informed staff their last day would be on October 31.

"We urge you to continue your normal duties in a professional matter until the service is terminated."

The letter raises questions about what will happen to the children at the centres.

The centres listed in the letter are:

  • Mogale and Lesideng child and youth care centres (Gauteng);
  • Polokwane and Mavembe child and youth care centres (Limpopo);
  • Rustenberg, Matlosana and Mafikeng child and youth care centres (North West);
  • Horizon and Clanwilliam child and youth care centres (Western Cape); and
  • Springbok and De Aar child and youth care centres (Northern Cape).

According to the Bosasa website, Mogale was the first and largest secure care centre to be privately managed in South Africa when it opened outside Krugersdorp in 1995.

"During that time, the government recognised the need for young offenders to be relocated from adult-occupied correctional facilities and cells to safer environments," the website stated.

This led to the company setting up other centres across the country between 1995 and 2012, generally aimed at children between the ages of 14 and 17.

Read: EXCLUSIVE: Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson paid a R5m 'bonus' amid job losses

While there were reports that De Aar centre's contract with Bosasa would end this weekend, an official at the centre, who did not want to be named, insisted it would remain open. News24 has since learnt that the De Aar facility's contract has been extended to the same October 31 date.

The beleaguered facilities management and security company indicated in February that it was under voluntary liquidation after FNB communicated it would close the company's banking facilities by February 28, 2019.

AGO and its directors have been accused of corruption and bribery in exchange for state contracts since at least 2008. The details of this alleged corruption was exposed during testimony by former Bosasa chief operations officer Angelo Agrizzi before the state capture commission of inquiry, along with many media reports over the last decade.

National social development department spokesperson Lumka Oliphant told News24 the letters its provincial heads received gave the October timeframe without citing reasons.

She said the department then convened a meeting, which included the liquidators and the Master of the High Court.

"The meeting was to unpack the reasons for [the] premature exit by Bosasa on the current agreement. An agreement was reached that the liquidator will go back and rewrite the letters including reasons for the early termination or exit. The department is still awaiting the revised letter."

Lutchman has not yet responded to News24's request for comment. It will be added once received.

Oliphant said their priority was the children.

"There are retrieval plans for each province, however, it is important to note that provinces are at different levels in terms of retrieving the service from the service provider. The plans indicate what will happen when and who is going to take care of the children," she said.

"It is important to note that the plans are centred on the understanding that there should be no inconvenience, disruption or compromise to the safety and well-being of the children."

ALSO READ: High Court 'reverses' Bosasa liquidation

When asked if there were discussions with other service providers to take over the service, Oliphant said: "We are unable at this stage to provide details on this aspect. However, the department is not aware of any service provider fit and proper to run the service."

News24 reached out to provincial social development departments to find out how far along they were with making alternative plans.

Only Gauteng and Western Cape responded.

Western Cape provincial communications head Esther Lewis said the department would take over the rendering of services at Clanwillian and Horizon as of November 1 this year.

"The Clanwilliam and Horizon centres have been operated by Bosasa since being awarded a contract in the 2014/15 financial year. While these centres were operated by Bosasa, the department is responsible for admissions, monitoring of norms and standards at the centre, and contract monitoring/management," she added.

The provincial department began preparing to take over the provided services in March 2019 after the liquidation was announced.

"This process, including recruitment of staff, is expected to be concluded in October in order to ensure the services being rendered to children in those centres are not disrupted," Lewis said.

The Gauteng social development department said: "Plans are in place and awaiting approval. [The] department cannot at this stage share the plan with the public, until they are finalised. We recommend that we wait for the approval then we will communicate the plan widely."

It added that it had not had any engagements with other service providers.

*This story has been updated with information that the De Aar facility's contract has been extended to the same October 31 date.

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