Our Opinion: Reinstate charities now

LOST: A stray puppy being cared for at the East London SPCA. Picture: MARK ANDREWS

ANOTHER bungle by a government department threatens the short-term sustainability of hundreds of leading charities in East London and surrounding areas.

As we report on the front page today, an unexplained purge by the national Department of Social Development has slashed the number of registered charities in South Africa by two thirds in a year.

Organisations ranging from the Legal Resources Centre to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the East London SPCA have been cut off from state and lottery funding and can no longer solicit tax deductible donations.

Our reporters have been unable to get a plausible explanation from the authorities for the decision to de- register thousands of sometimes venerable non-profit organisations and to list others as “non-compliant”.

These are amongst the most credible aid agencies in the country. Over the years, they have given succour to millions of people and their animals.

There has been no public suggestion that any of them are corrupt, inefficient or that they misdirect charitable donations.

Yet the Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa reports the Department of Social Development’s list of registered agencies has shrunk from 85000 in March last year to 29000 this month.

Those knocked off the list no longer qualify for government aid and cannot apply for lottery funding. They have also lost their right to issue tax certificates to private donors.

One likely explanation for the draconian action could be that the department’s non-profit organisations directorate is trying to tighten control over the flow of donor funds.

That in itself would be a suspect motivation, but implemented in this way it is an outrageous interference in the work of so many thousands of South Africans trying to make our world a better place.

According to the Coalition on Civil Society Resource Mobilisation last August, the directorate has been unable to perform its current duties.

Anecdotal reports suggest the directorate is effectively unreachable by telephone.

“The NPO directorate within the Department of Social Development has been unable to effectively implement its responsibilities in accordance with the Non-Profit Organisations Act,” the coalition said.

The formal process for re-registration of a non-profit organisation is arduous. Since this debacle clearly is a result of maladministration at state level, the government needs to intervene and immediately reinstate these charities.

If there is a need to review their status, it needs to be done in a measured and well-organised manner and not in this high-handed way.