Another chance for errant NGOs

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Durban - All is not lost for the thousands of NGOs that have been deregistered for failing to comply with the law, the Department of Social Development says.

Department spokeswoman Lumka Oliphant said on Thursday organisations that had been deregistered needed to write to the Non Profit Organisations (NPO) directorate to seek re-registration.

This follows reports that NGOs critical of the government, including Equal Education, which took it to court over the Limpopo textbook crisis, and the Treatment Action Campaign, the nemesis of former president Thabo Mbeki over his administration’s Aids policy, were among those scratched from the register.

Oliphant said 36 488 out of 108 600 NGOs had been deregistered for failing to submit their annual financial and accounting officers’ statements as required under sections 20 and 21 of the NPO Act.

A total of 29 100 NGOs were fully compliant, while 35 204 were non-compliant but still registered, as the nine-month window period - provided for in the act - to submit their documents after their financial year ended was still valid.

Oliphant said more than 19 000 NGOs had been notified last year of the need to comply with the act.

Her department was not targeting certain organisations because of their role in holding the government accountable, as was being reported, but was simply “acting on the findings of the auditor-general”.

The auditor-general had highlighted the department’s previous failure to properly monitor NGOs’ compliance with the requirements.

“The auditor-general is saying we have not been monitoring well,” Oliphant said.

Equal Education, meanwhile, has distanced itself from suggestions it was a target because of its run-ins with the government.

“The TimesLive article which implies EE is de-registered and in financial trouble is totally false. EE is healthy and well. Complaint lodged,” it tweeted on Thursday.

The SA NGO Network (SANGONeT) said although the department had a “valid case for cleaning up the list, it needs to look at who it is cleaning up”.

SANGONeT executive director Shelagh Gastrow said her organisation - which had been fully compliant since its inception 10 years ago - had never received any response after submitting its paperwork.

The department had been poor in monitoring which NGOs submitted their records, which had resulted in the crisis.

“I wouldn’t go as far as saying there is a conspiracy by the government… not yet.”

The DA spokesman on social development, Mike Waters, said NGOs should not be “punished for the directorate’s inability to function properly”.

Waters said he would write to the chairwoman of Parliament’s social development committee, Yolanda Botha, to ask Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and the director of the NPO directorate to appear before the committee.

“They must also present a plan to rectify the situation,” Waters said.

The IFP spokeswoman on social development, Helen Makhuba, said it seemed NGOs were “being punished for taking the government to court… this seems like a crackdown on organisations that are doing good work where it fails”.

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