Funding Practice Alliance raises concerns
The impact of the inefficiencies by the National Development Agency (NDA) and the National Lotteries Board’s (NLB) grantmaking processes had a debilitating impact on civil society organisations with some having to retrench staff or close down.
This is one of the concerns raised at the launch of a report on March 30, 2011, by the Funding Practice Alliance (FPA) showing key problems regarding the NDA and the NLB.
According to the report, under-resourced community- based organisations, the very type of organisations the NDA says it prefers to fund, have struggled most to access funds from the NDA, finding the application process difficult, technical and alienating.
Speaking on behalf of the FPA, Shelagh Gastrow, said interviews it conducted with civil society organisations (CSOs) indicate that it can take over a year for applications to the National Lotteries Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF) to be processed.
“Those organisations which have been awarded grants have had to wait a further six to over 12 months for the money to be disbursed. That means that sometimes it can take up to two years for a grant to come through. By that time the NGO could be bankrupt.
“So while it may be the case, as the spokesperson of the National Lotteries Board, Sershan Naidoo says, that applications are turned around in two to six months but organisations effectively have to wait up to two years for a grant because of the Board’s practices that take no cognisance of the operational imperatives faced by NGOs.”
Gastrow said that the research shows that the whole structure of these bodies needed to change.
Three main areas of concern are
The fact that those working on the adjudicating of applications work part-time The misalignment of the application processes to the way NGOs work The lack of co-ordination between the distribution agencies and the NLB in respect of processing contracts and payments, meaning long delays in grant disbursements to CSOs.
Gastrow continued: "The members of the distribution agencies are working with high volumes of applications and only meet a few days per month. It is our strong recommendation that they be given full-time appointments in order to deal with the current backlog and to overcome this bottleneck in the system.
“Yet, as Mr Naidoo said in a recent radio interview, they expect the number of applications to increase due to the roadshows and awareness campaigns they have been doing. But there is no way that the members of the distribution agency can be efficient in adjudicating these applications in the current time-frames.”
The FPA report also attributes delays experienced with disbursement of grants to high staff turnover, a lack of trained staff in the NLB’s Central Applications Office, and an inefficient processing system. In some cases applications have been lost and inconsistent criteria have been applied to both successful and unsuccessful applicants and because the NLB operates on a first come first served basis, organisations whose documents have been lost find that their resubmitted applications end up at the back of the queue.
“Another exacerbating factor to these delays is the lack of dedicated NLB support staff for functions such as drawing up contracts, payments to grantees, and monitoring compliance with agreements,” says Gastrow.
The report notes that following a recent judgement against the NLB (the NLB has appealed), the body has begun to change the way it disburses funds, such as setting timeframes for the screening, processing and adjudicating of applications and disbursement of funds. There have also been changes within the Central Applications Office to streamline the application process.
“Although these changes are filtering down to the staff of the CAO, more needs to be done for the office to become efficient in respect of processing applications, including staff training and reducing staff turnover.
“The NLDTF has disbursed less than 50% of the available funds in each of the last three years and despite streamlining its interventions primarily on grantmaking, the NDA has failed to effectively disburse funds.”
Gastrow said that CSOs have welcomed the fact that the NDA now has provincial offices in some provinces. These offices are seen as a potentially useful mechanism to establish relationships with NDA grantees and to engage with civil society, of which both have been sadly lacking. In the medium term, provincial forums could be established to provide a mechanism for organisations to interact with the NDA at provincial levels and provide feedback.
The report, entitled 'Meeting their Mandates?' is the result of a year-long research process by the Funding Practice Alliance (FPA) into the funding practices of the National Development Agency (NDA) and the distribution by the National Lotteries Board (NLB) of moneys held in the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF) for distribution to socially worthy projects.
The FPA comprises four civil society organisations – the Social Change Assistance Trust (SCAT), Rural Education Assistance Programme (REAP), Community Development Resource Association (CDRA) and Inyathelo - The South African Institute for Advancement.