Outrage over R60k ‘party’ for 23 people: Daily Dispatch

Rural agency ‘info session’ thinly disguised

AR60 000 “staff information session” with a huge food and a booze tab for the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency (ECRDA) has evoked outrage.

Only 23 agency employees out of 150 turned up for the thinly-disguised Christmas party, which the Dispatch was told was “snubbed”.

The event on December 11, a time when most state departments were shutting down, was held at a Gonubie venue in East London.

Thousands of rands worth of food was left standing – so much that a place of safety for children was able to freeze it and feed their orphans roast lamb, beef, chicken, potatoes, vegetables with cheese sauce and dessert for days.

The Dispatch has also learnt that one of the organisers, who attended a wedding at the venue a week later, even demanded to be allowed to drink on the agency’s bar “tab”.

An employee at the venue said: “The lady came back a week or so later when there was a wedding here, and she tried to drink on the tab that she had organised for the [agency] event, but we did not allow her.”

ECRDA spokeswoman Nobatembu Pako yesterday confirmed the agency paid the R150-a-head rate, despite the low turnout. “I can confirm that only 23 people attended. It was management and some of our staff members that were in attendance,” said Pako. Asked why so few attended, Pako said: “It was not brought to our attention why people snubbed the event.”

However, the Dispatch understands employees and some managers were displeased with the way the chief executive officer, Thozi Ngwanya, was running the agency.

Sources, who refused to be identified, said snubbing the Christmas party was their way of protesting against the CEO’s methods.

A shopsteward at the agency who asked to remain anonymous as he was not allowed to speak to the media, yesterday said employees, including senior managers, had decided on the morning of the event to snub the function in protest “over how things were done”.

“We met that morning in the boardroom and took a decision to boycott that event to show management we were not pleased with their persistent arrogance, divisiveness, favouritism and failure to consult on major decisions directly affecting workers.

“The agency came as a result of a merger between two institutions, but you find a situation where people do the same kind of work, on the same level but get paid differently, and we said that must stop.

“There are a lot of other things there that makes us angry and snubbing that event was to show we are angry and need to be taken seriously,” said the shopsteward.

The owner of the venue, Sammy Amos-Brown, told the Dispatch yesterday they catered, as per instruction, for a party with a booze tab, although the agency had registered the event as a “workshop”.

“Because we cannot throw away food, we decided to donate the leftovers. The charities come and collect the food to feed to the needy.”

Di Lehy, founder of Greensleeves place of safety for children, said the agency’s leftovers was their biggest single food donation ever.

“There was a lot of food. It was one the biggest meals donated. We were able to freeze it for two days’ meals. It was just a blessing considering that it was December.”

Bhisho legislature’s agriculture portfolio committee chairwoman and ANC MPL Nomawethu Gqiba yesterday said her committee was not aware of the event but she would request the department investigate and report on why only 23 people attended while the agency had paid for 150 people. Although the event was in December, the agency only made final payments for the venue on Wednesday.

The agency has came under harsh criticism from opposition parties before for wasting taxpayer’s money on “useless events”.

DA provincial leader Athol Trollip, called on ECRDA management to account for the wasted funds.

“If these allegations are true they form the perception that money and resources are not respected by the current government.”

If it was true, he said, ECRDA management should be held accountable for “fruitless and wasteful expenditure”.

Economic Freedom Fighters’ legislature representative Themba Wele, who is part of the rural development portfolio committee, said he had long been calling for the agency to be restrained. “I really don’t see what their function is – all they do is waste taxpayers’ money. How can you explain R60 000 in a few hours for 23 people?”

The ECDRA board’s deputy chairman, Prince Zolile Burns-Ncamashe, yesterday confirmed attending the Gonubie gathering, which he said “was not the same as the previous years”.

However, he refused to comment further, saying an agreement was reached that only the board chairman, Dr Vanguard Mkhosana, or Gwanya, could do so.

However, neither Mkhosana nor Gwanya could be reached by the time of writing yesterday.

Rural development MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane and his spokesman Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha were also unavailable for comment.