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Mapula Lebone and Mankone Ntsaba on the premises of a primary school where their company did user education for The Mvula Trust in Limpopo.

Cry for help as women struggle to get payment

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Allegations of perceived maladministration at the reputable The Mvula Trust in Limpopo came to the fore when a handful of women rose to demand intervention that would assist to secure payment for services rendered to this non-profit organisation entrusted with taxpayers’ millions.
The two directors of Progressive Futures Development Agency, Mankone Ntsaba and Mapula Lebone approached Polokwane Observer with reams of documents as proof of demands for intervention in their attempts to secure payment of R629 000 for work done for The Mvula Trust, which is among others an implementing agent for the Department of Education. The scenario has resulted in Progressive Futures Development Agency having closed their offices in Polokwane last week and having had to retrench workers on the programme.
The women, who have both worked in the field of water and sanitation projects since 1994 and entered into business together after working together for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), claimed that they have done contract work on schools water and sanitation projects steered by The Mvula Trust since November 2013. Until around December 2016 and January 2017 they had annually been paid approximately R1 200 000 for user education on environmentally friendly ablution solutions done for the trust in Limpopo, but thereafter had not received full payment on invoices that had been repeatedly submitted to The Mvula Trust, they stressed.
Thus far all attempts had failed to secure payment of the outstanding amount of more than R600 000 for work done mainly in 2016 and 2017, Ntsaba pointed out. In email upon email, also directed at The Mvula Trust Limpopo Regional Director Christopher Chaamano, Ntsaba has requested for payment of the invoices but to no avail. Email correspondence of 25 April this year – on which ten officials at The Mvula Trust were copied – directs the reader to requests for payment having been demanded for the past 18 months, during which a “reconciliation process” had been used as excuse on The Mvula Trust side, Ntsaba empasised.
In a return letter addressed to Ntsaba the same day, Chaamano referred to an exercise that they were embarking on that had not only been limited to reconciliation, but all compliance matters and project performance evidence to ascertain regularity of appointments and validate reported projects milestones. “We apologise that our ‘poor internal administrative processes’ ha(s)ve negatively affected you, but we hope that you will understand that we cannot continue with the same ‘poor administration’ to quickly resolve problems caused by the very ‘poor administration’.
“We will definitely communicate with you in due course as we try to improve our systems and ensure that legitimate invoices of our properly appointed suppliers are certified, authorised and processed timeously.”
Ntsaba underscored the issue of the scenario having far-reaching effects, also affecting struggling sub-contractors who did work for the company in the past and had been forced on their knees due to payments not forthcoming.
A Polokwane-based sub-contractor who did work on the project said she was still in debt owed to a loan shark after having borrowed money to pay a handful of workers. Already with the first payment for work done over a period of five months during 2016 until October that year when the work had been completed she had experienced problems securing an amount of R15 000 still owed to her. She summarised the situation as worrying and frustrating, adding that it was her belief that The Mvula Trust had robbed them because they did not benefit from the implementation of the project.
Nancy Ngoasheng, owner of Pebetse Moraswi Trading Enterprise in Mankweng and one of the sub-contractors brought on board by Progressive Futures Development Agency, informed Polokwane Observer that her business concern had done work for Progressive Futures Development Agency at schools in Sekhukhune and Waterberg, for which they had partially been paid but was still owed R141 500. The last payment they had received was around September or October 2017. They had subsequently been informed by Ntsaba and Lebone that they had also not received their money, said Ngoasheng who added that they re-submitted reports to The Mvula Trust on the work completed in November 2016 to assist in getting the money paid soonest but without success. Along with other sub-contractors who did work for the same company they had gone to The Mvula Trust’s offices as well as the Department of Education’s finance section where they had been informed that the trust had been paid for the work done.
She raised the point of not being able to gain access to ablution facilities at some schools where contractors who constructed the enviro loos had taken the keys, claiming that they had not been paid by The Mvula Trust. Simultaneously they had been chased off school premises by principals and school governing body members who “didn’t want to hear The Mvula Trust’s name”, she said.
She aired frustration with the situation, that apparently also affected other contractors.
Ntsaba echoed the concern by mentioning a recent email from an official of The Mvula Trust in Limpopo stating that their company wasn’t the only one affected by non-payment.
Ntsaba concluded that the phone number for The Mvula Trust’s regional offices in Rhodesdrift Street in Bendor has not been in working condition since December. Upon dialling the number that rang off the hook before going over to an engaged tone, Polokwane Observer drove to the Bendor offices of The Mvula Trust on Tuesday to request a meeting with Chaamano. He was reportedly in a meetings in Gauteng and when reached on his cell that afternoon he undertook to forward the email request for comment to the trust’s communication unit in Midrand in Gauteng.
The comment from The Mvula Trust Communications Officer Mashao Mohale is quoted verbatim. “The Mvula Trust has policies and processes that need to be observed by all service providers who do business with us. The latter include proper contracting and other concomitant set of activities.
“We have recently noted with concern that there are numerous service providers who claim to have worked for us and were never paid in the Province of Limpopo.
“As a result of these voluminous complaints, The Mvula Trust (initiated) established a working committee to investigate all contracts (projects) in the affected period to establish all compliance matters and project performance evidence to ascertain regularity of appointments and validate reported projects’ milestones, including account statements reconciliation.
“This working committee, led by the newly appointed Regional Director, met with all the Professional Service Providers (as project managers/employer agent) on the 19th April 2018. Furthermore, on the 2nd May 2018, the committee issued a circular requesting all Professional Service Providers to submit account statements of their respective projects. The committee is currently reconciling the account statements and verifying the validity of the claims and regularity of the appointments/contracts. All contractors and specialists are advised to contact the respective Professional Service Provider to establish the status of their accounts/claims.
“The Mvula Trust will be updating all the affected contractors and specialists through their respective Professional Service Providers once the reconciliation and verification process is completed, or on/before 31st May 2018.
“Service providers are key stakeholders of The Mvula Trust hence(;) we are attending to their complaints in a holistic manner to avoid recurrences of similar situation.”

Story: YOLANDE NEL
>>observer.yolande@gmail.com