SAFMH Concerned About NGO Boards

SAFMH News Room

The SA Federation for Mental health (SAFMH) has been extremely concerned about the care of persons with mental health conditions at the Durban and Coastal Mental Health Society (DCMH) and already raised these concerns with the provincial government departments in November 2020.

In 2019, the KZN Department of Health recommended the transformation of the board of DCMH after almost 18 months of investigation. Since the appointment of the new board (following the recommendation of the Department of Health), board members took control of the appointment of staff and service providers, which has led to gross over-expenditure and poor financial management. This is unfortunately the outcome of having Board members who do not understand how NGOs function.

DCMH is an autonomous, non-governmental organisation (NGO), affiliated to SAFMH, and attempts were therefore made to assist and guide the new board as part of its induction. However, in November 2020, the then-chairperson of DCMH refused to comply with the guidance provided by SAFMH, which forced SAFMH to suspend DCMH as a member of SAFMH. SAFMH had immediately reported the suspension of DCMH to the KZN Departments of Health and Social Development, requesting an immediate forensic audit of DCMH to ensure that funds received by DCMH were being used in the interest of the beneficiaries of DCMH, as well as to ensure that the health and safety of the beneficiaries of the services was not being jeopardised.

SAFMH remained in contact with the Department of Social Development to put pressure on the Board of DCMH to remove conflicted board members who had allegedly “hijacked” DCMH. While the Department of Social Development had agreed to investigate the allegations raised by SAFMH, sadly the Department of Health has not yet responded to any correspondence to date.

Registered NGOs are regulated by the NPO Act under the Department of Social Development. Many NGOs in South Africa are contracted by the Department of Health and/or the Department of Social Development to provide social services and care to communities on behalf of government and as such, government has a responsibility to monitor the use of the finances and the quality of care provided by NGOs. Part of the monitoring function by government is to review the programmatic and financial reporting that NGOs submit in order to receive funds from government. The low subsidies paid by government to NGOs does not cover the full spectrum of care that is a basic human right of the persons with mental health conditions. NGOs are forced to raise funds from communities to complement the subsidies received from government.

Community members are invited, on a voluntary basis to serve on the NGO boards to assist with governance and ensure proper financial management of the organisation in addition to fundraising responsibilities. The role and responsibilities of board members are also stipulated clearly in the NPO Act and the guidelines issued by the Department of Social Development. Board members should not get involved in the operations of the NGOs, as the operations are the responsibility of the professionals employed by the NGOs in accordance with the national labour laws.

Although SAFMH is disappointed by the slow reaction of the Department of Social Development , SAFMH welcomes the steps taken by the Department of Social Development (six months after the alarm bells were raised) to investigate the management of funds by DCMH and ensure that the beneficiaries’ rights and dignity are upheld. It is extremely important for NGO Boards to have professional knowledge and skills to assist NGOs in using funds received in the interest of those they serve. SAFMH further  recommends that the Department of Health also step forward to ensure that the rights of persons with mental health conditions are upheld and that the government departments work together to support the staff of DCMH and the beneficiaries of the services.

SAFMH is hopeful that government will institute a forensic audit of DCMH and share the report of such an audit.

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