Military veterans working on an environmental project managed by Earth Link Development Service in Makhanda have received no payment since the beginning of lockdown. Earth Link is subcontracted by Working for Water, a project of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries.
There are 120 veterans affected in Makhanda and they sought the support of Grocott’s Mail to highlight their plight.
Team supervisor Phakamisa Vathu said, “We are having a very difficult issue. We haven’t received our payment since the beginning of lockdown. Our fixed contract with the company Earth Link started in 2019 and it ends in 2021. Before the lockdown, there was an outstanding payment that the company still owed us. They said we must stay at home until further notice. We tried reaching out for help from stakeholders involved, but there has been no response. It has been months now.”
Grocott’s Mail spoke to Albi Modise, the Spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries.
“Yes, the Department is aware of the matter and is trying to get the project operational,” Modise said. “During the lockdown, no work has been done in the Environmental Programmes except those involved in essential services.”
Modise said service providers who were implementing non-essential service projects had been awarded wage relief payments for working days during the months of April and May.
“These payments were, however, done on condition that the Service Provider had an active contract with the Department during the month of March 2020 and that they in turn had employment contracts with the workers.
“In this particular case, there were no employment contracts in place during the month of March.”
Modise said what had caused the delay in paying these employees was not the Department, but the service provider.
“The service provider has not provided the Department with the necessary information so we can effect payment. Payment is from public funds and is governed by the strict criteria of the Public Finance Management Act,” Modise said.
After repeated attempts to contact the owner of Earth Link Development Service project, Grocott’s Mail eventually reached Managing Director Morne Lobberts.
Lobberts replied by email, saying, “Since the first time you (Grocott’s Mail) spoke to us, we have submitted the required documentation to The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), and we were informed that the documents are currently with Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the DFFE. It should be noted that we can only pay our participants when we receive the required funding to do so from the DFFE.
“This is all we can share with you at this stage, and we trust we will receive a response from the DFFE soon, which will put us in a position to start our operations as far as the Operation Vuselela Project (OVP) is concerned.”
Project employee Vuyani Banda said not receiving any income was affecting his family badly.
“Our [insurance]policies are elapsing because we are not paying. I do not have any income. I am failing to support my family,” Banda said.
“We are military veterans. It is very bad.Sassa rejected me, they said I get money from UIF. I am a family man, now I am failing to support my family. They are violating our rights.”
Grocott’s Mail will continue to report on this matter.