Government reassumes management of cemeteries on Mahé and Praslin
The Minister for Employment and Social Affairs Patricia Francourt was joined by Attorney General Frank Ally, principal secretary for Social Affairs Linda William-Melanie and Chief executive officer of the Agency for Social Protection (ASP) Brenda Morin during the National Assembly’s sitting on Wednesday, to make a declaration with regard to the management of cemeteries, and arrangements for funeral services.
Minister Francourt informed the assembly that the government reassumed the function of managing the cemeteries on both Mahé and Praslin as of June 1, after having outsourced the service to Yvette Antat and the Cemetery Services Agency (CSA) since 2015, in line with the former administration’s privatisation programme.
As per the contract dated January 1, 2015, CSA was responsible for the management of cemeteries, as well as the provision of funeral services at the Bel Ombre, Glacis, Mont Fleuri, Cascade, Anse Aux Pins, Mont Plaisir, Sweet Escott, Takamaka, the two at Baie Lazare, Anse Boileau, Port Glaud and on Praslin the Grand Anse, Nouvelle Decouverte, Baie St Anne and Anse Boudin cemeteries.
CSA was to carry out all landscaping and cleaning works, waste management, as well as provide all services for burials. As for the government, under the contract, it was obligated to make budgetary provisions for these services. A total of R8,826,572 was budgeted and disbursed to the agency in portions, through the ASP. In 2016, a sum of R8,676,180 was disbursed, compared to R8,843,319 in 2017. The disbursed sum for 2018 stood at R9,305,691 and R9,994,025 in 2019. The sum increased to R10,733,244.
For this year, a sum of R13 million has been allocated, comprising R2.7 million as compensation payments for employees. With the contract, employees recruited by government for cemetery services were transferred to the agency, although their salaries were provided for by government, and disbursed through ASP. Equipment, transportation, building and other materials were also transferred over to CSA, who in turn generated revenues from the selling of plots, fees for digging as well as transportation fees for services at cemeteries other than Mont Fleuri.
“When the new government assumed leadership of the country, we realised that the arrangements under the management contract were not necessarily in conformity with government procedures. Therefore, earlier this year, an investigation was initiated on the management contract, and the way it was being managed and executed,” Minister Francourt said.
“During the preliminary investigation we found many irregularities, which necessitated an audit by the Office of the Auditor General, and the termination of the management contract with CSA immediately,” she added.
Minister Francourt went on to note the irregularities, namely, that the contract was not tendered out in accordance with the Public Procurement Act, and the fact that the government was sustaining salary payments among others for the agency, while it was generating revenues for its own profit. The agency is believed to have employed 77 employees, all of whom were on ASP’s payroll to a sum of over R600,000 monthly.
Elaborating further, Minister Francourt alluded to the report findings that important divergences in sums collected, expenses and the administration of the fund. Therefore, it is government’s conclusion that the contract has not been managed and executed in an acceptable manner, resulting in the decision to reassume management of the cemeteries.
She noted that most employees who were with the agency have accepted government’s offer, except for two, in providing the service.
According to the minister, the private agency has facilitated the transfer of vehicles or other assets transferred over to it by government. Moreover, Minister Francourt said government is seeking an in-depth audit on the rationale behind the privatisation of the service, the allocation of the contract and the execution of the contract.
With the termination of the contract, above-mentioned cemeteries fall under the responsibility of the Cemetery Services Section of the ASP. The ministry is conducting a review to determine how the La Digue cemetery will be managed, as the La Digue Trust Fund is soon to be dissolved.
In concluding, Minister Francourt noted that as from here on out, government is committed towards better management of cemeteries and greater transparency and accountability in managing the services.
Ms Morin noted that going forward, payments for cemetery and funeral services falls solely under the responsibility of ASP. She also assured the assembly that fees are to remain at R100 for a burial plot, and that ASP will assume responsibility for rock blasting if necessary in preparing plots. She also guaranteed that ASP is working to put in place the appropriate mechanisms or structures towards better management of the cemeteries.
Based on the interest shown by members and concerns raised in relation to the implementation of the contract, AG Ally also noted the need for an in-depth audit so as to establish the irregularities, if any, although he acknowledged that “on the face of it, there are certain questions to be asked”.