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Questions over multimillion-rand renewable energy hub

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While millions of rand have been directed towards the Northern Cape Solar Business Incubator situated in Old De Beers Road over the past two years, the centre is still not fully functional.

The Northern Cape Solar Business Incubator situated in Old De Beers Road. Picture: Supplied

WHILE millions of rand have been directed towards the Northern Cape Solar Business Incubator (Nocsobi) situated in Old De Beers Road over the past two years, the centre is still not fully functional.

According to financial records, a transfer payment of over R1.3 million was made by the Department of Economic Development and Tourism towards the running costs of the centre, which amount to around R268,600 per month.

Some of the expenses include the rental of the premises (R69 000), cleaning services (R54,000), security (R135,000), project management (R116,600) and training of SMMEs (R21,446).

Transfers of R63 million and R9.4 million were allocated to the project during the financial year ending March 2023.

The chairperson of the Northern Cape Civics Organisation, Ross Henderson, believes that no training is taking place at the centre, while no SMMEs have taken occupation of the premises.

“In spite of cost containments, funds have been wasted on renting an empty shell since 2022. Service providers were paid to provide non-existent training for SMMEs. Where is the report that was funded to make an assessment of the government buildings for the installation of the rooftop solar panels?” asked Henderson.

“We are being kept in the dark as to who the directors are and who is actually benefiting from this project.”

Henderson pointed out that it was unclear where the SMMEs from all districts of the Province received training.

“We only know that expenses were incurred to travel to Johannesburg to obtain PV green cards through the Northern Cape SMME Trust, while a large majority of these SMMEs did not pass the training.”

The head of communications at the Department of Economic Development and Tourism, Thandi Modibela, stated that the incubation programme would begin once a centre manager was appointed.

“We plan to finalise the appointment at the beginning of February 2024,” said Modibela.

She indicated that the office in Old De Beers Road was being rented at a cost of R23 000 per month.

“The lease of the building was procured through the Northern Cape (NC) SMME Trust after quotes were sourced from three service providers with empty buildings. The building was chosen due to its convenience as it fits the incubation design where the cubicles and the boardroom can easily be set up.

“The structural assessment was not done on the premises as it is only for the incubates and its renewable annually depending on suitability going forward. The structural assessment was done at the NC SMME Trust office building as it will be used as a pilot project.”

Modibela added that the department was in discussions with MTN and the Small Enterprises Development Agency to finalise a permanent office space for the incubation centre.

“The SMME Trust as an implementing agent, leases an office space that can be renewed annually. The department does not intend constructing an incubation centre.”

She stated further that the department wanted to move the incubation centre to the Kim Diamond Building as soon as the current occupants had vacated the building.

“The incubation centre was only used for the PV Green Card theoretical training that was completed in Kimberley while training took place in the districts for convenience purposes.

“In the meantime, the office is currently occupied by an intern to take stock of all the enquiries from the public whilst waiting for the appointment of the centre manager. The interns are also assisting SMMEs to procure equipment.”

Modibela indicated that out of 177 aspiring SMMEs that responded to an expression of interest to register their company details on the Northern Cape SMME Trust database, 63 SMMEs were shortlisted and were selected for the solar rooftop PV installation project.

“Out of the 63, 33 managed to pass the PV Green Card assessment where 12 still have to receive their results before the end of the week. The department will now have a total of 45 SMMEs if they all pass the assessment.”

She added that 20 SMMEs that failed to obtain the 80 percent pass mark had to be retrained and re-assessed.

She said that R9.45 million was transferred to the Northern Cape SMME Trust over the past two financial years.

“The funds were used to purchase tools and personal protective equipment, the roof training structure, administration of the centre and lease office space, marketing, branding and compiling a business plan.

“Transport, catering and accommodation was provided for the training of SMMEs and advertisements were made, calling on SMMEs to apply for the training programme, and to advertise the position of the centre manager.”

Modibela stated that 10 percent of the total budget was allocated to the NC SMME Trust for project management fees.

“A portion of the budget was used to pay the salary of the centre manager, who will be appointed in the fourth quarter of this financial year. The Nocsobi still has to be registered as a legal entity and a board must be appointed.”

She indicated that the Nocsobi skills programme was accredited and certified so that beneficiaries could be absorbed into subcontract work for retrofitting Northern Cape government-owned buildings.

“Very few new start-up entrepreneurs come with cross-functional skills to effectively manage finance, marketing, human resources, labour relations, governance, etc. It is imperative that the incubation programme provides deep support for the processes and that these are provided as part of the value added to the programme.”

She stated that the centre offered skills development services to help to identify and create business opportunities.

“The centre assists SMMEs to ensure they adhere to good administrative processes and offers training in technical installation and maintenance skills for solar and EE technologies.”

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