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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

PANSA MEDIA STATEMENT (article first published : 2004-09-14)

The Performing Arts Network of South Africa (PANSA) has taken note of the report in the Sunday Independent of September 11 2004 on the outcome of the disciplinary action against three senior staff members initiated by the Executive Committee of the NAC in November 2003, and approved by the Board in February 2004. At the time of their suspensions, the NAC made serious and public allegations against the Ms Doreen Nteta (CEO), Mr Kiren Isvarlal (CFO) and Mr Andre le Roux (project manager) that included charges of fraud, secret bank accounts, corruption, mismanagement, funding of “ghost projects”, theft and contraventions of a range of laws.

Now, ten months after the suspension of these individuals on full pay, an expensive forensic audit and a prolonged disciplinary hearing with senior counsel participation, the CEO and CFO have been found guilty of only one offence (out of a total of nineteen charges brought against them) for which only a written warning has been recommended, while all charges against Mr Le Roux have been withdrawn. These utterly inconsequential and anti-climactic outcomes raise serious questions about the leadership of the NAC and its Exco in particular, about the manner in which they chose to pursue the charges and about the motives behind these. PANSA has long been critical of the administrative, managerial and governance deficiencies of the NAC even prior to the appointment of the current board. However, we cannot but conclude that the charges and pursuit of disciplinary action were intent, not on resolving such deficiencies, but on getting rid of senior management within the NAC in line with the agendas of the Exco and the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) that encouraged the action by their “hands-off” stance.

Concerned that the allegations against senior management and the counter-allegations of abuse of power, financial irregularities and conflicts of interest against senior board members represented a struggle for control of the NAC and not least its purse strings, civil society organisations called on the DAC, the previous Minister and the Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture to intervene. The credibility, stature and effectiveness of the NAC were at stake, and the consequences for artists and cultural projects were potentially very destructive. However, the DAC took a hands-off approach to the deteriorating crisis at NAC pleading adherence to the “arm’s length principle of governance”. This, though, is completely disingenuous and opportunistic given that the Department all but eradicated the principle of arm’s length governance of cultural institutions by unilaterally changing publicly-funded section 21 companies into cultural institutions that would be accountable directly to the Department. More sinisterly, the Department – again, without any consultation - amended various laws so that the Minister now has the power to appoint and abolish boards, remove members from, and appoint the Chairpersons of boards of publicly-funded cultural institutions. These amendments came about as the direct result of the State Theatre debacle where a government-appointed board lost millions of taxpayer funds, but the Department was unable to fire the board, and after the allegations of racism against some members of the Playhouse Company board where the Minister was unable to remove those against whom the allegations had been made, as they had been appointed as members of boards of Section 21 companies over which he had no control.

Thus, for the DAC to use the principle of arm’s length – a principle for which they have never displayed much affinity in the past - as an excuse not to intervene in the crisis at the NAC, a body for which they are directly responsible, reflects a great deal of cynicism and political double standards. Despite having a senior official assigned to the portfolio of “Art Institutional Governance”, the DAC has stood by idly as the NAC has declined, either as a deliberate strategy to neutralise a notionally independent body and to assume its functions under its aegis as the DAC has done with international funding that was to be channelled through the NAC, or as misguided support for the agendas of individuals whom the DAC appointed to the Board of the NAC, and in the hope that the outcome of the disciplinary action would suit their respective interests.

The Department of Arts and Culture – and the Director General, Prof Itumeleng Mosala and its senior management in particular – are, in our view, guilty either of collusion with the NAC Executive in pursuing the course of action that they have, or of gross negligence. In either case, our faith in the Department is at an all-time low.

In early May this year, our umbrella organisation, the Network for Arts and Culture South Africa (NACSA) issued a media statement in which it expressed deep concern at “the ongoing dysfunction of the NAC and its direct and adverse impact on arts practitioners”. It called on the new Minister “to take an urgent interest in the crisis at the NAC and to take appropriate measures to speedily resolve this unacceptable state of affairs without fear or favour”. NACSA re-iterated its earlier call for “an independent investigation into the NAC to ascertain the causes of the poor governance, management and administration of the NAC…”, particularly in the light of serious allegations not only against senior management, but also against senior board members.

With admirable efficiency, the new Minister of Arts and Culture, Dr Pallo Jordan issued a statement the next day in which he stated that he had “noted the grievances expressed by NACSA and need(s) some time to consult with, among others, the board of the NAC to find a way of addressing the issues mentioned in NACSA’s press release”. However, it is clear that the Executive Committee of the NAC is at the root of many of the problems. Since the Minister’s statement in May, two more board members have resigned, citing the lack of accountability of the Executive Committee as one of the contributing reasons. There are now further serious allegations against the NAC’s Executive Committee, including the payment of large sums of funds to individual committee members during the National Arts Festival, abuse of the NAC’s resources for personal ends, payments to companies contracted to work for the NAC outside of PFMA-prescribed procedures, etc with many of these acts having taken place after the Minister’s May statement.

Two days before her suspension in November 2003, the CEO of the NAC informed the previous Minister and the Director General in writing of serious allegations against some members of the NAC’s Exco, yet they failed to take any action. Should it now come to light that there was substance to those allegations including abuse of power, financial irregularities and conflicts of interest, and should further such activities have taken place since the suspension of the management, then we believe that the Director General, the Director of Arts Institutional Governance at the Department and the previous Minister should be held directly responsible for these and for any losses that have occurred, as they have failed to act despite numerous urgings to intervene.

PANSA applied to the NAC for funding for a project in September 2003. We were informed that the “funding was pending” provided we linked with an institution to do the project. We wrote a letter in January requesting clarity on this requirement as PANSA has a proven track record of being able to manage major projects itself. We received no response from the NAC, but found out subsequently that our letter had been referred to an internal Appeals Committee. We were then informed in June that our appeal had been rejected by the Executive Committee, even though the project had been approved in its original form by the Advisory Panel of experts and by the Appeals Committee. As per the NAC Act, we then wrote a letter of appeal within 30 days to the Minister on 21 July 2004, and asked him to address the issue by the end of August. This would mark nearly a year since our application had first been submitted. However, other than the usual acknowledgement of receipt of our correspondence and an indication that the matter had been referred to the Director General, to date we have yet to hear anything from the Department. We are at a complete loss as to how to seek relief within “the correct channels” since these channels simply do not work. If this is the case with relatively experienced organisations with skilled human resources, then it must be exceedingly difficult for individual artists and organisations with less resources.

Since its inception, PANSA’s core funding has been provided by the Swedish government. Recently, Swedish donors decided that their funds would be channelled via the NAC which we believed to be a mistake and prejudicial to organisations like PANSA that had an activist orientation. Given the crisis at the NAC, the funds were withdrawn from the NAC and are now jointly administered by the Swedish government and the Department of Arts and Culture. Our worst fears have been realised in that, while we received Swedish funding for more than three years, now, with the involvement of the DAC, PANSA has been informed that it will not receive funding (except for a small grant to redo our application in association with our Swedish partner). The DAC website states that it is uncertain if the Swedish/DAC Fund is “the right forum for these organisations” (like PANSA).

The involvement of DAC officials in decision-making about funding for civil society organisations reflects one of the most serious concerns that artists had prior to 1994 i.e. that democratic rights like freedom of expression and the right to organise and to be critical should never be held hostage by politicians or un-elected government officials with their narrow interests, as happened during the apartheid era. For this reason, artists lobbied strongly for an independent, arm’s length NAC with experts in the arts deciding on funding rather than government. However, the decline of the NAC as an independent entity and the influence of the DAC in deciding who should receive funding from Sweden, has severely compromised democracy within the arts sector.

Like the Zimbabwean government seeking to cut off the lifeline of foreign funding to NGOs that are critical of the government, the influence of the DAC in these decisions may be viewed as an attempt to undermine the capacity of PANSA to organise, to lobby and to service the interests of its members. Accordingly, we are debating internally about whether to apply for such funding in future, for as long as the DAC – under its current leadership – is involved in decisions about funding, we may simply be wasting our time and energy. The Department of Arts and Culture has had more than a hundred days since the elections to turn things around, to reflect a new ethos, a new way of operating. Unfortunately, the Department has failed to display any change and the alienation of significant sections of the arts community, continues.

At the moment, the interests of our members and those of many other artists stand compromised. Late funding from the NAC has prejudiced numerous projects and has led to the cancellation of some. Many still do not know if they will receive funding from the NAC for ten-years-of-democracy projects, the results of which were supposed to have been announced weeks ago. Companies that received three-year funding from the NAC will be shut down if they do not receive similar funding in the future, but to date, despite numerous appeals for clarity on such funding, none has been forthcoming.

We note the NAC’s recent media statement by its Exco in which it states that it is “fundamentally restructuring arts in consultation with various stakeholders”. We believe that the body in most serious need of restructuring is the NAC itself. In our view, with the serious charges against senior board members, the wastage of resources on a disciplinary process that has had irrelevant outcomes, the appalling leadership displayed in how the issues were dealt with, the disrespect shown towards artists, the alleged abuse of funding by the NAC’s Exco members, the resignation of four members of the NAC’s board, the withdrawal of international funds from the NAC, the level of anger at and frustration with the NAC all mean that this body simply does not have the stature, the credibility, the leadership and the integrity to allocate funds, let alone lead any process to do with the transformation or development of the sector.

Again, PANSA repeats the call of its collegiate organisations for an independent investigation into the governance and management of the NAC since the appointment of the new Board, and particularly since the suspension of the senior management till now. We urge that the investigation covers the allocation of funds, the decision-making of the Exco with regard to the NAC’s procedures and procurement practices and policies, the payments made to Exco and Board members, the reasons for the resignations of four Board members and finally, that the allegations against the Chair and Deputy Chair made in November 2003, be thoroughly investigated. Should criminal or un-procedural activities have taken place, we demand that those who are guilty be charged and/or disciplined with the same vigour as displayed in the case of the NAC’s management. Whatever the outcomes of such an investigation, and in the light of the experience of many of our members and our own direct experience as PANSA, we call for a complete overhaul of the NAC including a review of its governing laws, the removal of its entire board since they have been party to an expensive debacle that has completely undermined the NAC, and a review of the staff, management and administrative procedures and policies of the NAC. We also call for an urgent investigation into the leadership of the DAC and its complicity and/or negligence in the demise of the NAC, and for appropriate, corrective action to be taken. For too long, artists have been the victims of bad management, poor decision-making, negligence and sheer arrogance on the part of government officials, politicians and funding agencies. We believe that it is now time to turn the spotlight on those who, either through their actions or inactions, are responsible for these. Enquiries directed to Mike van Graan, PANSA General Secretary on 082 900 3349.




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