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PANSA ON NAC (article first published : 2004-11-25)

Date of release: 12 November 2004: Two months ago, PANSA issued a public statement calling yet again for an independent investigation into the governance and management of the NAC since the appointment of the new Board. We urged that the investigation covers decisions about the allocation and use of the NAC’s funds and whether these were being made in accordance with the NAC’s procedures and procurement policies, the large payments made to Exco and Board members, the reasons for the resignations of four Board members in less than a year and that the serious allegations made against the Chair and Deputy Chair in November 2003 be thoroughly investigated, particularly in the light of the inconsequential outcomes to the disciplinary hearings that they had instituted against senior NAC management. Yet again, nothing was done by the Minister nor the Department of Arts and Culture who are directly responsible for sound governance and management of this important public institution.

Now, even more serious concerns about the NAC have emerged during this period. In a document dated 27 October 2004, the staff of the NAC wrote to the Minister and Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture as well as the Director General of the Department and in which they list a series of “serious irregularities” at the NAC. These include the following:

#- that some projects are funded despite not being recommended by advisory panels, with Exco members being close to individuals in projects that receive funding against the recommendations of expert panels, and despite them not fulfilling the NAC’s funding criteria. # - that in July 2004, final decisions on funding were taken by only three executive members, Mark Gordon, Nhlanhla Mtaka and Peggy Calata; # - that companies have been contracted to undertake NAC work without proper tender procedures, with Exco members being close to some of the companies that have benefited from NAC contracts;

# - that Exco members given large amounts of funding for “expenses” in Grahamstown have failed to produce supporting documentation for such expenses; # - that a digital camera purchased on the instruction of the NAC Exco, is used by the Deputy Chairperson and since it is in his possession, it is not covered by the NAC’s insurance; # - that Councillor Japan Mthembu “occupies the offices of the CEO on a daily basis as it appears he has no full-time employment. The NAC has to pay for his daily breakfast, lunches and other meals he requests on demand. While at the office he does not involve himself in the daily administrative tasks. Thus he is not solving any of the current problems staff members are experiencing. He also approved a project, Ihashi Elimhlope for payment that has not completed an application form or signed an agreement with the NAC.”

# - that Exco member Nhlanhla Mtaka “regularly flies to Johannesburg from Durban and resides in hotels in Pretoria at the expense of the NAC, when there is no official executive meeting taking place at the NAC or anywhere in Johannesburg. He never shows up at the NAC offices. The week after the Minister’s visit (to the NAC office) he was attending to IDASA business in Pretoria while the NAC was paying for his flight to Johannesburg and his accommodation in Pretoria.”; # - that “the NAC has to pay for the lunches of executive and board members that frequent the offices…The account with Gramadoelas (restaurant) was more than R7000 in the past month and it was mainly used by Councillor Japan Mthembu and Councillor Nhlanhla Mtaka.”; # - that “Councillor Nhlanhla Mtaka and Councillor Japan Mthembu are occasionally using the company car over certain weekends and the NAC has received traffic fines while the car was in their possession. The NAC has to pay these fines (as they are) claiming to be doing official work for the NAC. They do not submit reports or provide feedback on the official work done by them.”

# - that appeals are dealt with by the NAC’s Exco and not by the Minister as required by the Act; # - that numerous outstanding HR issues have not been dealt with and that staff members “have been threatened with suspension and dismissal on numerous occasions despite the fact that the threats are unsupported by facts. Staff members are also not entitled to have staff meetings without the executive’s approval.”; # - that “the NAC deducts R20 a month from the employees’ salaries and does not pay the money over to NEHAWU (the employees’ union). Thus the NAC’s Accounting Authority is stealing money from its own employees.”

Many of these allegations are consistent with similar allegations made by the CEO, Ms Doreen Nteta, in a document also submitted to the Director General and the previous Minister almost a year ago, but about which nothing was done. With these allegations being repeated twelve months later, it is likely that the NAC has been even more compromised, and that relatively significant sums of public funds have been mismanaged or misappropriated in that time.

This leads to another major concern, i.e. the failure of the NAC to produce its audited financial statements within the time prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act which states that such reports must be submitted within five months of the end of the financial year. The NAC is one of only two public entities – the other being the Robben Island Museum – that has failed to do so. This raises concerns not only about the management of the NAC’s funds, but also about the competence of the Executive Committee and Board in managing the institution in accordance with the laws governing the National Arts Council.

A further concern in this regard is that the Board voted at its October meeting to increase the size of the Executive, so that it now comprises eight members out of a total of 20 existing members. This is a clear contravention of the NAC Act that states that the Exco “shall not exceed 25 percent of the Council’s total membership at the time.” It is as if more passengers have been added to the NAC gravy train. Clearly, the Board of the NAC is not competent to govern the Council if it makes deliberate decisions that contravene its governing act and if it is unable to conform to the financial regulations guiding public entities.

Earlier this month, the NAC announced that it was going to be more involved in rural areas in co-operation with traditional leaders. At this point, future funding for companies upon which many of the country’s leading performing arts companies are dependent, appears to be unlikely. The National Arts Council – supposedly the body to oversee and develop the arts in the country – is guilty of making unilateral policy changes that have major implications for the arts sector and for the livelihood of numerous professional artists, without any semblance of consultation.

After the disciplinary hearings of senior management that sucked the NAC’s resources and the morale of the NAC staff, that led to the resignation of four NAC Board members, that irreparably damaged the international image of the NAC, that resulted in huge divisions within the arts sector, that impacted adversely on funding for the sector and that alienated this body even further from its constituency, it should be clear that in the light of the new charges against the NAC, the current Board and its Executive Committee in particular, decisive and immediate action needs to be taken by the Minister and the Department to restore good governance, sound management, transparent decision-making and the image and credibility of the NAC. Their failure to act till now has contributed directly to the ongoing decline of this body.

Yet, senior staff at the NAC were suspended, faced disciplinary hearings, had their reputations impugned and have lost their jobs for far less, with the blessing of the Department and the Minister. The arts sector had hoped for greater fairness, a keener sense of justice and more even-handedness under the new Minister.

It is a year since civil society organisations first called on the department and the previous minister to take action at the NAC. Now, we once again call on the Minister and the Director General to take action against the NAC, for the sake of their own credibility, for the sake of the NAC and for the sake of the arts sector. But, should no appropriate action be taken by the Minister or Director General by Friday 19 November 2004 (in our view, this should at least be the suspension of the Executive members against whom serious allegations have been made and the appointment of an independent investigation into the claims against them, and the appointment of a competent authority to administer the NAC), then we will call on members of the Board and members of the Advisory Panels to resign and to render the NAC unworkable, since clearly, the Executive Committee has shown little respect for their recommendations in the past.

We are aware that this will have short-term implications for our members in the light of the current round of funding, but we are convinced that the long-term consequences of allowing the NAC to continue in its current form will simply result in the further decline of this institution, to increasing polarisation and to the undermining of the growth and practice of the arts in our country. The ball, again, is in the court of the Minister and the Department. ENDS. Issued by the Performing Arts Network of South Africa (PANSA). For enquiries: Mike van Graan, PANSA General Secretary – 082 900 3349




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