Public Protector intervenes on artists and NAC impasse
The Public Protector South Africa (PPSA) will mediate in the two-months long dispute between members of the public operating in the arts sector, and the National Arts Council (NAC) and the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture.
The artists, allege, among other things, that the NAC’s disbursement of the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (PESP) funds is fraught with governance failures, lacks transparency and that the entity has unduly delayed the disbursement of payments to deserving arts projects.
Government invited members of the public involved in the art, sport and recreation professions last October to apply for financial aid under PESP with a view to retaining and creating jobs in the sectors against the backdrop of the economic devastation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds are disbursed through the NAC, among other institutions.
Led by singer Ms. Sibongile Mngoma, the artists — self-styled “Abahlali baseNAC” — have staged a sit-in at NAC offices in Newtown, Johannesburg, which they have occupied in protest for more than 50 consecutive days now.
Following a public outcry, Public Protector Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Deputy Public Protector Adv. Kholeka Gcaleka met with Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa and members of the council led by acting Chairperson Princess Celenhle Dlamini, and separately with the artists last week Thursday and Friday respectively.
In addition to alleged poor communication on the part of the NAC, the artists also complained during their meeting with the PPSA that some of the current members of the council were beneficiaries of the PESP and therefore conflicted, a point which had been denied by the Minister and the council the previous day.
During the two meetings, Adv. Mkhwebane raised concerns about a June 2020 investigation report dealing with governance issues at the council, arguing that the council would not be in such a predicament had it implemented the remedial action in the report. The previous members of council took the report on judicial review. However, the implementation of the remedial action has not been interdicted.
Among other things, the report shone a spotlight of the NAC’s Expired Projects and Surplus Policy, which was found to have gaps which rendered it prone to abuse. Its implementation was also found to be arbitrary and generally inconsistent with the spirit of the law in that the NAC allowed its employees to initiate proposals for funding on behalf of applicants without their knowledge or consent.
The Public Protector’s findings in this regard confirmed those of a Business Innovations Group (BIG) investigation that the policy is not in line with Treasury Regulations and the Public Finance Management Act. BIG was commission by the Arts and Culture department to carry out the investigation in October 2016.
“We will sit both sides around the table in an Alternative Dispute Resolution session to tackle the issue of undue delays to disburse funds and questions around lack of transparency in the NAC processes,” said Adv. Mkhwebane, adding that the alleged governance lapses including conflict of interest concerning some members of the council will have to be the subject of an investigation.
The ADR session will commence soon after receipt of a written submission from the artists.