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Inside the arts funds crisis

2019-09-09 01:52

The National Arts Council again postpones funding announcements as insiders tell Charl Blignaut they fear the process has been hijacked

As artists across the country continue to take to social media to complain bitterly about delayed and irregular state arts funding, the Department of Arts and Culture’s flagship funding body, the National Arts Council (NAC), was rocked by allegations of council interference and the alleged victimisation of staff tasked with selecting what projects to fund.

The NAC denies the allegations.

On Tuesday, the funding entity issued a press release apologising for “repeated delays” and saying that funding decisions – which were supposed to be announced last month – will now be made next month.

The NAC, which has been accused of irregular funding practices in the past, said the delay was due to measures being put in place to make its processes corruption-proof, to make sure funds were spread across the nation, to increase funding for projects tackling disability and to give applicants support.

However, sources across all levels of the entity who City Press spoke to last week claimed that these were not the only reasons for the delay.

They say that some members of the council (the board) had preferred projects that they had assisted or had a vested interest in and, “when they saw their projects were not on the index, they refused to approve the chosen projects”.

City Press has previously reported on funding allegedly granted to a Free State project proposed by a council member.

Staff told City Press that NAC chief executive Rosemary Mangope addressed a meeting of the NAC’s grants section last Monday, following a meeting of the council at the weekend, and said that council had instructed her to instruct staff to review all the projects that were declined funding.

She tasked the finance department to do this instead of the eight arts development officers (ADOs) tasked with evaluating proposals, allegedly saying: “Anyone who is not prepared to do it must pack his or her bags and go.”

Sources spoke of the outrage among the ADOs, who feel targeted by council.

Last week, the ADOs learnt that none of them had received 2017/18 bonuses that were handed out, while numerous other staff members and Mangope had received bonuses.

A source said: “Almost all of them have decades of experience, they are experts at evaluating arts projects. Now they were told the finance department would have to redo their work, but the finance department is not equipped with training to do this. There were more than 700 funding applications submitted.”

Sources said that the finance staff were given two days to go through all unsuccessful applications and, by Wednesday, had managed to go through only 70.

Some sources close to the council said that the weekend’s meeting was caught up in various procedural and accountability debates, and that there appeared to be a split between those council members overseeing funding committees and some of the remaining council.

Others called it business as usual and complained of a heavy workload for council members, who would now have to hold yet another meeting.

City Press has previously reported on the ever-growing bill to pay council members, with NAC chair Hartley Ngoato earning close to R400 000 for his council work in the 2017/18 financial year.

Another allegation raised last week was that Mangope, who was recently cleared of 13 charges during a disciplinary process into the funding of an art project called Lalela and into increases made to her salary, had instructed the NAC’s financial officer to reimburse her R500 000 for the costs of her disciplinary process, which a source alleged was “decided on a technicality”. The officer refused to pay, said impeccable sources.

Freddie Nyathela of the SA Roadies Association has taken the NAC to the Public Protector and reported the entity to the Auditor-General’s office.

Last week, he repeated his claims of corruption at the NAC, but the Auditor-General’s office said that it had investigated his claims and found them lacking. In response, Nyathela lambasted the entity.

It is believed that the Public Protector’s office has concluded its investigations and has made findings that are almost ready to release.

THE NAC RESPONDS

Mangope and the NAC management responded to the various allegations last week.

They said that the entity was thoroughly audited and that the new developments “allow the entity to improve systems and procedures year on year”.

They underscored the rules that “all council members should declare if they have interests on any applications presented for review”.

Regarding the meeting with the grants division, the NAC said: “[Mangope] was instructed by council to set up another team for verification of all the existing applications for compliance only. This was to ensure that no application was left unassessed. They did not do any evaluation of the merits of projects. The role of finance was to verify compliance, and panel chairs and respective panel members are still to evaluate the merits of the projects.”

They said Ngoato had granted more time for the process.

They denied that ADOs were being victimised and said: “Council held back salary increases for ADOs subject to presentation of further evidence ... All employees’ performances are evaluated annually and rewarded accordingly.”

They denied that Mangope’s charges were dismissed on a technicality and said that council would respond to further questions.

Council had not done so by the time of publishing.

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November 10 2019