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By Getrude Makhafola

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Arts council blasted for withdrawn disciplinary hearings, ‘dodgy’ golden handshake

MPs were told that disciplinary hearings against two NAC senior managers were withdrawn after they resigned

Members of Parliament have lambasted the National Arts Council (NAC) for how it handled former CEO Rosemary Mangope’s disciplinary hearing, accusing council members of withholding information.

NAC executives appeared before Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Sports, Arts and Culture to report on its finances and budget, implementation of investigative reports and disciplinary hearings against executives accused of corruption and misconduct.

The meeting was stopped midway after MPs realised that part of the NAC presentation by council member Sipho Sithole was not included in the documentation forwarded before the sitting.

After discussions, MPs agreed that only what was in front of them would be discussed and the rest of the documents be forwarded later.

It emerged that two more senior managers who faced disciplinary hearings resigned and left NAC and the hearings were subsequently withdrawn.

According to Sithole, Thokozile Nogabe and Michael Arendse were charged following the findings of a damning forensic investigation on artists’ Covid-19 presidential stimulus funds released last year. They were charged along with Mangope and CFO Clifton Changfoot.

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Nogabe and Arendse each faced multiple charges ranging from gross misconduct, dishonesty and negligence.

Sithole said following a letter from Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa to Nogabe to respond to the findings against her, she tendered her resignation. She had withdrawn from her hearing which proceeded in her absence in February.

“In view of the outlined above, the chairperson of the disciplinary hearing issued a ruling that councillor Nogabe’s hearing be terminated on account of her resignation from the NAC,” said Sithole.

Both Nogabe and Arendse withdrew from the proceedings before handing in their resignations. However, the NAC signed a deal with Mangope, and not the other two.

Sithole added that Changfoot’s disciplinary hearing has been concluded and he is facing a dismissal.

Mangope was replaced by council member Marion Mbina-Mthembu on an acting role until the appointment of a permanent CEO.

ALSO READ: Laptop, cellphone and salary until 65th birthday: Arts council boss Rosemary Mangope’s golden handshake

‘Mangope let go to save money’

Sithole said the NAC agreement with Mangope was on a six-month salary payment – amounting to R900,000 – to the former CEO. He accused this journalist of being untruthful after reporting on Mangope’s golden handshake.

He said in order to save money spent on disciplinary hearings and possible Labour Court or CCMA cases that would have cost at least R3 million, the NAC opted to settle with Mangope.

According to Sithole, over R400,000 had been spent on disciplinary hearings and more than R400,000 could have been incurred further should the hearings have been continued. At least R1 million could have been incurred at the Labour Court and R830,000 at the CCMA.

“The NAC was continuing to be financially exposed, the legal costs from investigation to the disciplinary hearings were piling up. If it continued, we would have incurred a total of R3,453,422.43.

”Her attorneys approached the NAC first, and council took the decision based on financial risk,” he said.

Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Tsepo Mhlongo accused the NAC of “dodgy dealings” and not revealing all information and accounting to Parliament.

“You are saying media reports are misleading, why are we reading media reports instead of you providing us with the information? It shows so-called BIG [Basic Innovation Group] investigation is not big, I call it deal forensics, not BIG.

“What were [investigators] Mazars‘ view on this deal? Were they okay with it? This is clear negligence, there is no consistency from the council. The former CEO was given special treatment as if she is a queen,” he said.

Mhlongo told the meeting that the chairperson of the disciplinary hearing was in attendance with MPs on Friday, and that he was going to be paid for attending, despite the council decrying lack of funds.

ANC MP Amon Zondi asked why Mangope’s hearing only took place months after her suspension and not immediately, and what the reasons were for the NAC to suspend her on full pay.

“What are the implications of appointing a council member as acting CEO? What’s the implication on good governance?” asked Zondi.

DA MP Veronica Van Dyk said the Auditor-General had noted in her reports that there was no consequence management at the entities of the department.

“This person [Mangope] is free to go and can go work in another department or entity, and there’s no record of any wrongdoing. Maybe the minister and department would have intervened because corruption took place.”

According to DA MP Dennis Joseph, too much was being spent on senior management.

“An increase of R2.7 million in a three year cycle is really a concern. We are trying to find money for the art programmes… this increase to managers is just too high,” said Joseph.

Finances spent on the board jumped from over R800,000 for the 2019 financial year to R3.5 million in 2021, according to a presentation by acting CFO Jason O’Hara.

READ MORE: Cosatu slams Mthethwa for ignoring poor with flag project, calls for him to be axed

Questionable surplus funds policy renamed

Following Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s 2020 report that found that NAC’s surplus funds policy was unconstitutional and inconsistent with Treasury regulations, the NAC opted not to cancel the policy but change the “Expired Projects Surplus Policy” name to “Utilisation of Unclaimed Funds.”

President of SA Roadies Association’s (Sara) Freddie Nyathela’s complaint to Mkhwebane alleged that Mangope used Sara’s previously rejected application to apply for funding without Nyathela’s knowledge.

He further alleged that there was impropriety and abuse of the Expired Projects Surplus policy by Mangope and the council. The NAC adopted the policy in 2015 to enable it to access surplus funds, instead of returning the money to the Treasury as is legally required.

According to Mbina-Mthembu, Mkhwebane’s recommendations were completed. She said the now renamed surplus policy includes a section on reasons for qualification at review stage and broadened requirements for grant funding.

Mkhwebane found that Mangope applying for funding on behalf of Sara, without their knowledge and consent, was improper conduct that constitutes maladministration.

The acting CEO said a letter of apology was sent to Sara president Nyathela as directed by Mkhwebane.

However, Nyathela, who had written to the committee numerous times urging the MPs to call the NAC in to account, said Friday’s meeting was “hot air”.

“The NAC didn’t provide proper information [and wasn’t] forced to account. The corruption at NAC will not end because of the ineffective oversight by Parliament.

“They failed to reveal what they did in detail on the Mkhwebane report and the other two forensic reports. They failed to answer questions on the Hawks investigation of NAC that is ongoing. Parliament has failed… now we wait for the law to take its course,” said Nyathela.

The NAC came under fire when protesting artists and creatives staged a sit-in at the NAC offices in Newtown, Johannesburg, last year, demanding answers on the relief payments.

They demanded that council pay them what’s due to them, adding that they had lost confidence in Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa and his department.

It was later found that some members of the council had benefited from the R300 million Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (PESP) meant for artists. The senior managers allegedly raked in money through their own companies.

NOW READ: PESP fraud: Senior NAC members implicated in R300m mismanagement

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