It is common knowledge that the National Arts Council (NAC) has been out to lunch.Â But recently it also developed a “meals on wheels” division, especially to service its previously disadvantaged, currently entitled members of its executive committee.Â
In a letter to the minister of arts and culture, the NAC staff provide details of the feeding frenzy. It states that one board member “occupies the offices of the [former] CEO on a daily basis as it appears he has no full-time employment. The NAC has to pay for his daily breakfasts, lunches and other meals he requests on demand.”Â
It states further that “the NAC has to pay for the lunches of executive and board members that frequent the offices … The account with Gamadoelas [an upmarket restaurant close to the NAC’s offices] was more than R7 000 in the past month ...”
Personally, I think that the NAC going off to have lunch is an ingenious, non-bureaucratic means to support artists. After each meal, board members can tip the waitron, who will invariably be an artist. This way the artist doesn’t have to fill in forms and wait months for a decision; they can just wait on tables.Â It’s money in the pocket directly after the board burps. And the more expensive the meal, the larger the tip.Â
So board members were right to eat as frequently and as much as possible to support artists. They might have put on a bit of weight in the process, but who better than the board of the NAC to put their bodies on the line to ease the plight of starving artists?
What would a typical NAC lunch look like? Tender steaks heated in the oven of irregular use of public funds and smothered in a white sauce that is desperately uncertain about its future? Did I say tender? That does not seem to be something with which the NAC exco appeared to be familiar.Â For the staff allege that companies were contracted by the NAC without proper tender procedures.
Now if only the board had applied the same principle to dance companies to make it easier for them to get funding. But then, maybe such companies are more inclined towards high kicks than kickbacks.
Perhaps the “meals on wheels” division should be changed to the “meals and wheels” division.Â
Apparently, two of the board members used the NAC’s car over some weekends “and the NAC has received traffic fines while the car was in their possession. The NAC has to pay these fines [as the board members are] claiming to be doing official work for the NAC [but] they do not submit reports or provide feedback on the official work done by them”, according to the staff letter.Â
I’m sure the board members were just doing their job, picking up traffic fines for sometimes parking in the disability bay in their overzealous commitment to get as close to the project as possible, or perhaps overloading the car as they helped to transport a dance company from one town to the next.
One of the selling points of the NAC board is that they do not all have something to do with the arts. They bring in different skills. Like the board member who works for the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) would probably have brought in expertise about good governance since this is one area that Idasa is particularly concerned about.Â
This board member, however, is fingered in the staff letter as being party to a number of abuses, but he could simply have been monitoring what other board members were doing, in order to provide training in sound governance at a later stage.
The staff say that “he regularly flies to Johannesburg from Durban and resides in hotels in Pretoria at the expense of the NAC ... when he appears to be attending to Idasa rather than NAC business”. But for board members there has clearly been no difference between NAC and other business. Business is business.
It has been a momentous week for the arts. The minister has sacked the board of the NAC. It’s a courageous step that will stop the abuse of public resources, and allows for new beginnings. PW couldn’t do it. He couldn’t cross the Rubicon. Pallo has done it.Â He’s crossed the Jordan. And now maybe, just maybe, the promised land is in sight again.