/ 8 August 2006

Director of golf

I have an idea for a new reality TV show. Train the cameras on the Department of Arts and Culture, particularly on its most senior management. It will be like a cross between Fashion TV and The Block: people in designer outfits doing very, very little. Perhaps it could turn out to be our new daily soap, The Rich and the Useless.

One of the stars would be the director general, who probably still thinks that DG stands for ‘director of golf”.

In one episode, based on a true story, numerous NGOs apply for funding to the Swedish-South Africa Fund, jointly administered by Swedish representatives and department officials. Some projects get funded, while a few others — including some that had always received funds from Sweden — are told that their projects are not quite up to standard, and that they will be given ‘planning grants” to meet with their Scandinavian partners to work on their proposals before resubmitting by the end of the year.

The NGOs dutifully sign the planning-grant contracts that eventually arrive by tortoise, and return them by lightning for signature by the DG in order that the funds may be transferred into their accounts, and so that arrangements can be made to meet their Swedish partners. However, despite numerous e-mails, phone calls and letters over a number of weeks, the contract is ‘still awaiting the DG’s signature”.

To date, at least three NGOs have had to travel at risk, using their own funds to travel to Sweden to ensure that their respective organisational proposals could be reworked and submitted by the deadline, particularly given that most organisations are closed by mid-December. Some have been to Sweden and back, and still they have no contract signed by the DG and still no ‘planning grant” funds have been transferred to their accounts.

One of those NGOs, a leading contemporary dance company, has recently had to retrench five of its staff, and has halted two of its training programmes because of a lack of funding. Meanwhile, the department’s senior officials live it up on the Blue Train, travel abroad and enjoy first-class comforts (not at risk to themselves or their penniless NGOs, but courtesy of the taxpayers) and indulge in regular rounds of golf.

For them, the arts just happen to be the sector in which they have the jobs that are first and foremost vehicles towards their fairway lifestyles.

After all, they didn’t join the struggle to be poor. Being poor is for artists, not state bureaucrats.

More than a year ago the DG was given a document containing allegations of mismanagement and contravention of various laws by senior members of the board of the National Arts Council. He — and the previous minister — did nothing. They chose to do nothing. Over a year these allegations snowballed, so that a few weeks ago the new minister requested the board to resign.

Some did, but a few — those who thought that NAC was Afrikaans or Sotho for ATM — sent the minister a lawyer’s letter challenging his request that they step down. It is a matter of time before they are dumped on history’s compost heap where, if there were any justice in the world, they should be hosted by the director general.

For if the DG had acted a year ago, as he had been requested by civil society organisations, the management and some members of the board — even simply to show that he had a vague interest in sound governance and a distant respect for the Public Finance Management Act — it is unlikely that the crisis at the National Arts Council would have deepened to its current point. So, if the minister would like to know why he has a cameo role in the final episode of Upstage, featuring the National Arts Council’s board, he need look no further than one of the stars of The Rich and the Useless.