Arts body accused of misusing R5.7m of public funds

Two years after it was set up to protect artists, the Culture and Creative Industries Federation of South Africa (CCIFSA) has had a complaint lodged against it with the public protector over the alleged misuse of public funds.

Gitanjali Pather, director of the Wits Theatre and an arts activist, confirmed that she had filed the complaint against the regulatory body. Prior to that she had written to the minister of arts and culture asking the federation to account for R5.7-million that was allocated to it by the department in 2014, among other issues.

In total, the federation has landed R10.7-million in taxpayers’ money from the department – and no one seems able to provide any audited financials.

“This is taxpayers’ money and every time I have asked the federation there was no one to tell me what has happened to the funds. They feel like they have no obligation to respond to questions about public funds – instead they have become arrogant,” says Pather.

According to the federation’s website, President Jacob Zuma met artists in 2009 to understand their problems, assist them in organising the sector and to invest in the development and growth of the industry.

But an interim committee that was set up to get the ball rolling allegedly spent the R5.7-million set aside for this purpose on enriching committee members and others in the federation at the time.

The interim committee, formed in 2014, included singer Yvonne Chaka-Chaka as chairperson, actor Mabutho Sithole as deputy chair, South African Music Awards chief executive Nhlanhla Sibisi as the secretary general, and musician Eugene Mthethwa on the finance committee.

The interim committee was meant to set the federation up as a nonprofit organisation – one that would be the voice of the cultural and creative industries, representing about 12 sectors and 45 subsectors.

Questions raised
Prior to Pather lodging her complaint, others had also raised questions regarding the funds. In a statement last year at the federation’s first elective conference, Ismail Mohamed, director of the National Arts Festival, says that in the sector, R5-million was nothing to be sneezed at, and that the newly elected members of the federation would in future control far more than this.

“So the reason for the conniving and backroom jockeying for positions on the new board of CCIFSA committee becomes so much clearer, especially when the interim committee seems to have the balls to convene a general conference without putting the tabling of its audited financial statements on the agenda,” he adds.

In the meantime, the department had set aside a further R5-million for the federation for the 2015 financial year.

The department’s spokesperson, Lisa Combrinck, said that the 2014-2015 funding was allocated to the federation’s interim committee to start the necessary groundwork to establish the organisation. “The key mandate of the [interim committee] included to facilitate the registration of the legal entity, consultation with various stakeholders in the sector and to organise a national conference for election of CCIFSA leadership,” she said.

Sibisi explained to the Mail & Guardian that they had communicated their expenditure to the department and said that they needed time to respond to the allegations of financial misappropriation.

“R5-million is nothing and just paying for 1 000 delegates to eat and sleep was already the full budget we got,” he said.

But Combrinck said that the financials could only be released by CCIFSA. The current president of the federation, actor Tony Kgoroge, and members of the interim committee did not respond to questions sent to them on Monday regarding the millions given to the federation.

No tender
It has also been alleged that the federation’s inaugural elective conference in Mangaung last year – which was marred by chaos and internal fighting – was organised by one of its members, actor Mpho J Molepo, using funds from the R5-million allocated to it, instead of putting it out to tender.

Emails confirm this, with one email adding that: “Mpho Molepo is experienced in running conferences and I am wondering if we should not expand his scope of work in the conference directorate to include project management of the conference?”

When asked about his event management services for the CCIFSA, Molepo referred all questions to the federation.

It has also been alleged that part of the funds was spent on legal services rendered by a law firm owned by a committee member.

Molepo did say that the law firm was appointed by the department. “They were recommended by the ministry and the committee took up that recommendation,” he said.

Sibisi insists that these accusations are “baseless”.

“You must be careful about fighting other people’s battles,” he said.

Combrinck added that, according to their memorandum with the federation, it must maintain efficient and transparent systems of financial management and internal audit controls and should only use the department’s budget exclusively for the purposes of the project.

Tony Kgoroge sent responses to questions after 4pm stating that CCIFSA was not able to go to the first conference last year with audited financial statements because expenses were still being incurred.

“The interim committee did, however, compile financial statements for presentation during the conference. The conference, however, refused to allow the interim committee to present the financial statements on the basis that the interim committee was not appointed by the sectors and directed that the financial statements be submitted to the department of arts and culture.

“After the conference, the executive of the interim committee duly submitted audited financial statements to the department. As the interim committee and exco no longer exist, your questions on the audited financial statements must be directed to the DAC.”

Yet DAC’s spokesperson said that they are not the owners of such a documents and CCIFSA should make it available.

Kgoroge added that all the service providers were appointed following procurement guidelines which were established by the interim committee and the processes were transparent.

“All the appointments were duly approved by the interim committee based on the following:

1. That the interim committee urgently required the services as the conference was scheduled for November and the funds were made available in late September;

2. The companies agreed to charge below market-related fees;

3. The open tender process was reserved for fees above R500 000;

4. All the affected parties recused themselves from the process and did not influence the decision of the interim committee.”

Neither the department of arts and culture nor CCIFSA has provided the audited financials of 2014/15.

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Athandiwe Saba
Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.

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