Public protector aims to resolve artists’ dispute with government

The office of the public protector says it will mediate in the two-month-long dispute between artists, the National Arts Council (NAC) and the department of sport, arts and culture.

Thami AkaMbongo and Sibongile Mngoma protesting inside the National Arts Council premises in Newtown, Johannesburg. Early this month the high court ordered protesters to leave the building.

The artists held a sit-in at the NAC’s offices for a month to protest about an alleged lack of transparency in the allocation of R300m from the presidential employment stimulus programme, which the artists allege is fraught with governance failures, lacks transparency and that the entity has unduly delayed the disbursement of payments to deserving arts projects.

The office of the public protector said it will host an alternative dispute resolution after receiving written submission from the artists.

“We will sit both sides around the table in an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) session to tackle the issue of undue delays to disburse funds and questions around lack of transparency in the NAC processes,” public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said, adding that the alleged governance lapses, including conflict of interest concerning some members of the council, will have to be the subject of an investigation.

In addition to alleged poor communication on the part of the NAC, the artists also complained that some of the members of the council were beneficiaries of the presidential employment stimulus programme and therefore conflicted, a point which had been denied by the minister and the council the previous day.

Mkhwebane and her deputy, Kholeka Gcaleka, met with arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa and members of the council, led by acting chairperson Princess Celenhle Dlamini, and, separately, with the artists last week Thursday and Friday respectively.

During the two meetings, Mkhwebane’s office said in a statement that she raised concerns about a June 2020 investigation report dealing with governance issues at the council, arguing that the council would not be in such a predicament had it implemented the remedial action in the report. The previous members of the council took the report on judicial review. However, the implementation of the remedial action has not been interdicted.

Among other things, the report shone a spotlight on the NAC’s Expired Projects and Surplus Policy, which was found to have gaps that rendered it prone to abuse. Its implementation was also found to be arbitrary and generally inconsistent with the spirit of the law, in that the NAC allowed its employees to initiate proposals for funding on behalf of applicants without their knowledge or consent.

TimesLIVE (TMG Digital)

Belinda Pheto

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