ANC MPs hail lotteries commission as exposé journalist clashes with activist
ANC MPs formed a laager around the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) board on Tuesday when it appeared to account to parliament following allegations of corruption.
A series of reports by freelance journalist Raymond Joseph on news website GroundUp have alleged maladministration and mismanagement, as well as corruption, in the way grants are made.
The allegations centre on the “proactive funding” system, which allows the board to allocate 10% of its grant budget to good causes of its own choosing.
Tuesday's meeting of the trade and industry portfolio committee was attended by supporters of the commission’s board and management.
They included Tebogo Sithathu, convenor of the new non-profit organisation Independent Beneficiaries Forum, which organised a march against Joseph and GroundUp in Pretoria on Friday.
ANC MPs on the committee expressed praise and admiration for lottery board chair Alfred Nevhutanda and commission executives, who were in parliament to present their quarterly report and explain how funds are distributed.
Nevhutanda claimed there was a conspiracy in which someone “stole” information from the NLC and sent it to the US, where it was being sold to fund a smear campaign against the commission.
“There has been a lot of talk, of course from one source, one media in the country, that spoke much about proactive funding," Nevhutanda told committee members.
"I came here in this august house last year and reported to honourable members that the information about our beneficiaries has been stolen and put in one state in America.
“We called on the State Security Agency to come and look into the matter because we are getting reports that our information is generating money for media platforms and journalists. They indicated that if you write any story about the NLC you get so much, it is in the website.”
Nevhutanda said the commission was now investigating the media reports.
A presentation by the commission executive explaining the necessity of proactive grants when it came to rapidly expediting funding for organisations deemed deserving by the board or the executive said the organisation had a clean audit for the previous financial year.
Revenue from Lotto ticket sales in the third quarter of the financial year, which ends on March 31, was R1.162bn - of which R213m was allocated to the proactive budget. Nearly all the money was spent on grants.
NLC legal manager Tsietsi Maselwa said R5m was being spent on an investigation into allegations around the commission's proactive funding process.
“All the media articles were compiled. An independent external investigations company was contracted. The company is currently busy with the investigation of all the reports which find themselves in the media," said Maselwa.
"The public was given until April to give any submissions relating to corruption and fraud, either related to the articles that were published or any other related information that they would have in their possession.”
The DA’s Matthew Cuthbert described Nevhutanda’s conspiracy theory as “something out of a Bell Pottinger playbook”, referring to the former British PR company which closed after its role in state capture emerged.
“[It] is just something that I personally cannot believe,” he said, repeating a DA demand for the latest NLC beneficiary list to be made public. Nevhutanda said doing this would expose beneficiaries to the risk of crime.
The EFF’s Yoliswa Yako raised concern that proactive funding scheme opened the organisation to abuse by politicians.
But the ANC’s Nomasonto Motaung asked how so much “noise with journalists” was possible when the lotteries commission claimed to be operating so efficiently.
The ANC’s Simanga Mbuyane questioned why GroundUp was “following” the activities of the lotteries commission and blamed “an element of the third force”.
He also asked whether the “media and the journalist” who reported on the allegations were beneficiaries of lottery funding.
During a tea break, Sithathu allegedly approached Joseph outside the committee room and accused him of being funded to write articles.
The veteran reporter, who has won a string of journalism awards for his reporting on the commission, stormed into the committee room and complained to the chair, Duma Nkosi, that Sithathu had threatened him.
Sithathu alleged to TimesLIVE that Joseph and GroundUp were part of a funded but inexplicable campaign against the commission.
“There is an interest from certain quarters. People are fighting for the soul of the NLC. For what? One [reason] is that he [Joseph] is unhappy and that his funding was stopped," he said.
"Two, [lottery operator] Ithuba is maybe in this thing - and I think there may be links between him and Ithuba. We’ll find out.”
The NLC previously funded The Big Issue, a non-profit magazine established for the upliftment of homeless people, where Joseph was a director for many years.
Joseph told TimesLIVE it was an unpaid position that he held for two more years after the NLC stopped its funding.