R300m for artists was 'over committed' not looted: Nathi Mthethwa
National Arts Council managers suspended as investigation gets under way
Sport, arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa has admitted to the mismanagement of R300m earmarked to relieve the plight of artists and creatives during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The sector was one of the hardest hit by the lockdown regulations as it was forced to shut down and may have to shut down its doors again if a third wave of the virus hits the country.
The funds in question form part of the Presidential Employment Stimulus Package (PESP) which saw Mthethwa's department receive more than R500m last year.
Explaining the allocation of the funds on Monday, Mthethwa said R300m was allocated to the National Arts Council (NAC), R150m went to the National Film & Video Foundation and R60m to the Sports Trust.
There were issues with the funds allocated to the NAC as artists claimed to have received no relief and allegations emerged that the funds had gone missing. Mthethwa moved to provide clarity on this.
“Money is not missing, people over committed the funds given to them and R300m is still there — part of it still there, part has been dispersed already and part of it is being dispersed — so there is nothing like money disappeared and I think we must emphasise that point,” he said.
Explaining what he meant by over commitment of the funds, Mthethwa said there were artists who were paid double, while some were paid more than what they were supposed to get.
“This is the crux of the problem and this is where we need action and where we are going to take action.”
The minister announced that senior management at the NAC had been suspended after the blunder, but said this was not enough. He has since instituted a forensic investigation.
“I have instructed the department to do a deep forensic investigation about this matter so that whoever transgressed in mismanaging funds is brought to book,” he said.
“We are going to do that and we are promising in an uncompromising way that we are going to pursue this to the bitter end, to ensure that at the end of the day, creatives who are suffering today and are protesting all over the country, who have been done an injustice with this action, those who did that have to face the full wrath of the system and the law.
We cannot have a situation where we want government to reach out to the sector and want to help the sector, but people who are responsible do other things.Nathi Mthethwa
“We cannot have a situation where we want government to reach out to the sector and want to help the sector, but people who are responsible do other things.”
It was not immediately clear if the suspended officials would face criminal charges but Mthethwa said he took the matter seriously.
“It will depend how far the forensic audit goes, that audit is going to guide all of us. Whether at the end of the day its purely administrative transgressions or whatever, people have suffered as a result,” he said.
The blunder resulted in numerous protests and calls for Mthethwa to resign. Asked if he would do this, Mthethwa suggested that the calls were baseless and without substance.
“We are in a democratic country. People have their democratic right to call for anybody to resign and do whatever, but what is important is that people must base their calls on very definite and specific things.
“The major thing is that the artists are under severe strain as we speak and that's what worries us all the time.”
The minister vowed to ensure successful rectification of what he described as an unacceptable man-made dilemma.
More than 1,374 applications were approved — but so far just 505 applicants have received their money. Another 318 are expected to be paid in three days, while the department is trying to find additional funds to pay other artists.
Mthethwa revealed that his attempt to secure additional funding from the National Treasury had been unsuccessful after the blunder.
“We have engaged with the Treasury and we have not been successful, especially because of the economic climate we find ourselves in and the financial constraints — but also they are raising the issue of mismanagement,” he said.
He was determined to “get to the bottom of this and that people pay for what happened”.
Despite the rejection, Mthethwa said he would explore other streams to secure more funding.
“We want to say we are not sitting on our laurels on this matter; we are going to continue searching for financial assistance because we want to ensure that the relief which is supposed to come the way of practitioners does,” he said.