The composition of the panel to administer Covid-19 relief funding for the arts and sports industries, and the three-day window for the applications concerned members of the Portfolio Committee on Sports, Arts and Culture.

The department briefed members on the work it has done since the beginning of the lockdown in March. It was revealed that 6 000 applications have been received, 1 050 were adjudicated, and more than 635 were rejected.

The Director-General, Mr Vusi Mkhize, told members that a report about the impact of the Covid-19 virus on the sector has been finalised but not yet published, and that the report has found that majority of people in the sector were extremely vulnerable.

He clarified the qualification process for the relief, which he said was intended for cancelled events. The department worked with sports federations in assisting with the applications. It was revealed that the panel constituted various people who were recommended on the basis that they were unlikely to have vested interests in the applications, and that they were provided with administrative support.

Members sought clarity on various issues, including freelance workers, the return of sporting activities, the high number of rejections in the applications, and the extension of the applications.

Committee member, Mr Tshepo Mhlongo, sought clarity on whether it was deliberate to open the applications only for three days. He wanted to know how the conflict of interest was taken into account in appointing members of the adjudication panel for the relief funding.

Committee member, Ms Nobuhle Nkabane, sought clarity on the composition of the panel itself. “What criteria was used to appoint these panel members? What measures are in place to ensure that the adjudication process is not prone to manipulation?” Nkabane asked.

She said disadvantaged communities seemed to struggle with the applications and wanted to know how were they meant to benefit. Ms Nkabane also sought clarity on the declined applications, and whether feedback was provided to everyone.

Committee member, Mr Ringo Madlingozi, cautioned that the department needed not be forever planning, while the creative industries were struggling. “The sector is hardest hit by Covid-19. The department should not be dragging its feet in paying out the monies.”

He cautioned that many of the artists are on the verge of committing suicide as they were swimming in debt. “If money has been paid, who has been paid, how did they get paid so quick?” Mr Madlingozi asked.

The Deputy Minister, Ms Nocawe Mafu, revealed that the Ministry will meet with stakeholders on Tuesday and that any possible extension will be the subject of those discussions. She clarified that rejections, although admittedly high, were not the end as applicants still have an opportunity to appeal. A three-member appeals committee has already been established, and that adjudication will run concurrently with any appeals.

Ms Mafu clarified that the relief funding was not intended for paying artists or athletes, but was a provision of a relief. She said there was a possibility of double dipping, but the department worked hard to ensure that nobody is paid twice.

Mr Mkhize said there were no concerns about conflicts of interest among the adjudication panel members. “All we did was based on noble intentions, this is still our principle, hence the increase of the adjudication panel to fast-track the allocations.”

He said corruption was a reality and so were fraudulent applications, hence due diligence has to be done.

By Sibongile Maputi
5 May 2020