Several artists have been sitting-in at the National Arts Council offices in Newtown, demanding answers on funding irregularities connected to the Presidential Economic Stimulus Package (PESP). File picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency(ANA)
Several artists have been sitting-in at the National Arts Council offices in Newtown, demanding answers on funding irregularities connected to the Presidential Economic Stimulus Package (PESP). File picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency(ANA)

Artists want to know what happened to their Covid relief money

By Lesego Makgatho Time of article published Mar 28, 2021

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Johannesburg - Over the past few weeks various artists in the arts and culture sector have staged a sit-in at the National Arts Council (NAC) offices in Newtown to protest against corruption and lack of support for artists.

They also raised concerns about how the R300 million fund that was supposed to be distributed equally among artists was instead mismanaged.

The cultural and creative industries, also known as the gig economy, have not been working because of Covid-19 lockdown regulations and restrictions because many in this industry rely on bookings for entertainment venues.

The R300 million was made available to relieve the financial burden on entertainers and artists. However, there are allegations that the NAC has mismanaged the funds and artists have been demanding answers.

Opera singer Sibongile Mngoma, who has been at the forefront of the sit-in, said the process to apply for the relief fund was difficult and that the council was hiding its mismanagement of the funds.

“The biggest bone of contention is that the funds were supposed to have been paid by the middle of January but this did not happen so that people could complete their projects by March 31 (2021).

“So far they’ve managed to pay less than 50% of artists. Even with that, they have not paid half of the allocated budget. They are telling us that they’ve paid about 400 people and yet the budget for this PESP (Presidential Empowerment Stimulus Programme) is R300 million and so far what they have been able to say they’ve paid is R57 million. Where is the rest of the money and why isn’t it getting to the artists?”

Visual artist Nkosinathi Siyabe complained that artists are not being heard, as this has been going on for too long.

“When this programme was introduced by the president, we are always told how the industry has helped the country. When artists die, he will be the first person to send condolences but he cannot attend to this urgent matter. We are in a situation where the government and its entities are not respecting the laws of this country. We have artists sitting in Bloemfontein, Northern Cape, this is across the country,” said Siyabe.

Guitarist Billy Monama said he applied for the PESP fund for the research and publishing of his book but had received nothing. “I previously got funding from the NAC for the research for the book I am currently working on and they funded the tutorial videos I did last year. The problem then began with the PESP stimulus. It was a presidential thing when they gave money to the council to dispatch to artists. Many artists were promised incentives but received nothing.

“This was a challenge for us because you end up owing people as an artist – people that you work with on a project,” he said.

But Dr Sipho Sithole of the NAC said the new council faced serious challenges when it came into office at the beginning in January 2021, one being that the previous council approved more applicants than what the budget could handle and they had also sought legal advice.

“The Presidential Empowerment Stimulus Programme (PESP) process was concluded by 30 December. The NAC and the previous council approved more applicants than was available for the budget. The NAC had decided that it would only announce 613 successful (applicants), leaving 761 also approved applicants,” he said.

“They went up to R611 million when in actual fact, they had R285 million, because even with the R300 million, 15% of that was for administering the PESP so R285 million was the money that was available. So we’re coming in as the new council to be told there’s these big problems. We tried to understand how it is that they went over-budget,” said Sithole.

Some of the reasons why the PESP went over budget was that some applicants were approved for more money than they had applied for. The reason for this was because the National Treasury had issued a guiding figure for every job opportunity.

The guiding figure was R25 000 for every job created, meaning if an applicant had applied for R389 000 for a project which was to provide 100 jobs, using the guiding figure that applicant would have then been approved for R2 500 000.

Sithole said nothing was wrong with applying the guiding figure, as it was just that – a guiding figure, as not every job is paid R25 000 after execution.

According to Sithole, the council now has R285 million of which R53.3 million had already been paid by Wednesday, March 22, with 1 215 applicants approved and he was confident it would meet its deadline set for March 31, 2021, if all re-issued contracts have been returned and signed.

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The Sunday Independent

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