Film council divided

Johannesburg - A damning forensic report into alleged irregular expenditure, recruitment and travel among senior executives and council (board) members at the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) has divided its council. The conflict has raised ugly new allegations of attempts to “capture” the state’s crucial film development body, as its projected legal costs spiral by almost 1 500%.

The Comperio report

City Press has read the report, which was commissioned by the department of arts and culture and conducted by auditing firm Comperio Consulting. Among its findings are the following: various individuals on staff and council took family members to the luxury Sun City resort for the NFVF’s annual SA Film and TV Awards (Saftas) at the taxpayer’s expense; there was an overspend of more than R1 million on office renovations; questionable staff appointments were made; there was abuse of the company’s financial facilities; and international trips were taken without the arts minister’s approval.

The report’s recommendations are currently being implemented by the NFVF’s acting chief executive, Shadrack Bokaba, but the report has been called into question by at least two council members implicated in it.

And, numerous well-placed sources claim that council chair Phil Molefe is using the report in an attempt to purge council of his critics, who accuse him of steamrolling council and attempting to “rig” the appointment of a new chief executive.

The NFVF strongly denies the claims.

Bokaba, a council member, was seconded to the position by council to “bring stability” to the state’s crucial film funding body after the resignation of former chief executive Zama Mkosi, which co-incided with the release of the report.

Council members deny allegations

The two council members – Thabiso Masudubele and Pam Mashiane – are accused of flouting international travel regulations. Mashiane has been called out for flying first class from Dubai/Paris to Johannesburg, and Masudubele for an accommodation double-booking for a trip to Cannes as well as a trip to London at the NFVF’s expense, allegedly without an itinerary.

Mashiane and Masudubele were unwilling to comment beyond denying the claims.

“I never made the booking,” said Mashiane. “The NFVF made it. I never knew I was upgraded to first class, with no extra cost, until I was at the airport.”

City Press has seen emails explaining that Masudubele’s trip to London was at the instruction of NFVF’s executive to meet with the British Film Institute, and that he had nothing to do with accommodation bookings, which were handled by the NFVF.

Mashiane questions the veracity of the report as she was never interviewed by the investigators. She received one phone call asking if she had flown first class and nothing further.

Masudubele’s written defence claimed he was also not interviewed by investigators, receiving only a cursory email from them.

Sources say that Molefe himself has made numerous trips abroad, including lengthy stays in China and Cannes, without the requisite permission from the minister and that he should also face censure. The department said it was unable to answer questions about the report until next week.

Claims of ‘capture’

The claims have split the council, with sources alleging that Molefe and his supporters on council have allied with Bokaba and are pushing for him to be made chief executive.

Bokaba acknowledged that he has applied for the position, even though the minister has not yet officially accepted his resignation from council.

Impeccably placed sources say Molefe openly told an NFVF executive committee (exco) meeting on 29 May that he had short-listed candidates for the position and that Bokaba had made the cut.

Molefe was allegedly taken to task at a marathon council meeting on Monday, where sources say he was accused of doctoring exco minutes to make it seem as if council had approved the advert for the position. The matter was allegedly condoned, but it was agreed that a new panel would ratify the 72 applications for the position from scratch.

The sources also expressed alarm about a document presented by Bokaba, and seen by City Press, that proposes a change to the rule that council must approve any spend over R500 000, pushing the figure to R10 million.

“That is more than any single spend at the NFVF, which has about R130 million a year to spend. It gives the chief executive free rein over spending,” said a source.

Sources also revealed that the R85 000 budgeted for the NFVF’s legal spend until March 2019 has been realigned to R1.35 million.

“Where will the money come from?” asked a source. “Film development, that’s where.”

NFVF responds

The NFVF has strongly denied the allegations, put to it in detail this week.

“The litany of allegations presented to the NFVF are malicious, with the intent of deflecting from the work of implementing recommendations from the forensic reports,” said the NFVF’s Xolelwa Nomgca.

“Some of the matters raised have neither been discussed, nor ratified by the NFVF Council. Therefore, we are not at liberty to discuss anything that is not yet an NFVF policy. The NFVF refuses to be drawn into conducting internal business in the media. Our focus is to conclude the implementation of recommendations from the investigations and to focus all efforts into fulfilling our mandate.”