A battle of legends

2017-07-09 06:02

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An impasse between the Eastern Cape’s director-general and the National Heritage Council has ensued as a result of its failed Home of Legends publicity campaign.

A war of words has erupted between the Eastern Cape government’s director-general, Marion Mbina-Mthembu, and the National Heritage Council (NHC).

Mbina-Mthembu has accused the council of failing “dismally” to brand the province in accordance with the multimillion-rand Home of Legends campaign, launched some years ago to enhance its image here and abroad – while at the same time trying to get an additional R3 million for the same purpose.

Mbina-Mthembu has written a report, seen by City Press, which she plans to table before the Bhisho legislature’s portfolio committee on the office of the premier. In it she raises her misgivings regarding the council’s operations and competency.

In a telephonic interview with City Press, Mbina-Mthembu confirmed that she had written the report.

In it, the director-general accuses the NHC of “double dipping” after it was paid an extra R1.2 million by the premier’s office, despite being funded by the national department of arts and culture as a Schedule 3A public entity – defined as an agent of the state.

But Advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa, the council’s chief executive officer (CEO), has hit back, describing the Home of Legends project as bigger than anyone’s ego. He has written to provincial Premier Phumulo Masualle, requesting that action be taken against Mbina-Mthembu.

In her report, Mbina-Mthembu is incensed by the failure of the NHC – and in particular, of Mancotywa – to provide a progress report on the Home of Legends campaign and to respond to a letter asking for this.

Instead, the council requested extensions and more funds – over and above the agreed amount of R4.7 million.

Mancotywa had asked the province for more resources – allegedly without accounting for previous funds provided for this purpose – from deputy director-general Mahlubandile Qwase, who heads the project in the Eastern Cape administration.

“In March 2015, R1.2 million was transferred to the NHC, whereas – as per the Memorandum of Agreement – the first tranche would have been R1 million. No recorded progress report or work had been undertaken by this time,” Mbina-Mthembu said in her report.

“In July 2015, the CEO of the council requested that the budget allocated, R4.721 million, be increased by R500 000 to cater for stakeholder consultations which were not included in the Memorandum of Agreement.”

The project entailed research that needed to be done on the legends who formed part of Eastern Cape struggle history and who contributed immensely to the country’s political emancipation – among them former president Nelson Mandela and former Eastern Cape premier Raymond Mhlaba. A booklet was earmarked for publication, along with a marketing and branding drive highlighting those heroes emanating from the province.

These were not forthcoming, in spite of prepayments amounting to millions of rands which the province made in accordance with the Memorandum of Agreement.

Mbina-Mthembu has recommended in her report that the portfolio committee note the council’s failure to deliver on the agreed-upon marketing strategy while clandestinely asking her deputy, Qwase, to help it access an additional R3 million.

Qwase could not be reached for comment as repeated telephone calls on his cellphone went answered. He also did not respond to an SMS.

What has been delivered?

In May 2017, Mbina-Mthembu instructed Qwase and council CEO Mancotywa to ensure that the Home of Legends project be either finalised or canned, given that the council had failed to produce the book or deliver on the agreed-upon marketing and branding strategy.

A meeting took place in June with Mancotywa in attendance, but ended with Mbina-Mthembu walking out. She alleged that instead of presenting a progress report on the project, Mancotywa presented a report in which he blamed the premier’s office for the delays.

He also argued that people in Mbina-Mthembu’s office only asked for progress reports when they were going to portfolio committee meetings. The director-general took exception to this and left the meeting.

In her report she blames the reason for her walkout on Mancotywa’s refusal to deal with issues she had previously raised in a letter, which he acknowledged having received. Mbina-Mthembu also questions the council’s insistence on dealing with her deputy, Qwase – in effect, sidelining her.

In her report she charges: “The council’s CEO subsequently went to the media but forgot to mention that the council has failed to deliver; [that he] has people inside who tried to make further prepayments of R3 million to the entity without any proof of evidence for the booklet [for which] they have asked for a postponement on numerous occasions.

“Lastly, the whole NHC arrangement [and] engagement is based on personal relationships rather than government prescripts.”

Mbina-Mthembu told City Press that out of three things that the council had been commissioned to do, only one was actioned – but not fully completed. This had to do with research that was conducted on the province’s history and natural heritage. This research was supposed to contribute another chapter to the booklet.

As for branding and marketing projects, these were not done or, in certain cases, not even started, she said.

Mbina-Mthembu added that the booklet had not been produced – all she had was a full file of the research undertaken. She received the file two weeks ago and said it should have formed the basis for a booklet in September last year.

In her report, Mbina-Mthembu says she wants the portfolio committee “to refer to relevant authorities who deal with suspicious transactions [officials in] the office of the chief procurement officer [as well as] the whole council agreement and related suspicious transactions”.

Council claims it met all obligations

Mancotywa told City Press that his council met all obligations and blamed delays on the premier’s office.

He also defended Qwase, saying he had been the assigned project leader since the campaign’s inception and that at no stage was any objection raised about his role.

“Even when we launched this project ... it was Qwase who represented the senior government officials there. That we now prefer to deal with Qwase is news to me,” he said.

He questioned Mbina-Mthembu’s walkout of the meeting, saying she was the one who invited them.

“She is not even shy to say she walked out the meeting … when we were reporting.”

In an emailed response, council spokesperson Danny Goulkan confirmed receipt of the R1.2 million tranche but denied it was a prepayment, saying “the partnership was not that of an employer and a service provider”. He also denied suggestions that the NHC was “double dipping”.

“The assumption made here ... is legally and governance-wise a non sequitur, and at best, implausible.

“Double dipping is completely out of the question as the NHC’s operations – including expenditure on projects and programmes – are fully audited by Auditor-General, with the [executive] council playing an oversight role thereon,” Goulkan said.

He added that the NHC had delivered on what was agreed upon and more, albeit with no funds released commensurate with the approved implementation plan.

He confirmed that Mancotywa had asked for more funds for the project. “[Mancotywa] asked for the [premier’s office] to release the next tranche of payment, as per the signed Memorandum of Agreement, given that the council had reported fully on the first tranche payment which the Auditor-General had audited.”

Mancotywa said the council had paid monies over and above the R1.2 million provided by the premier’s office to cover expenses that were incurred by the researchers’ travels across the Eastern Cape to collect data. As a result, the project had “eaten up the coffers” of the council.

“She is alleging that there have been suspicious transactions … She must point out from that R1.2 million which transactions are suspicious. We have stuck to that agreement,” Mancotywa said.

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