Film funding body’s fabulous Sun City spree

Johannesburg - More revelations of wasteful expenditure have surfaced at the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), with senior managers accused of going on taxpayer-funded junkets with their extended families.

“She took her whole family to Sun City for the awards – her son and daughter, the daughter’s boyfriend, one of the grannies and even a maid to look after the granny – while film makers were being turned away,” a former staffer at the foundation said this week.

The impeccably placed source was referring to a favoured former senior manager’s visit to the NFVF’s annual – and increasingly glamorous – SA Film and Television Awards (Saftas).

They were held at the luxury Sun City resort in the Pilanesberg, North West, in March.

“The CEO [chief executive officer] also took her family. Some council [board] members brought friends and needed two rooms …

"The company credit card was being run up all over – for long lunches that were not supposed to be provided; for R10 000 golf days for a council member. Public money,” the former staff member said.

The account is just one of the more colourful examples of dozens of new claims of improper spending and irregular procedures made this week by eight current and former NFVF staffers.

They asked not to be named because of the “toxic management style” and “persecution” they say exists at the state’s crucial film development body.

Server being hacked

In June, City Press reported that almost all the NFVF’s staff had sent a memorandum of grievances to Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa and his department, outlining dozens of initial claims against CEO Zama Mkosi and her favoured senior managers.

The managers include chief financial officer Karen Son, whose resignation was made known to staff this week as an internal investigation is under way.

Mkosi previously denied the claims and pointed to the NFVF’s clean audits. The investigation has angered some staff.

“We heard the ministry is investigating, so why are there two investigations now?” asked one.

They have been forced to “work in cramped spaces because they stopped the office renovation halfway through” when City Press reported there was a problem with the tender.

Some staff sent yet another letter to Mthethwa this week, pointing out the ongoing resignations – Son and the head of IT – and begging to know if their voices were being heard.

The NFVF’s server was down for the bulk of the week.

One staffer voiced suspicions that the server was hacked to remove evidence because of the investigation, and that the IT head was fired for refusing to monitor staff member’s e-mails to find those who leaked information to the arts and culture department.

The department confirmed a forensic investigation into the NFVF was commissioned and that its results would be made known publicly. Spokesperson Zimasa Velaphi said the department was taking the matter seriously.

“We will inform the public at an appropriate time,” she said.

Mkosi sent City Press a statement reading: “All the questions and issues you are raising form part of the investigation currently being performed by independent investigators.

"It would therefore be ill-advised to publish information that relates to an ongoing investigation, as so doing will pre-empt and/or influence the outcome of such an investigation.”

The claims put to Mkosi after a City Press investigation this week include:

- Multiple, independently supported accounts of irregular procurement and back-dated quotes. Top-end services were procured from speakers, venues, car hire and hotels.

Only after the fact would the necessary comparative quotes be solicited, which staff were then forced to backdate, or risk losing their bonuses;

- Treasury austerity rules being repeatedly broken by council members “scanning a list of international film festivals, then choosing a destination and picking the best room in the top hotel”, according to a source.

“Sometimes they’d fly in early for a few days’ holiday on the NFVF’s account. They only wanted SUVs or BMWs.”

NFVF council members and Mkosi earn a per diem to cover their daily expenses while they are working of at least $200 (R2 645);

- That the Safta party continued at the Durban International Film Festival. According to another source: “Throwing a Safta celebration and flying in guests from all over or putting them on a luxury train ride.

Five council members were lavishly hosted, one even took his wife.” The source claimed the NFVF paid for two of them to make private business trips while in Durban;

- That a council member was repeatedly trying to access a R1.2m NFVF grant;

- Another council member visited New York with a senior manager’s son, paid for by the NFVF, and the son benefited from an NFVF programme in that city;

- That NFVF funded “a Canadian friend” of NFVF managers for training in Toronto without proper procurement procedures being followed and was then funded by the NFVF to work for them in Cannes; and

- That Mkosi was recently awarded a handsome bonus.

City Press previously reported that the film production sector was unhappy that the NFVF was spending only 28% of its budget on actual films.

Mkosi denied this at the time.

An anonymous source on Friday sent City Press an e-mail defending Mkosi and saying she was a victim of a campaign by disgruntled staff.

The mail contained a programme of measures Mkosi had put in place to address staff concerns.

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