Fronting seminar organisers say sorry

The organisers of a broad-based BEE “fronting seminar” say they had cancelled their event even before the department of trade and industry told them to.

The seminar was planned for October by two broad-based BEE consultancies, Axidex and Innoven Consulting, under the slogan: Fronting has a safe zone. Let us show you where it is.

It also billed itself as “the a-political fronting seminar – an ‘inside story’”.

The department of trade and industry this week announced that it had summoned the organisers to its Pretoria offices and that they afterwards “resolved” to cancel the event and refund prospective attendees their R2 450 in fees.

This came after an invite to the seminar was shared on social media, leading to an online petition and a complaint with the department’s broad-based BEE commission.

A call to the operations director of Innoven, Michelle Laarman, was returned by another Innoven employee, who would only identify herself as Lesego.

“It wasn’t a judgement against us or anything like that,” she said.

“People were complaining and not understanding the message.”

The event was “not meant to promote fronting”.

“We explained that to the department. They said cancel it. Okay, it was cancelled. We already did that. There was too much confusion.

“It was one of these things, words got misconstrued,” Lesego said.

The department “had to do their job”, she said.

Despite the name, the seminar was not going to tell people how to front legally, said Lesego.

“We were not going to do a seminar on how to cheat the system. I don’t think you can cheat the system.”

The outraged response seemed predictable “in hindsight”, she said. “We didn’t think so at the time.”

The seminar title was a case of aggressive marketing that also possibly suffered from a bad translation from Afrikaans, Lesego speculated.

“It was just bad marketing.”

The department’s statement this week avoided actually accusing Innoven and Axidex of doing anything illegal, but said that it “found the title of the seminar, and its contents, not only to be misleading to the public, but also perpetuating fronting practices”.

Fronting itself was a crime and it followed that helping people front was unacceptable, said the department.

The website for the seminar, which has now been replaced by a letter of apology, listed the insights participants would gain.

These include learning the “parameters of the criminal offence” of fronting, how to defend yourself during a fronting investigation, and “to know when a contract may be scrutinised and cancelled based on suspicion of fronting”.

The apology now found at reads: “We apologise unreservedly for the confusion, hurt or suffering we may have caused. Our true message got lost in execution. We do, however, acknowledge and understand the perspectives of the parties it offended.”

The intention of the seminar was actually to discuss why fronting is illegal, what the rules are and to “educate on the benefits of embracing transformation as the policy in our country as opposed to fearing it and trying to avoid it”, reads the apology.

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