This order emanates form a claim the NAF made against the NAC for reducing the grant it had initially awarded it as part of the Presidential Economic Stimulus Package funds
By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor
The beleaguered national Arts Council suffered yet another blow over its controversial handling of the Presidential Economic Stimulus Package (PESP) funds.
This follows a High Court ruling yesterday which found in favour of (NAF)Festival in a case it took to court in March when the NAC reneged on an earlier decision to award NAF a certain figure that it later reduced.
The award is part of the PESP funds that the NAC has been battling to handle since October last year, and the government agency has so far failed to honour several of its own deadlines to pay artists hard hit by Covid-19.
The latest ruling however could open flood gates for litigations by other organizations and artists whose initial figures were similarly reduced, but they accepted the reduced amounts due to financial stress they have been facing since lockdown was declared last year March to minimize the rate of infections.
And if those whose figures were also reduce opt to litigate they would use the court ruling in the NAC versus NAF case to strengthen their arguments why they should also be awarded the remainder of the initial amount they were granted. That would add more woes to an organization which still has not completed paying artists out of the R300 million it was granted by Treasury under the Auspices of the PESP.
To date the NAC still owes several artists the Second tranches of that money and in some cases, artists are battling to complete their projects as they wait for the last payment from the NAC.
At the conclusion of this court yesterday, June 21, 2021, the Gauteng South High Court ruled in favour of the National Arts Festival for the balance of the sum that was carried over for consideration from a court ruling in late March 2021 when the National Arts Festival Grahamstown NPC took the National Arts Council (NAC) to court. The claim was for payment of R8 million awarded to the company that runs the National Arts Festival as part of the NAC-managed Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme. The funds were intended for a range of projects administered by the National Arts Festival Grahamstown NPC; that the NAF says would create over 440 jobs and stimulate much needed income-generating activity in the arts sector..
In his judgment on 21 June 2021, Judge Colin Lamont found that the conduct of the NAC “… in unilaterally reducing the contractual amount at a point at which the time for payment of the first amount of funding had passed, and a mere two weeks before the project completion date, is accordingly unlawful and irrational,” and ruled that the NAC would need to pay the remainder of the promised R 8 million to the National Arts Festival immediately. Costs of both the hearing at the end of March 2021 and that on 31 May 2021 were also awarded in favour the NAF, including the costs of two counsel.
National Arts Festival Chief Executive officer (CEO) Monica Newton yesterday inb light of the court ruling in the NAF’s favour said that NAF was very pleased with the outcome,
“It has been an incredibly tough eighteen months for artists and the PESP funded projects were meant to be a welcome relief. Instead of finding themselves with paid work, many artists, who were already struggling to pay their bills, found themselves out of pocket when the NAC reneged on its contractual obligations to us. We hope that the NAC recognises the validity of the judgment so that these projects can do what they were designed to; support the arts, creatives, technicians and artists at a time of dire need,” Newton commented.
Newton also added that she hoped that this ruling would create a precedent for other artists who were similarly affected by contracts not honoured by the NAC.
“We realise we have been incredibly lucky to be in a position where we were able to make a legal stand but we hope that this outcome will allow others to follow through with their own claims and submit these findings to strengthen their cases. We hope it signals a turning point for governance and accountability in the arts, and assists in ensuring artists get what they were legally contracted for and are entitled to,” she said.
The PESP debacle has exposed the fault lines of the NAC’s grant disbursement systems, and saw artists mount massive protests that saw a group of artists occupy the NAC offices for 60 days only vacating the place when the Hawks moved in to investigate and the Public Protector was drawn into the saga to investigate. The Abahlali Artists as they call themselves have also protested at the department of Sports, Arts and Culture in Pretoria on May 17, 2021, over the same issue.
The results of both investigations by the Hawks and the Public Protector over the NAC’s handling of the PESP are still pending.
CITYLIFE/ARTS was last night unable to get comment from the NAC over this latest setback in the PESP saga.