The Committee was briefed by the Robben Island Museum Council on the impact that COVID19 had on operations and the 2020-2021 Annual Performance Plan.
The Committee heard that at the end of January 2020, the original Annual Performance Plan (APP) was adopted and this Plan was consequently affected by the outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic with the necessary changes that had to be made.
Members were concerned about the sustainability of the Museum in this period and asked at what level the Museum would open to the general public and if the current COVID19 crisis persists, how the entity would survive beyond October.
Price fixing was an area that Members debated vociferously as they wanted clarity on the allegations between boat charter companies contracted to the Museum and why one ferry failed a South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) test.
While the Committee was pleased to hear that the Museum was planning to host virtual tours, this project’s costs and the ICT system to be used had to be explained.
Members heard that the Council was at an advance stage in addressing the MORAR forensic investigation findings but still requested further information on the status of the MORAR investigation because the new Board thought it prudent to solicit a legal opinion on the report and the legal opinion obtained by Weber Wentzel called for a new investigation. A promise was made that the Committee would be furnished with the MORAR report findings. The DA did not take too kindly to the “confusion” and “secrecy” that surrounded the MORA investigation.
Members needed reassurance that the Museum was enhancing its relationship with young people and asked whether the Museum had mechanisms in place that reached out to young people and whether the Museum had any youth outreach initiatives. Members went so far as to call for the adequate allocation of resources for youth to be aware of their history and the significance of Robben Island.
The Committee noted that the Minister of Finance had to readjust the national budget, so it asked whether the Museum’s budget would also be readjusted. It was a challenge that about 60% of all expenses related to the wage bill so Members asked how these expenses had been budgeted for and if a breakdown of the remuneration that senior executives and councillors received could be provided.
Opening remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson, in her opening remarks, noted that she had a busy day with back-to-back meetings and urged all participants and South Africans to remain at home during the lockdown. She particularly spoke of the high infection rate in the Western Cape.
Briefing by the Robben Island Museum (RIM)
Adv Michael Masutha, Chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council, said that at the end of January 2020, the original Annual Performance Plan (APP) was adopted. This APP was consequently affected by the outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic with the necessary changes that had to be made.
It was decided that the Robben Island Museum Council (RIMC or the Council) will convene a meeting from 20-21 May 2020 to discuss and approve the proposed adjustments to the APP. The Museum’s management liaised closely with the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (DSAC) on the proposed adjustments.
The new Chairperson of the Council was appointed in December 2019 and had been tasked with sorting out two critical matters.
Firstly, he was supposed to deal with the MORAR forensic investigation and secondly, he was supposed to drive the conception and implementation of a new five year strategy. The Council was at an advance stage in addressing the MORAR forensic investigation findings.
Adv Masutha said that Robben Island was both a national and an international heritage site and as such South Africa had certain obligations towards multilateral instruments such as UNESCO. The immediate challenged that faced the Museum was that as an international heritage site, the Island fell under the mandate of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).
Adv Masutha explained that this had resulted in an additional financial burden as the Museum received no funding from the DEA. Infrastructure maintenance had also been a problem as a result of overlapping mandates, as the Department of Public Works (DPW) was responsible for all maintenance work.
Robben Island currently had challenges with regard to water reticulation as it did not have its own water sources and energy generation capacity. The Museum generated most of its income through its operations and a small budget allocation from the DSAC. Furthermore the Museum was in the top six of the most visited tourist destinations and thus management had a certain responsibility to ensure that operations continued unhindered.
Currently, personnel costs took about 60% of the budget. The Museum received about R35 million from the DCAS annually and operated on an overall budget of R240 million, with the remainder of the budget coming from revenue generated from the Museum’s operation. Also the Museum currently employed about 250 staff members, with 30 season staff members. All of whom received competitive salaries. At a recent Council meeting, a decision had been taken that no staff member will be let go nor would salaries be reduced. On the current trajectory, the Museum would not be able to remain operational beyond October 2020.
Adv Masutha added that even if the Museum opened for business it did not necessarily mean that it would be inundated with visitors, as about 70% of all visitors hailed from Europe, the United States and Asia. These are all regions that have been heavily affected by the COVID19 pandemic.
Mr W Faber (DA) stated that South Africa was currently at Level 4. He wanted to ascertain at what level the Museum would open to the general public. He also recalled that no tourists were currently visiting the Museum and in view of this, wanted to know whether the Robben Island ferries were being well looked after.
He noted further that the Minister of Finance had to readjust the national budget, so he wanted to ascertain whether the Museum’s budget would also be readjusted.
Mr B Madlingozi (EFF) welcomed the presentation and asked whether the Museum had any youth outreach initiatives.
Mr Madlingozi added that it was imperative for South African youth to be aware of their history and the significance of Robben Island. He called for the adequate allocation of resources for this.
Mr T Mhlongo (DA) welcomed the presentation and immediately took a combative stance against the Museum’s senior brass. He requested clarity on allegations of price fixing between boat charter companies contracted to the Museum and why one ferry failed a South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) test.
In the presentation it had been noted that the Museum was exploring the idea to introduce virtual tours. Mr Mhlongo wanted to know how much this project would cost and what ICT system would be used.
He further noted that during the 2016 and 2017 financial years, the Museum’s recorded healthy profits. What had been done differently during these financial years that resulted in these profits?
Mr Mhlongo questioned the status of the forensic investigation that had been conducted after allegations of malfeasance were raised by the Ex Political Prisoners Association (PPA) against the Museum’s management. He wanted to know what the outcome was and when these outcomes would be implemented. He lamented the lack of information flow to Parliament on the matter. According to him Parliament had an oversight role that had to be fulfilled.
He also asked whether all outstanding human resource issues had been resolved.
Ms V Van Dyk (DA) recalled that the presentation indicated that about 60% of all expenses related to the wage bill. This was a challenging situation. She wanted to ascertain how these expenses had been budgeted for.
On infrastructure spend and maintenance, she pointed towards the agreement between the Museum and the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the inherent challenges that the Museum experienced in conducting proper infrastructure maintenance due to a lack of funds.
She also requested further information on the status of the MORAR investigation.
Ms N Nkabane (ANC) asked whether the Museum had mechanisms in place that reached out to young people and what had been done to foster knowledge management.
She also requested more information on the forensic investigation.
Mr A Seabi (ANC) stated that the presentation alluded to a situation where the Museum would not be able to operate beyond October if the current COVID19 crisis persists. Further to this, he requested information on how the entity would survive beyond October.
He asked the officials from the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (DSAC) to give their views on the revised APP of the Museum considering that it had not yet been tabled before the Robben Island Museum Council (RIMC).
Mr Seabi further wanted a breakdown of the remuneration that senior executives and councillors received.
Responses by the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (DSAC)
Mr Vusi Mkhize, Director-General of the DSAC, informed Members that when the allegations by the former political prisoners surfaced in December, DSAC acted immediately to investigate the claims. Mr Mkhize continued to explain that the MORAR investigation commenced in January 2020 and various allegations had been levelled against the Museum management with counter allegations by the latter. The MORAR report had been presented to the then Board, however the Board could not deal with the Report as their term had expired. The new Board had been tasked with dealing with the MORAR report. The new Board thought it prudent to solicit a legal opinion on the Report as a lack of due diligence might have resulted in additional legal burdens. The legal opinion obtained by Weber Wentzel called for a new investigation. He made a promise that the Committee would be furnished with the MORAR report findings.
Mr Mhlongo was not satisfied with the response by the DG and lambasted the latter for the lack of information and questioned whether the lack of information flow to the Committee had been intentional.
Adv Masutha explained that serious allegations had to be investigated thoroughly and that the legal opinion by Weber Wentzel had been the most legally correct. He informed the Committee that he had extensive consultations with the Minister of Arts and Culture and had advised the Minister that it might be prudent to heed the legal advice by Weber and Wentzel to launch a fresh investigation.
Mr Mava Dada, CEO of the Museum, interjected and requested clarity on whether he should be part of the discussion on the forensic investigation as the allegations related to him.
The Chairperson expressed her displeasure at the interjections and urged the DG to continue with his reply to the questions posed. She urged Members to raise additional questions during the follow-session.
Adv Masutha continued and noted that there had already been discussions with the Minister of Arts and Culture on the need to tap into the R100 million infrastructure fund for critical infrastructure maintenance on the Island such as water reticulation. Perhaps some of these funds could also be utilised to sustain operations for the balance of the year.
He continued by explaining that the overlapping mandates of the Museum and the role of the DPW had made it difficult to conduct the necessary maintenance work. The DPW used to contract COEGA to undertake maintenance work. This contract came to a close. In light of this, the Museum wanted to be able to appoint small to medium sized enterprises to conduct maintenance work on the Island. He further assured Members that the new Council was committed to investigate the allegations.
The Council already met with the new law firm that had been appointed to launch a fresh forensic investigation. The Council had been satisfied with the preparatory work. Members had also been informed that the Museum management was not aware of the details contained in the MORAR report.
Members were also informed that the MORA report had a confidentiality clause. It could only be released per the joint decision by the Minister and the compilers of the MORAR Report. Mr Masutha stated that he had advised the Ministry to tread carefully.
Mr Mhlongo took strong exception to the comments by Adv Masutha. He stated that Adv Masutha was conflicted and could not provide legal advice to the Ministry.
Responding to Mr Faber’s question about when the Museum intended to open, Adv Masutha noted that the Museum would open during Level 1 due to the nature of operations.
On the maintenance of the Museum’s ferries, he added that there was a maintenance schedule in place and that all ferries are being maintained. Only one boat had structural issues and this was being attended too.
On the 2020/2021 budget, he informed Members that the budget would be readjusted and submitted to the DSAC.
He also informed Members that in 2016, management discovered that there had been instances of collusion between the ferry charter companies. An investigation was conducted and the information passed onto the Competition Commission.
He rebuffed claims that a newly bought ferry manufactured in Singapore failed SAMSA stress tests.
He explained that when the Singaporean company won the tender to build a new ferry, SAMSA indicated that it wanted to travel to Singapore to inspect the ferry. The final inspection would then be conducted in Cape Town.
When the ferry arrived in Cape Town, additional tests were conducted and based on these tests, SAMSA issued a few guidelines that had to be met. After some discussions between the manufacturer and SAMSA the ferry was approved. Mr Dada blamed the media for blowing the whole incident out of proportion.
About the proposed virtual tour, he commented that it had not been budgeted for in the 2020/2021 APP. This was a new item that had been devised as a possible new revenue stream for the Museum. Feasibility studies and related research into such an eventuality was still underway.
He also informed Members that the reason for the high profits in 2016 and 2017 had been as a result of the drought that affected the Western Cape. The continued sunshine meant that ferries operated on a daily basis as opposed to previous years when the weather had been more inclement.
On personnel expenditure, the CEO noted that in 2011, a decision had been taken to absorb all part-time employees. Consequently, an organisational review was conducted and it had been discovered that thirteen employees had been placed in positions they did not have the requisite skills for, whereas 89 employees received salaries above their pay grades. A decision had been taken by management, not to reduce these salaries, but to implement lesser salary increases and to reskill the thirteen employees as mentioned above.
He also informed the Committee that as soon as the Council approved the revised APP, it would then be presented to Parliament.
In terms of remuneration, Members were informed that the Museum’s management earned about R7. 2 million and councillors received about R500 000 collectively on an annual basis.
The Chairperson noted that it was inconceivable that the price fixing allegations had not been dealt with as yet.
Mr Mhlongo was still not satisfied with the replies and asked again why the MORAR report had not been tabled including the appointment of a new law firm.
He wanted to ascertain how the new law firm had been appointed and the costs involved. He also wanted to know the costs involved for SAMSA stress tests.
Mr Seabi was also not pleased with the replies by the CEO. He requested the exact particulars of remuneration for the various executives and council members.
He also wanted to know how the Museum marketed itself.
Mr Khensani Maluleke, Deputy Chairperson of the Council, said that the Museum was looking towards the Smithsonian Institute as a model for the proposed virtual tours. At this juncture the virtual tour project was still in conceptual stage. He added that heritage was about inheritance and that the Museum was mindful of the importance of reaching out to South African youth.
The Museum had initiatives in place for knowledge management and to this end had programmes running in Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal. The Museum also funded seven students.
Mr Maluleke said that the Museum also wanted to launch a memorialisation project that will look at the museum narrative. The Museum proposed to host 27 exhibitions over five years.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Museum also had a duty to engage the youth.
Adv Masutha, in reply to the question by Ms Van Dyk, noted that the Museum saw its staff as an investment and not a liability.
He added that if the pandemic continued unabated, the Museum would have to do serious introspection on how to proceed post-October 2020.05.09
On the MORA investigation, it was noted that the forensic investigation had been conducted by auditors and not lawyers. The law firm that had been appointed was not procured by the Museum. The State Attorney procured legal services on behalf of government.
Mr Dada stated that the issue of price fixing and collusion had been reported to the Competition Commission and that two contractors had been issued with fines and two others had been cleared.
He continued and explained that the CEO earned R2, 2 million per annum, the Chief Operation Officer about R1, 7 million and councillors earned about R4 052 per meeting.
The Museum forked out about R950 000 for the SAMSA tests and had a five year market strategy.
The meeting was adjourned.
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