The Robben Island Museum in the midst of a financial crisis met virtually with Committee to address its Annual Performance Plan (APP). RIM noted the extreme impact COVID-19 travel restrictions had on its finances as it had anticipated generating R152 million in ticket sales in 2020/21 and it had only managed R4.4 million. If staff would not accept 50% salary cuts, it have to embark on section 189 retrenchments for operational reasons. At the end of the meeting it briefly discussed the forensic report.
Members asked about public education; target cuts due to budget constraints inflicted by COVID-19; allegations of mismanagement of funds; strife between the Ex-Political Prisoners Association and the Robben Island Museum; inclusion of all the narratives of oppression on Robben Island; discussions on salary cuts to avoid retrenchment of workers; infrastructure maintenance; and COVID-19 impact on revenue. They also discussed marketing strategies in boosting local tourism. The Committee agreed to an oversight visit of Robben Island.
Robben Island Museum 2021/2022 Annual Performance Plan & mismanagement of funds
The Director General, Mr Vusumuzi Mkhize, gave an overview of the Robben Island Museum (RIM) as well as its responsibilities. He introduced the challenges faced by the institution. These included the mismanagement of funds, salary cuts and revenue decrease. They had preserved the interpretation of the narrative for the tourists. These were described in the Powerpoint presentation.
RIM Council Chairperson, Mr Khensani Maluleke, spoke to the allegations on mismanagement of funds as stated on slide 34. He suggesting presenting this part of the presentation at the end of the meeting when those alleged to be involved can be recused.
Mr Gershon Manana, RIM Executive Manager: Infrastructure and Facilities Management, continued to touch on the infrastructure and the concerns about the island decaying. He assured Members this was not the case. He noted the cut in targets due to budget constraints. He concluded by explaining the impact of COVID-19 on the RIM revenue generation and how this had resulted in the cutting of bursaries. He mentioned that there was no mismanagement at Robben Island and his colleagues facing allegations would be vindicated.
The Chairperson commended the presentation and appreciated that it had been circulated to the Committee a fortnight before.
Mr B Madlingozi (EFF) appreciated the presentation. He asked what the main objective of the Robben Island Museum was. Secondly he asked why the banishment of Langalibalele, Chief of the AmaHlubi, to Robben Island had not reported as a watershed moment in South African history. It was no secret that nearly a century later, Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe amongst numerous others had been imprisoned there. He asked why only a few were highlighted. Why were they allowing limitations to South African history to occur, just as the previous government had? History had been documented from 1652. There was a need to retrace history to find out about the leaders who were part of the island history as well.
Mr Madlingozi noted the manner in which the executives of this entity kept shouting foul play about the mismanagement of funds. He requested a forensic report that would explain RIM’s financial situation.
Mr N Seabi (ANC) pointed out RIM’s lack of aggressive marketing strategies. He asked how RIM was ensuring learner accessibility to the site for educational purposes, particularly those learners from rural areas and outside the Western Cape province. He noted management’s decision to embark on section 189 of the Labour Relations Act. This translated to consultations with employees with the intention to retrench.
He asked the number and levels of employees to be retrenched. As an alternative to retrenchment, he suggested considering a salary reduction for the sake of job preservation of all.
Ms V Malomane (ANC) noted the big challenges faced by RIM and welcomed the suggestion for the Committee to go on an oversight visit to RIM. She reiterated the question on retrenchment and requested an update on the matter. She drew attention to the plan for interviews with ex-political prisoners in the APP and asked why they were positioned in the last quarter of 2021/22. Despite the RIM infrastructure being the responsibility of the Department of Public Works, she asked what management was doing to maintain the site. She emphasized the last meeting the Committee had had with RIM’s management to realise the importance of having learners visit from distant areas. This was important as they too ought to know their history. A plan is needed.
Mr D Joseph (DA) agreed with Mr Madlingozi about the RIM mandate and the need to go further with its vision and its symbolism of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity and injustice. Although having not read the Cultural Institutions Act of 1998, there was a need for reflections on political prisoners before 1960. He pointed out how in the vision and mission statement this was clear but not as they went further into the report. He expressed the need for it to be more inclusive.
On the audit outcome regress, he noted the increasing number of council meetings. He asked what these were for. Slide 14 mistakenly noted a female member as being male. He asked for clarification on the definition of being African on the race categories on that slide. In the current context this included being Indian, Black, White or Coloured. He posed an argument of how some people disregarded others as being not black enough or white enough. He noted that RIM was a public institution and he asked why a particular slide had said the information could not be made available. He referred to the slide on poor maintenance and asked management to motivate why they were taking up responsibility of tending to the maintenance of the island instead of using the external service provider.
Mr Joseph stated how prejudicial Mr Gerson Manana’s statement was about there being no mismanagement at Robben Island and how his colleagues would be vindicated. This is contrary to the slide which explains a forensic investigation was carried out and recommendations are being implemented. This is the same slide where talks about "confidentiality" yet management was supposed to share everything with this Committee.
On the allegations of mismanagement, the Committee ought to know the clients, appointed legal firm, terms of reference as well as the incurred costs thus far as well as the contract tenure of the appointed firm. The process of waiting until the end of the plenary is unacceptable. This process can go on forever. Considering this is a public institution – although detailed content cannot be revealed as yet – the unfolding processes must become public knowledge.
Lastly, Mr Joseph emphasized the need to approach partnering universities, particularly in the Western Cape. Despite not having money for bursaries, these universities need to be urged to send their students to go complete their PhD and other research on site. Universities have funds which could help further research work which could benefit South Africa.
Mr M Zondi (ANC) drew attention to the performance management plan which indicated in 2020/21 an improvement from 58% to 81% and later regressed to 80%. If the turnaround strategy included improvement to 100%, it should have not decreased to 80%. This yields uncertainty on their performance. He asked for assurance on increased performance.
He reiterated the audit matter raised by Mr Joseph. He asked for assurance about the boat that was bought locally, if this was going to be an issue. If not there should be a clean audit. He expressed his concern about RIM revenue. He asked for the reason for the decline from the initial budget of R152 million by R4.4 million. On the ticket sales decline, RIM should explain the reason for this decline apart from poor infrastructure maintenance. How is the department planning to deal with this? He made note of the salary cuts but also proposed a need to focus on the other challenges as well.
Mr T Mhlongo (DA) referred to Mr Manana’s statement on his colleagues being vindicated. Why does Mr Manana suppose his colleagues will be vindicated? Is he implicated? On slide 31 and 32, Mr Mhlongo asked for the total budget. He asked the ticket sales price pre-COVID-19 and to date and if there was a COVID relief imposed on the ticket sales. He asked for the status quo on staff grievances at Iziko Museum. He asked if the concerns of the Ex-Political Prisoners Association (EPPA) about the forensic report and arbitration, had been resolved. He questioned the finances and the 2019/2020 audit qualifications. He asked if Robben Island had implemented all the Auditor-General's recommendations. On poor maintenance of the infrastructure, he noted RIM was now permitted to do maintenance projects that does not exceed half a million and asked for in-depth details about what they had done to date. An oversight visit was needed. He requested an open discussion with RIM rather than the Committee having to hear from the media.
The Chairperson expressed her concern about the media. Why did the Ministerial office and the DG suggest an investigation if there was nothing happening? What agreements were made about the budget for salaries? She pointed out there would be a monetary shortage that could see it failing to pay salaries in June. Media statements about a lawsuit which were later said to be untrue, could be proven true with the retrenchment of workers. Did it perhaps apply for the COVID relief fund as advised by the DG? Did this assist and did it have agreements about advances in June considering there would be a shortfall in salaries?
The Chairperson referred to Mr Maluleke’s remarks on having some of the RIM staff excused before discussing the investigation and how some of presenters had made it seem as if he had not voiced this. Based on this, the Chairperson cautioned the presenters collectively about their presentation language and asked for clarity from Mr Maluleke when the this would be dealt with.
RIM Council Chairperson response
Mr Maluleke proposed the need to first respond to the questions raised. He noted the unfortunate remarks made by Mr Manana considering the investigation process which was independently done. He proposed to share the presentation on the investigation progress after the questions had been addressed. He echoed the invitation to host the Committee so that they could see what was on site. In response to Mr Madlingozi on why certain aspects of the narrative were not presented, he drew attention to the multi-layered history of Robben Island. This means it is well documented. They were working on the memorialisation project that would be implemented on this narrative. When the Committee , they would be taken through this project as it connects to the marketing question raised by Mr Seabi.
COVID-19 had to some extent provided them with an opportunity to reconsider their process. 75% of revenue was from international tours and this had been affected by COVID travel restrictions. The major focus now is on the localization of the product. They were also looking at developing new products that would help generate income. Currently they are solely dependent on boat trips, and considering the content, site and buildings present they could generate more income. A recently appointed marketing manager is working on this. They were part of the top six attractions around the Western Cape. This also counted as a means of marketing the products. This may not be enough as the challenge has to do with the budget. Despite the challenges, they had tried their best together with collaborative arrangements with local partners to address this challenge.
There is a program in place where they interview ex-political prisoners to gather as much information as possible. Given their age they are constantly losing them and this is why the project is crucial. Gauteng and KZN were said to be covered with the rest still remaining. The CEO would give more detail.
In response to Mr Joseph and Mr Madlingozi’s concerns about the narrative, he agreed it was their mandate that they ought to implement. Robben Island is more than a national heritage site, it is a world heritage site. Considering they are managing it on behalf of the world it is not helpful to concentrate on only particular aspects of the narrative. The role of Arts, Culture and Heritage was to rewrite, revise and transform the landscape of cultural heritage. On inclusivity in the vision and mission, he voiced the need to revisit the mission statement and consider articulating what Mr Joseph had raised.
Mr Maluleke proposed to respond to the questions about the legal firm later in the meeting.
On the need for a turnaround, he figured in the present context it was an opportunity for RIM. They were waiting on a recovery plan. As a Council they would develop an updated sustainable business model that would take the institution to greater heights. Plans to have the business development workshop were underway. This would enable the interrogation of their business operations. They would invite the shareholder to discuss the mandate and performing entities like SANparks as it has best practices particularly when it comes to concessions. The development model would be informed by a number of variables based on best practices.
Mr Maluleke reminded the Committee that the strife between Robben Island and the Ex-Political Prisoners Association was something that started decades ago. To ensure the impasse is addressed, they had to date engaged the services of ACCORD to mediate between Robben Island and the EPPA. ACCORD is said to be working pro bono. There was a workshop where the ex-prisoners presented a 10 Point Plan. This would assist in rethinking the business model. They had welcomed some of the comments from the ex-prisoners on memorialisation. This would be a means of mending relations.
RIM CEO response
Mr Mava Dada, CEO, discussed the Langalibalele issue and made note of the Nelson Mandela Gateway building. On arrival at the premises, there is a narrative available dating back to the 1400s on all the chiefs and people who were incarcerated on Robben Island. The narrative on Langalibalele is available too. He noted Mr Seabi’s observation on marketing. There was deliberate minimal marketing done in the past. Being advertised as being a part of the Big Six tourist attractions in the Indaba was one of the few marketing exceptions. This was the very first time running out of tourists which was due of COVID. Resources had been made available through the marketing campaigns that are now running. Currently within Africa month, there is a marketing campaign to attract tourists to visit Robben Island.
In section 189(3) of the Labour Relations Act, the process is very specific. It is to be approached without any preconceived ideas but rather as a problem statement indicating one’s financial challenge. He believed with the assistance of the independent commissioner, management, and social partners they would find amicable solutions. Beforehand the RIM Council had tried to negotiate with employees on salaries. RIM would normally generate just over 60% of the revenue and the Department would give them under 40%. With the low tourism numbers, it makes it impossible for RIM to continue affording the salaries during COVID-19.
There are many private institutions within the tourism sector that were affected too and were laying off employees. With the help of other departments, they were able to enjoy 100% salaries even though they were sitting doing nothing. They had appealed to colleagues to have 50% salary cut. This was only accepted by 10% of the staff. In consulting with the labour relations team, they realised this was not enough. It resulted in the implementation of the formal route of Section 189(3) which deals with retrenchment. Management had pushed for the preservation of everyone’s job if employees take a 50% cut. They had even considered a sliding scale which saw high earners getting a 60% cut. This could not guarantee low-end earners receiving above 50%. This is because the high earners consisted of only a few individuals. They had appealed to the Director General to grant their request for R75 million to avoid day zero. If this is not possible hopefully the 50% salary cut would be accepted by RIM employees.
On the number of staff targeted for retrenchment, Mr Dada stressed how the numbers were already at unfavourable levels. A large number of their staff is needed in the value chain to provide the varied services to tourists. They thus do not intend to cut staff numbers. However, if needed, they would apply the principle of LIFO (last in, first out) and tweak for operational requirements. The target would mean the retrenchment of 50% of staff which translates to 120 staff layoffs of about +/-240 total staff. However, this is not to pre-empt the outcomes of the process but simply an enlightenment of the situation.
On learner accessibility, Mr Dada explained how the Basic Education Department had collaborated with all nine provinces and at times funded learners to travel to the site. Pre-COVID they would send Education Department colleagues to go and share the history of Robben Island. They have contributed to the History curriculum and to date sent educational material to the nine provinces.
On the ex-political prisoner interviews, it should be noted the final deadline is the fourth quarter. The interviews are commencing from the first day of the financial year and continuing throughout. He explained the process briefly and how intense it was.
Infrastructure management was under the custodianship of the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI). It directly received the budget for maintenance and RIM only received the capex budget from the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture (DSAC). Mr Dada expressed his frustration in not having the power to address Robben Island's infrastructure management needs as by law they can only spend upon authorisation by DPWI and DSAC.
The Chairperson and Mr Madlingozi cautioned Mr Dada’s language and assured him no one was lambasting him, and that the Committee simply needed information. Mr Dada apologised. The Chairperson cautioned visitors to be mindful of the language they engage in and how some form of language was unacceptable.
Mr Dada acknowledged the Director General's efforts at convincing Public Works to act on long outstanding projects such as the Desalination Plant, wastewater treatment plant as well as the soft maintenance. Since October 2020, RIM was allowed to do maintenance projects that do not exceed half a million. Numerous projects were currently running for example the 60 houses were being painted and the interpretation routes where our tourists are interfacing with the island.
On performance management, he reassured the Committee that in the year that reflected 58%, it was merely a technical issue with the auditors. Corrections were made on terminology and they thus promise high levels of performance, going forward.
In response to receiving an audit qualification in 2019/20, this was a single matter. If the RIM Council and management had agreed on the purchase of a boat, there would have been a clean audit. RIM had embarked on two procurement processes for the boat in 2016/17. Both procurements failed. In the first instance the preferred service provider wanted to change the terms and wanted to pass the risk of the foreign exchange fluctuations to RIM. This was not acceptable as RIM wanted a fixed price for building the boat. In the second instance, the preferred service provider presented a letter that it was going through business rescue. The budget to purchase the boat had been generated internally. RIM found it too risky to continue and cancelled the tender. The second tender had two bidders who had met the requirements. The second bidder was charging R173 million to build locally and R115 million to build in their host country. Both were too expensive. They approached National Treasury and explained the dilemma and how locally it would cost R173 million to build. In looking for cost effective measures RIM requested advertising this tender internationally. RIM requested permission to acquire brokers. They also considered having someone purchasing the boat and leasing it to them.
Treasury connected them with DTI to get approval on local content. Treasury had no problem on the other matters as long as equity and transparency was upheld. The boat was accessed and it arrived in July 2019. The Auditor-General referred to the Preferential Procurement Act, where there is an 80/20 requirement if it is below R50 million and 90/10 if it is above R50 million. RIM should have applied 90/10 since the boat was R90 million. However, when comparing the boat specifications, there was 200-seater boat for R90 million and a 280-seater boat for R87 million. They took the latter and within a year this proved to make R14 million more compared to the Auditor-General’s choice. This proved to be a technical debate. He drew attention to how parliamentarians had in the past authorised the Office of Auditor General to have a certain kind of irregular expenditure. In this instance however RIM got value for money.
On revenue, in 2020/21 RIM should have generated R152 million internally. In 2019/20 they generated R137 million. This was not total revenue as in 2020/21 it received a R84 million grant from the Department. Due to COVID-19 RIM generated only R4.4 million internally. The main source of income being the tourists from Europe, mainly France, UK, as well as Germany, and some from Asia. International tourists account for 70-80% compared to the 20-30% from South Africans and the SADC region. Total ticket sales pre-COVID was recorded as R137 million. During COVID-19 they only managed to raise R4.4 million.
Mr Maluleke brought to Mr Dada’s attention the question of whether he was implicated in the investigation.
In trying to respond Mr Dada spoke about the situation from yesteryears.
Mr Joseph interjected. He requested Mr Dada simply respond with a yes/no to give the Committee an idea on how to handle the matter going forward.
Mr Dada proposed for Mr Maluleke to rather respond to the question.
The Chairperson suggested that Mr Joseph’s question rather be answered at a later stage.
Director General Mkhize apologised and explained the question emanated from the statement of vindication mentioned earlier but he respected the Chairperson's advice.
The Chairperson noted the apology and requested that future remarks not relate to what had been noted already. She requested patience in dealing with the matter considering it was a legal matter and they had not received detailed information as yet.
Mr Joseph, although noting the apology, requested clarity on whether the person implicated. This was important as the Committee could not engage with someone who was implicated. Considering the Department had implemented some of the recommendations, he cautioned the Committee on how they would have to handle the matter and expressed the need to know who initiated the investigation. They could not allow someone implicated to justify and defend themselves before the Committee.
Ms Nocawe Mafu, Deputy Minister of Sports and Recreation, Arts and Culture, reminded the Committee of Mr Maluleke’s earlier statement about discussing the allegations at a later stage once the responses to the questions had been completed.
Mr Maluleke agreed and asked for the executive to be recused for him to present the section on the allegations.
The Chairperson agreed to this as well and went onto acknowledge Mr Joseph who had requested a written briefing. She asked if RIM had thought of having virtual tours of the site just like Two Oceans.
Mr Seabi asked about the RIM financial situation if it had applied to UNESCO World Heritage Fund. He asked what other applications had been submitted in search of financial relief in 2020.
Mr Madlingozi questioned the memorabilia. He questioned the memory being preserved and the role played by RIM.
In response to Mr Madlingozi, Mr Maluleke emphasized the importance of the site and how it offered different meanings to South Africans. With regards to the narrative, he referred to the Holocaust museums. Considering the narrative one was either a perpetrator, or a victim. The Apartheid Museum had imitated the same attributes. RIM too had mimicked such ideology. In projecting this narrative, he stressed the need to weave different stories in such a way it attracts different audiences. This could translate to different products that could later generate income. This is how the memorialization project plays out in the narration of the South African story. Those incarcerated came from different provinces. There is thus a need for this nexus between Robben Island and the rest of the provinces. He invited the CEO to respond to the rest of the questions.
In response to the virtual tours, Mr Dada said it had always been a plan for the future. It had been a marketing strategy rather than an income generating tool. However in the present context they are rethinking this. They were not aware applications were open at UNESCO, and thus had not applied.
Mr Maluleke pointed out how these funding institutions funded programmes and not institutions. They thus fund small projects.
Mr Madlingozi argued why the narrative on Langalibalele and Robert Sobukwe had been downplayed.
The Director General counter argued Mr Madlingozi’s claims and explained how on arrival the full narrative is presented. He described the tour briefly and noted the commitment to the narratives dealing with everything pre and post 1960. The Department was currently exploring narratives of resistance, in addition to liberation movements. He stressed there would be holistic narratives on oppression.
The Deputy Minister stressed the need to finalise the visit to Robben Island site. She requested Members continue with the meeting and address the allegations with the recusal of the executive members facing allegations.
The Chairperson released the RIM executive members.
Forensic investigation of RIM
Mr Maluleke mentioned slide 34 and referred to the previous meeting and how they had appointed an investigator sometime in March or April 2020. The final report was submitted at the end of February 2021, and the recommendations were still being implemented.
Mr Maluleke pointed out one of the recommendations being the disciplinary process which is still underway. On the structure of the investigation report, it is in three parts were the first part relates to the recommendations from the findings. The second part refers to legal advice. The third part relates to confidential information of those interviewed, this includes some of the employees. The Minister is said to have been briefed in the presence of legal advisors. Mr Maluleke indicated they were not going to publish the report, due to the investigation and disciplinary process still underway. Currently the Council still had legal privilege over the report. Sharing now would jeopardize the outcomes of the investigation.
There was a delay in the appointment of the chairperson of the disciplinary hearing. This was finalized only last week. The Council requested the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture to handle this investigation for the purposes of independence and transparency. The Department was helpful in the appointment of the chairperson of the disciplinary hearing and the appointment of a service provider in light of the investigation.
Mr Maluleke pointed out the matter would be resolved before July, before the CEO’s contract ends. Instead of sharing the report findings now, they would instead share an executive summary of the report for the benefit of the public. MacRoberts is the appointed legal firm. The terms of reference are readily available for the interest of the Committee.
The Director General was called upon to comment but he refrained from adding anything. He reiterated the hearing was the board's responsibility and noted the delays in the process and the need to conclude as soon as possible.
Mr Seabi requested the executive summary to be availed immediately as the Committee was intending on making a site visit in July once the visit was approved. He asked for clarity on the report as he could not detect the implicated employees and those going through the disciplinary process. He asked if procurement of the Department followed the code of practice on labour related issues within the institution.
The Chairperson asked for confirmation if the implicated parties included the CEO and CFO.
Mr Maluleke confirmed this. He referred to Mr Seabi’s question and replied that the Department's involvement was to avoid any internal compromise of the investigation. The appointment of the chairperson of the disciplinary hearing was still confidential.
Mr Joseph pointed to how the slide on Strengths, Weaknesses and Opportunities had been documented in such a way that the media was seen to be bad for RIM. He stressed how RIM is a public organization and although respecting the confidentiality views, the public ought to be aware of what is transpiring. On the signing of contracts for permanent or temporary staff, they must know they are working for the people. He asked to be allowed to make a media statement on that.
The Chairperson expressed her trust in Mr Joseph’s media statement. She believed he would not say anything that would endanger the muted individuals.
The Chairperson noted Mr Joseph’s remarks on the media as well as the powers of the Committee. Mr Maluleke was advised not to engage but rather offer any closing remarks he may have.
In conclusion, Mr Maluleke cautioned against what Mr Joseph mentioned considering the sensitivity of the matter.
The meeting was adjourned.
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