The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) has stated that ‘we have no reason to doubt the professionalism of the audit company’ who audited South Africa’s R10-million participation at the 2011 Venice Biennale art exhibition. This is despite the fact that the department has been made aware that at least two of the invoices in the audit were faked.
This was discovered after ArtThrob gained access to the audit via the Promotion of Access to Information Act and uncovered that a chain of apparently faked invoices and dubious sub contracts were generated in accounting for the taxpayers’ R10 million entrusted to Johannesburg gallerist Monna Mokoena to mount South Africa’s official entry in the prestigious international culture festival.
The paperwork is contained in an audited accounting, from N.M Patel Auditors, of how CulArt Productions (a company owned by Mokoena and Tim Mangwedi) disbursed the R10 million paid out by the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC).
But despite the favourable audit opinion the invoices do not stand scrutiny.
CulArt claims to have paid MMA architects R360 000 for ‘architectural design for the pavilion’ in Venice. An invoice is attached, annotated as being from a Mphethi Morojele of MMA.
However, approached for comment, Morojele denied receiving the money and stated unequivocally: ‘I would like to put on record that I have absolutely no knowledge of the attached invoice (which is not even a proper MMA invoice) nor has MMA ever been paid the stated amount.’
Approached for comment, a second person involved in the event similarly denied having received the money specified, totaling over R100 000, indicating the relevant invoice was a forgery.
Also signed off in the audit are ten different invoices from Italian nationals and companies – all of which were formatted identically. Some of these manifest inaccurate Italian spellings and grammar.
Though ostensibly independently generated, several invoices repeat a mistaken spelling in CulArt’s address, giving the suburb as ‘Parktown Wort’ rather than Parktown North.
Another apparently irregular invoice is submitted by ‘Victor Dlamini Communications’ in the amount of R1 394 640. It specifies several services which were in fact not provided at all – including an iPad app and a print advertising campaign – or not performed as specified – among these, managing a Twitter account, which was only active for 11 days rather than the contracted 6 months.
However, Dlamini – who is a business partner of Mokoena in other ventures – has repeatedly insisted he had ‘no involvement’ in the Venice debacle.
Flying in the face of the denial however, Dlamini’s name appears on departmental minutes of a meeting on 15 March 2011 where he is identified as a member of ‘CulArt’, and also on the original budget for the event.
Equally mysterious is another invoice, this one from a South African company, called Novactive, was paid over R1.5-million. The invoice claims that Novactive was paid R1.3-million for ‘boat hire’ and ‘installing [the artworks]’.
But, according to sources close to the Biennale (who wish to remain anonymous) no South African company assisted with the actual installation of the exhibition in Venice.
Moreover an Italian transport company submitted an invoice to CulArt in the value of 5 000 Euros, specifying the work undertaken had included transporting crates in a ‘specialized boat.’ According to Novactive’s website they are a Johannesburg based media company, and not in the business of transportation. The company’s sole director, a Mr Al Zoya, has not to date been tracked down. His consumer profile does however state Gallery Momo as his employer.
By a rough addition, at least R4-million of the R10-million CulArt received from the DAC for the 2011 event is backed up by irregular or apparently faked invoices.
This does not include the management fee of R1.5-million and the curator’s fee of R402 980 paid to Thembinkosi Goniwe.
The 2011 South African participation in the Biennale flared into controversy when it became known that then newly-appointed Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mahatile had appointed art dealer Mokoena as commissioner without any consultative processes being followed. Then the row deepened when Mokoena chose – unilaterally – two artists commercially represented by Mokoena’s own gallery, among the four countrywide selected for what was meant to be a nationally representative showing.
By contrast with South Africa’s 2011 participation, the 2013 exhibition has been relatively free of controversy. Entrusted to the National Arts Festival with DAC funding. However, some questions have been raised surrounding the number of government officials sent to the event. According to the DAC four people were sent to Venice but due to their ‘network server’ being down they do ‘not have the expenditure breakdown immediately due to a lack of access to information.’
The DAC has also recently confirmed spending R21.6-million on a twenty-year lease on a building in Venice to house South Africa’s participation. This comes at a time when the department has reduced spending on its National Development Project and on the National Arts Council by R23.1-million ‘as part of Cabinet’s approved budget reductions’. What is also noted in the department’s portfolio budget report of 2013 is that: ‘[p]rojects such as the annual Edinburgh International Festival, the Tunisian Film Festival and the French-South African seasons in 2013/2014 contributes to increased spending on travel’.
This is an edited version of a story that was first published in The Weekend Argus. The full version appeared on ArtThrob on 30 July 2013
Timeline of Events
01 Nov 2010 Paul Mashatile made minister of Arts and Culture, replacing the serially controversial Lulu Xingwana.
03 Dec 2010 Departmental e-mail states that budget constraints are too tight to allow for participation in the Venice Biennale.
9 Dec 2010 Department selects Victor Dlamini as South Africa’s representative at a lead-in cultural Festival in Ghana
5 Jan 2011 Mashatile confirms SA is to participate at Venice 2011 after all and declares – without first undertaking the usual public consultative process – that Monna Mokoena (ie CulArt) is to be Commissioner.
19 Jan 2011 CulArt registers as a company with CIPRO as a vehicle for the Biennale engagement.
15 Mar 2011 Mokoena and Dlamini (of CulArt) confirm that selection process is completed. DAC officials express concern at a perceived lack of transparency, requesting that a public process be engaged. Mokoena refuses, claiming that the minister has given approval. Dlamini says he will answer questions if any concerns are raised.
29 Mar 2011 The DAC transfers R2.5-million into CulArt’s bank account
Apr 2011 Press uncovers Mokoena’s conflict of interest – two of his own artists were selected to participate.
29 Apr 2011 Mokoena is reported in the M&G as saying DAC has not pledged any funding, and that he will personally be footing the bill.
30 May 2011 Dept transfers R7.5-million into CulArt’s bank account.
4 June 2011 Exhibition opens.
6 Mar 2013 Dept releases audit of 2011 exhibition after a request under the Promotion of Access to Information Act. Faked invoices are uncovered.
5 Apr 2013 DAC made aware that the 2011 audited expenditure contains faked invoices.
8 Apr 2013 DAC emails back to the effect that ‘we have no reason to doubt the professionalism of the audit company’. Attached to the email from the dept is a banner stating ‘Blow the Whistle on Fraud and Corruption’
23 July 2013 DAC confirms that it will not be investigating the apparent 2011 irregularities any further.