The National Lotteries Commission has refused to release information on beneficiaries of lottery funding because, says the chairperson, the information is “generating money for journalists”.
“We came here last year and we reported that information of beneficiaries have been stolen,” the chairperson of the Commission, Professor Alfred Nevhutanda, told Parliament’s portfolio committee on trade and industry on Tuesday.
“We had to ask the Department of State Security to come to look at the matter. We’re getting reports that our information is generating money for journalists,” he said.
Following a number of reports on corruption and conflicts of interest in NLC grant allocations, the Commission decided for the first time in 18 years not to disclose the list of grant beneficiaries in its 2019 annual report.
Mathew Cuthbert (DA) was not satisfied with the NLC’s reasons. “The opening comments from the chairperson sound like something coming out of a Bell Pottinger playbook,” he said, referring to the UK-based PR firm that did work for the Gupta family. “The conspiracy theory that information is being stolen and used for financial use is just something I cannot believe,” said Cuthbert.
Cuthbert asked the NLC why the Commission had not “provided the full beneficiaries list for the 2019 financial year despite the committee requesting” it on several occasions. Committee chair Duma Nkosi (ANC) had asked Nevhutanda in November 2019 to “assist” the committee with the question of the list.
But Nevhutanda maintained that not disclosing the grant beneficiaries was in the beneficiaries’ best interest and within the law.
“Parliament can’t teach us to break the law, the same law that you gave us,” said Nevhutanda.
In February, the NLC released a statement that the board had appointed the audit firm Sekela Xabiso to investigate claims of fraud in how grant funds are distributed. The final report should be completed by May, Nevhutanda told the portfolio committee.
ANC MPs said that they were curious about the “noise” that journalists were making about the NLC, especially when the Commission was “doing such good work”.
Simanga Mbuyane (ANC) also wanted to know why there had been so much negative press on the NLC, particularly in GroundUp.
“Looking at your performance, this is one of the best performing entities. I’m not sure what this hullabaloo with the media is about,” said Priscilla Mantashe (ANC).
While the committee adjourned for a short tea break, in the National Assembly corridor there was a heated exchange between journalist Raymond Joseph, who has written extensively on dodgy NLC grants, and musician Tebogo Sithathu. Sithathu said that he’d been part of the march in Pretoria to the Department of Trade of Industry a week ago. Sithathu repeated the accusation that Joseph had received Lottery money, which Joseph has denied, and Sithathu said he was not “scared of you white people”.
When Cuthbert raised this exchange as a point of order, Nkosi declined to address it in the committee meeting. “Let’s not bring outside things inside,” he said.