South African heritage agency limping forward

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Missing assets worth R10 million and plans to investigate its chief executive for misconduct have left the SA Heritage Resources Agency (Sahra) crumbling.

The organisation is also operating without a fulltime chief financial officer and corporate affairs executive and the chief executive, Sibongile van Damme, has been on sick leave for the past six weeks.

Sahra is constitutionally mandated to protect the country’s national heritage sites. It employs 62 people and its annual budget is R36m.

The South African Heritage Resources Agency in Harrington Street, Cape Town. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Its messy state of affairs became evident this week when the Cape Times obtained a copy of its annual report and the auditor-general’s report that slams its incompetence for the last financial year ending in March 2012.

Auditor-general Terence Nombembe gave the agency’s books a disclaimer for the last financial year.

It found “no explanation for journal entries totalling R10 267 000” for fixed assets that cannot be traced. It also found previously that “appropriate audit evidence could not be provided to support fruitless and wasteful expenditure amounting to R344 889”.

“The entity (Sahra) proceeded with retrenchments despite receiving an instruction from (Arts and Culture Department) portfolio committee that retrenchments should be avoided.

“This included the payment of R1 014 729 in retrenchment and severance pay benefits,” stated Nombembe’s report.

Sahra also owes the SA Revenue Service “amounts relating to outstanding employees tax and penalty plus interest”.

Advocate Dave Mitchell, independent chairman of Sahra’s audit committee, told the Cape Times yesterday that the missing assets would probably include “specialist equipment, televisions, vehicles and others”.

“Adjustments have been made to hide assets that have gone missing. The guy responsible for fixed assets (at Sahra) has been sick and off work since May.

“The first principle of accountability is that the responsible official must be there. They’re playing the ill- health story,” said Mitchell.

He said that the audit committee was set on conducting a forensic inquiry but could not yet confirm when it would begin.

Mitchell said his audit report, conducted after the auditor-general’s report, confirmed that Sahra “did not maintain an effective system of internal control”.

“This applies particularly in the areas of human resources management, fixed assets, procurement and supply chain management, and controls over the preventing and reporting of unauthorised, irregular and fruitless and wasteful expenditure,” the internal audit report found.

“Internal controls were ineffective and unreliable, assets were not safeguarded, liabilities and working capital were not properly managed and that the entity did not fulfil its responsibility to comply with relevant statutory and governance duties and prescripts.”

When the Cape Times visited Sahra’s head office on the corners of Roeland and Harrington streets, acting chief executive officer Dumisani Sibayi confirmed that Van Damme was into her sixth week of sick leave.

Sibayi is Sahra’s heritage resource manager.

Sibayi acknowledged that they were in “trouble” but showed the Cape Times that they were still operational.

Somadoda Fikeni, chairman of Sahra’s council of board members, in a turn-around plan submitted to Parliament last month, said it would launch a forensic inquiry to “investigate the chief executive (Van Damme) for misconduct”.

He said there was a “range of systematic weaknesses” at Sahra.

This included “poor personnel quality” and an “institutional culture of poor performance, lack of accountability and anarchy”.

Contacted yesterday, Van Damme said: “I can’t comment on any issues because I am on sick leave.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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