The Heritage Association of South Africa (HASA) commends the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) for taking steps to stabilise the situation at the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). This follows the release of a statement by the DAC last week in which the ministry acknowledged shortfalls in administration and institutional governance at the agency.
According to the statement, allegations have been “levelled against the Chairperson of the SARHA board, and the CEO regarding the irregularities in expenditure, non-compliance with Supply Chain Management policies by the SAHRA Management and a breach of oversight responsibility by the Chairperson of Council”.
This follows allegations of irregular expenditure and noncompliance that was raised by the Auditor-General in the agency’s 2016/17 audit report.
The DAC announced that an investigation into these matters have been completed. It notes that the SAHRA Council has instituted criminal charges in relation to the former Chairperson and CEO. The CEO, we’ve been informed, was dismissed last month.
HASA and our associates have long criticised the alleged evidence of corruption and maladministration evident in the management of our national estate.
Since the implementation of the National Heritage Resources Act (the NHRA) nearly two decades ago, there has been a stonewalling gesture by the relevant authorities to requests to realise the provisions of this act.
The heritage community has repeatedly argued that SAHRA and the provincial heritage resources authorities (the so-called PHRAs) are ineffective and dysfunctional with numerous provisions of the NHRA simply being ignored. It has been reasoned that only two of the nine provinces (the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal) have functional PHRAs.
One of the functions of SAHRA is to declare PHRAs competent in areas prescribed by the NHRA. In our view, many PHRAs around the country must surely fail this basic test. However, SAHRA takes no action against errant bodies. HASA has documented many instances from around the country where SAHRA and the PHRAs have been found wanting. The majority of PHRAs are not autonomous which means that they have been vulnerable to political interference where state-owned heritage assets have been affected. They are notoriously under resourced. They fail to recognise HASA associates as interested and affected parties in matters of local heritage concern. The process of regrading former national monuments have stalled completely (missing a key deadline stipulated in the NHRA). Importantly there has been a systemic failure to prosecute heritage crimes. Tellingly, not a single authority in the country has delegated functions which means that heritage is completely stymied at local level – the most important sphere of government when it comes to planning and development.
HASA believes that without stable and credible leadership at SAHRA and the PHRAs, the NHRA is doomed to failure. May the 20 year anniversary of the NHRA inspire our leaders to do better when it comes to our fragile heritage.