Wow, so at last we met with Minister Patel. On Monday 27th September he engaged with us for an astonishing 2.5 hours with almost his entire executive team also in the meeting. We were represented by our co-Chairs, Quinton Fredericks and Thandi Davids, EXCO member Marvin Saven, Executive Director Trish Downing with Unathi Malunga, SASFED Executive Officer representing their member bodies.
The Department’s representation included Ayabonga Cawe – Special Advisor, Irshaad Kathrada – Special Advisor, Malebo Mabitje-Thompson – Acting Director General, Shabeer Khan – Chief Financial Officer, Susan Mangole – Acting Deputy Director- General for Industrial Financing, Paseka Masemula – Director, Employment Creation Fund, Dimakatso Kgomo – Deputy Director, Film and TV Incentive Scheme, Shareen Osman – Chief Director Product Development, Frans Nkosi – Director Legal for Industrial Financing. Quite a gathering!
In brief, we presented our various problems – repudiations, delays, lack of communication, advancing spurious reasons some of which are outside the guidelines for delaying or not making payments, administrative inefficiencies, questioning BEE accreditations etc and the impact thereof; and the industry’s pre- and post-Covid stats reflecting the enormous decline as noted above commensurate with the decline in government support for the sector. The Minister invited his Film Unit team to present their challenges to industry – which largely centered around transformation and adherence to the guidelines and a concern that audited financials can’t be trusted because they are often done by the same service provider who supplies the B-BBEE certifications and other key documents, thus bringing independence and credibility into question.
He recognized that the department is being overly-zealous and said he doesn’t want them to kill the whole industry, while just needing to kill a few small bugs. To this end, he proposed 3 buckets of issues to address:
- Systemic issues – he instructed his team to see how they can cut red tape, improve efficiencies, reduce cost of compliance, and review and simplify the guidelines, amongst others.
- Projects stuck in the system – the Department is to provide specific reasons for repudiations, not just cite ‘substance over form’, to enable producers to adequately prepare for and respond during the review process, which he has instructed must be delayed a few weeks to allow for the above. They have to get the balance back in terms of identifying those ‘players that are gaming the system’ by fronting and not view every producer as ‘thieves and criminals’. Fronters must be appropriately penalised. For the rest, he said the department must not nit-pick on small details, minor administrative issues, to ensure speedy settlement of claims while adhering to law. There must be a proper reason for denying claims – and claims that are not resolved must only be due to blatant fronting.
- Transformation – he would like to see a plan we (DTIC and industry) are working towards, and indicated that targets should be phased in and take industry realities into account. Regarding enterprise development, he wants the industry to partner in Joint Ventures, skills transfer, mentorships etc; to prioritise the development of BEE suppliers to the sector, and proposed a common database of verified BEE suppliers, but noted that one would also be able to use suppliers not on that database.
He further instructed the department to dedicate one or two employees, who would not report to either Applications or Claims to ensure their independence, to serve almost as a “customer care” function – assisting producers with clarifying guidelines and request for additional documentation, helping people to fill out the forms correctly and so on.
Lastly, he said we will have a follow-up meeting in 3-4 weeks in which he wanted both sides to be able to report good progress. He added that this meeting must also discuss strategy – how to create a film ‘Spring’ and get South African stories told better and to a wider audience (not with more funding, but with better facilitation) so that the world can fall in love with our stories!
In preparation for the follow-up meeting we will send out a survey a few days before the meeting so that we can have the most-up-to-date progress report at hand. Please start compiling accounts now of your interactions with the Film Unit and any developments, to enable you to respond to the survey easily and quickly. We sincerely hope it will contain lots of good news!