South Africa’s gambling regulators were suspended for giving themselves raises and traveling in style on the taxpayer’s dime, according to the minister overseeing their behaviour. Eyebrows were raised last month after the entire membership of the National Gambling Board (NGB) was handed their walking papers with little public explanation. Word soon spread that the NGB had recorded an annual budget deficit of ZAR4m (US $361k), having blown half its ZAR 33m budget on personnel costs.
On Friday, Minister of Trade And Industry Rob Davies complied with a request by the Trade and Industry Portfolio Committee to submit a written report on the suspensions. Davies called the suspensions a “precautionary” move after receiving allegations of board members “failing to prevent irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure” and putting the entity’s accounts into overdraft without informing the minister of finance.
Other allegations Davies felt warranted investigation include unlawful hiring of staff, theft of evidential material, “intimidation/bullying/disregard of constitution/witch-hunt” and “apparent corrupt activities regarding the National Central Electronic Monitoring System.” Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Dean Macpherson issued a statement revealing that the NGB board had boosted its own pay by 46% during the 2013-14 year, a period in which it also spent ZAR 2.7m ($244k) on travel, including ZAR 1.4m attending a conference in Norway.
The investigation into the board’s activities is far from over but criminal prosecutions could yet occur if directors’ fingerprints are indeed found all over the cookie jar. The same portfolio committee is currently considering South Africa’s new online gambling bill, which was put forward this spring by the DA’s trade and industry shadow minister Geordin Hill-Lewis. The bill has a Q1 2015 target for implementation, which is noble but ultimately doomed to disappoint, with or without the distractions of finding new NGB board members.