Scott Sacks KZN Gaming and Betting Board

Defiance prompts dismissal

Belinda Scott, MEC For Finance

Belinda Scott, MEC For Finance

The MEC for Finance, Belinda Scott, suspended nine members of the KZN Gaming and Betting Board after a number had met secretly and granted bingo operators licences to run electronic machines. Some believe these to be nothing more than gambling machines.

The decision to introduce these machines in easily accessible areas such as shopping malls was met with widespread opposition. In August last year, several civic organisations came together to oppose the move.  During public hearings in September last year, more than 8000 people expressed their anger that the machines would be set up at local shopping centres. They claimed it would contribute to poverty and domestic violence.

KZN Premier, Senzo Mchunu

KZN Premier, Senzo Mchunu

On Friday the premier of KZN, Senzo Mchunu, filed an urgent application in the Pietermaritzburg high Court to declare the board’s decision null and void.

The board, its members, and the bingo operators who were granted licences have until Tuesday to oppose the matter. It is due to be heard by a judge on Thursday.

According to an affidavit by Scott, the board met on January 15 and 16 – the last days of its term of office. At least one member of staff was deliberately excluded.

Members of the Board present at the meeting:

Sibusisiwe Zulu (chairwoman of the board)
Pearl Dawn Arnold Mfusi (deputy chairwoman of the board)
Advocate Thembelihle Mapipa-Ndlovu (chairperson – social, ethics and transformation committee)
Petros Zamokuhle Dlamini (chairman – licensing, registration, monitoring and compliance committee)
Dr Thokozane Nzimakwe (chairman – remuneration and HR committee)
Nozibusiso Shabalala (board member)

Members not present:

Heinrich Oosthuizen (finance committee)
Professor Isobel Konyn (board member)
A Trikamjee (board member)

In an affidavit in support of the suspension, the head of governance, risk and compliance at the board, Patricia Jane Stretch, said she was asked not to attend the meeting on January 16 by member Nozibusiso Shabalala.  Stretch said the licences were discussed under the agenda item ‘Report to the MEC’. She said that had she attended the meeting she would have objected to the licences being awarded on the basis that Scott had directed otherwise.

At the end of the meeting, 650 electronic bingo machines were licensed. Letters were sent to the operators confirming their approval by the acting chief executive, Bheki Radebe. The letters were drawn up before the meeting ended and sent immediately afterwards.

The affected venues include:

The Pavilion (50 machines)
Gateway Shopping Centre (50)
South Coast Mall (90)
Galleria (50)
Brookside Mall, Pietermaritzburg (40)

In a statement Scott said: “By extending the licence conditions of existing bingo operators the board acted against the MEC and the provincial government’s explicit intention of regulating the gambling industry in a fair procedural, moral and legal manner in KZN.

“I am deeply concerned that a decision to issue licences has been made. The premier and I have been clear on how we want to handle the matter regarding the applications to roll out the electronic bingo machines in public venues. When a final decision on the matter has been made by the executive the public and all stakeholders will be informed.  I have no idea what motivated the board and its chairperson to defy an executive decision.”

Scott alluded to allegations that the board had been bribed.  It is not a new allegation and it is currently before the office of the Public Prosecutor, Thuli Madonsela.  In documents before the court it emerged an unnamed informer had tipped off Madonsela’s office.  One of the allegations was that the current board would ‘against all obstacles, approve the roll-out of bingo licences before their term was finished.’  According to the source, it was the chairwoman, Sibusiswe Zulu, who was pushing for the licences to be granted.

The chairman of the Anti-Electronic Bingo Terminals Forum, Sharm Maharaj, said he was disgusted that licences had been issued by the board.  “Their tone and the manner in which they handled the public hearings showed they were biased. The forum will be launching an inquiry on the matter. We also ask that the approved licences be withdrawn as it was done illegally.  We were not given a chance to appeal against this. All that time spent fighting for this cause and using public funds on the hearings seems like it was for nothing,” he said.

(source:  Sunday Tribune)

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