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SA Lottery Commission shakes up leadership after corruption scandal

| By Zak Thomas-Akoo
The South African lottery regulator, the National Lottery Commission (NLC), has announced a number of changes; including appointing human rights activist Barney Pityana as its new chairperson, as well as extending current operator Ithuba’s licence in the wake of a 2021 corruption scandal.

The NLC announced the shake-up in a press release where it stated that the developments add impetus to efforts to improve the regulator’s governance and performance. This follows local reports of a 2021 corruption scandal involving construction company Upbrand Properties.

According to local media, the company – which had links with a senior board member at the NLC – was accused of making dubious seeming payments to several board members at the commission.

The minister of trade, industry and competition, Ebrahim Patel, tapped human rights lawyer Dr Barney Pityana as the new chairperson of the NLC, with a start state of 1 August.

The appointment is result of a nearly two-year-long parliamentary process that began towards the end of 2020, with multiple shortlisted candidates interviewed by the parliamentary portfolio committee.

The decision included a public nomination process that identified 41 possible candidates, with three names ultimately submitted by the minister for parliamentary consideration.

Dr Pityana is a well-known academic, theologian and anti-apartheid activist, with experience as the chairperson of former national lottery operator Uthingo.

He holds a master of laws in labour law from the university of South Africa and a PhD in religious studies from the university of Cape Town, as well as being a member of the academy of science. Dr Pityana is also an ordained priest of the Anglican Church and an admitted attorney of the High Court.

Additionally, Pityana has a lengthy record of involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle, in which he served as the president of the SA students organisation.  He is widely published in multiple fields including human rights law, theology and in public ethics.

Minister Patel commented on the scandal in his appointment speech: “I am pleased that we have a distinguished, ethical and experienced person to lead the new board of the NLC. Following allegations of corruption involving grants made by the NLC, the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition instituted a forensic investigation into the funding approved by the NLC and subsequently the president appointed the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe the NLC funding decisions.

“The law enforcement agencies have acted on the preliminary findings of the SIU and further action can be expected as more information of wrong-doing becomes available. I look forward to the new board ensuring that all monies corruptly taken by individuals are recovered fully and that implicated persons are held to account by the law enforcement agencies.”

Additionally, the minister has extended the licence of the current operator, Ithuba Holdings, for a two-year period, following a request from the NLC.

The NLC cited the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the operator’s business in its request and advice to the minister. During the period of the extended licence, Ithuba will be required to pay a higher rate of contributions to the NLC, that should be distributed to good causes.

The board also state that it has undertaken a review of the process of appointing future operators.

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