OPINIONISTA

Rehad Desai and Ramadan Suleman: An abrupt change to DTI policy leaves film producers reeling

After years of offering incentives to both citizens and permanent residents, the Department of Trade and Industry has without warning removed permanent residents from the equation.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has long provided the lion’s share of support to independently produced and owned local film and television, the motivation being the sector’s ability to undergo accelerated economic growth. A key element of that support is various production incentives. These are monetary rebates for local spend on productions in the country for both South African and international productions.

The system has worked well at achieving what it has set out to do — enabling producers to contribute to the growth of the economy, upskill workers and increase employment opportunities. It is a scheme that has helped to keep the wheels of this nascent industry turning in the face of a virtual collapse of local TV channel production.

After years of that incentive being available to citizens and permanent residents, the DTI has suddenly, without warning, removed permanent residents from the equation. Under the previous guidelines, talent or production staff who are permanent residents were treated the same as citizens, and their earnings would allow producers to obtain the same rebate.

There are a number of permanent residents working in the industry who have spent years contributing to its growth. Qualifying for permanent residency requires not only having already held a South African work visa for at least five years, but also proving that you are economically viable, and bringing in expertise or entrepreneurial skills of your own which will contribute to the nation’s economy.

In the recently published 2018 guidelines, permanent residents are now excluded. This new restriction will mean that permanent residents will be overlooked in favour of citizens with the same skills set — if they exist and are available. Excluding them from working, as this change effectively does, denying them the opportunity to even seek work, is both wrong and undermines the competitive advantage the rebate provides for the growth of South Africa’s TV and film sector.

This is not only an own goal, it is discriminatory. This sudden change of rules has also left a number of producers in dire financial straits. Under the new rules the DTI has failed to pay the rebate on amounts spent on permanent residents on pre-approved projects. They simply said they were now implementing existing rules.

This is neither something the South African industry called for, nor is it in its best interests. It threatens further growth. Another area which will be affected is co-production treaties, many of which have been signed in recent years, which stipulate that the advantages offered in those treaties will apply equally to citizens and permanent residents. These treaties are important for our industry, and cannot simply be renegotiated to suit the whims of the DTI.

But beyond the financial implications lie political ones. This discrimination is unconstitutional. Our constitution makes it plain that permanent residents have the same rights as citizens, apart from a few clearly defined exceptions, such as voting rights. A large number of the permanent residents affected are those from other African countries, who already face a high level of discrimination. Given our dangerous history of violence towards immigrants and refugees, permanent residents already have to overcome unnecessary bias when trying to find work in this country.

Placing an additional barrier like this will only see producers stop hiring permanent residents — effectively rendering a large number of skilled technicians, performers, writers and actors — all active participants in the industry as well as taxpayers — unemployable. And any producers who are permanent residents themselves will face even greater obstacles, potentially leading to a loss of jobs for both citizens and residents who they employ.

You don’t have to take our word for this — constitutional and administrative law expert Lauren Kohn has written in great detail about the legal arguments which apply here. We urge the DTI to reconsider this amendment, and return to the rules which have successfully served the industry over the past years. DM

Rehad Desai represents the Independent Producers organisation and Ramadan Suleman the Independent Black Filmmakers Collective.

 

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