It is doubtful the minister of communications will take tough action on the SABC, and will face resistance, especially with general elections coming up soon, Democratic Alliance spokesman on communications, Marian Shinn, told The Media Online.
Shinn was responding to the release of public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report into various issues at the SABC. Titled ‘When Governance and Ethics Fail’ the investigation probed allegations of maladministration, abuse of power, corporate governance deficiencies and confirmed the “irregular” appointment of acting chief operations officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
“Couple this report with the Price Waterhouse Coopers skills audit report of 10 days ago and anyone can see that the SABC is at a desperate juncture. The crisis has escalated in the past two years under Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s ‘stewardship’. This crisis needs drastic corrective action that will take political courage by government as the shareholder. We can’t have another turnaround strategy by inappropriately skilled loyal cadres when none of them in executive and senior management has the experience or skills to do this, as the PwC report stated. Parachuting in skilled corporate managers – with a mandate to fix it without fear or favour – will take political courage,” says Shinn.
Shinn says the minister, Yunus Carrim, needs cabinet support for “drastic and unpopular action to halt the management rot”. She said he would meet resistance, “particularly from the trade unions, who are Mr Motsoeneng’s ground troops at the corporation”.
Madonsela’s investigation found allegations of maladministration, including financial mismanagement, at the level of the SABC management are also substantiated. “The substantial amounts of money paid to SABC’s employees as settlements during protracted suspensions, terminations and/or long drawn-out labour dispute proceedings and protracted litigations caused unnecessary and avoidable costs to the National Broadcaster, thus resulting in fruitless and wasteful expenditure. The allegation that the avoidable legal fees, settlement awards and acting allowances for persons in suspension, contributed to the National Broadcaster’s unprecedented salary bill escalation by R29 million,” she said.
“The allegation that Mr Motsoeneng irregularly increased the salaries of various staff members is substantiated. Mr Motsoeneng unilaterally increased salaries of, Ms Sully Motsweni, Ms Thobekile Khumalo, Mr Hannes Du Buisson and certain freelancers without following Part IV of the SABC Personnel Regulations. These irregular and rapid salary progressions contributed to the National Broadcaster’s unprecedented salary bill escalation by R29 million,” she wrote.
Du Boisson, president of the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (Bemawu), denies he was involved. “I am not employed by the SABC. I was employed there 14 years ago,” he told Sapa. “I am very offended by this statement by the Public Protector. That statement is tarnishing my reputation and name.” He said he’d demanded the public protector issue a correction.
Carrim’s spokesman, Siya Qoza, said the ministry of communications would “consider” the report and refer it to their lawyers. “It is the SABC Board, in any case, that has to mainly act on the report. We will engage with them on this. As for recommendations to the Ministry, we will act on them within the law,” he said.
Madonsela is not convinced the new SABC board – or previous incarnations – are best placed to deal with her findings. She was scathing about the board’s attitude to the man in question, Motsoeneng. “I must indicate that in this regard I found it rather discouraging that the current SABC Board appears to have blindly sprung to Mr Motsoeneng’s defence on matters that precede it and which, in my considered view, require a Board that is serious about ethical governance to raise questions with him. In fact at times the Board submission appeared more defensive on his behalf than himself,” she said.
Madonsela said the board had also “misunderstood” some of the issues at hand and failed to “appreciate the distinction between jurisdiction and discretion”. “There is no bar on investigating matters that were not canvassed in or decided by a court of law. I have clarified that the investigation did not investigate alleged unfair labour practices. It was simply confined to testing the allegation that Mr Motsoeneng systematically purged senior staff in a manner that flaunted legal and corporate procedures resulting in the loss of millions of Rand,” she said.
Shinn believes the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications must call the board before it to explain its seeming automatic defence of SABC management in response to these two investigations. “I have written to the chairperson requesting that the board be requested to appear before us to explain their public response following the skills audit report and the public protector’s comments about their seeming resistance to her probe and unquestioning support of Motsoeneng’s ‘management’. We must get the board to act on the recommendations and do the job they were appointed by Parliament to do,” she said.
Motsoeneng should be removed from the SABC “without benefit of a golden handshake”, Shinn added. “He has proved to be a destructive force in both the way the corporation is managed and in the exodus and suppression – forced or otherwise – of broadcasting and managerial talent that was built up over years and is critical to keeping the broadcasts on air. He must be investigated for possible criminal activities as identified by the PP and, if appropriate, face prosecution,” she said. Motsoeneng, with the help of former board chairman, Dr Ben Ngubane, awarded himself three salary increases in one year, eventually grossing R2.4 million annually.
The public protector said Motsoeneng “committed an act of gross fraudulent misrepresentation of facts by declaring himself to be in possession of a matriculation certificate obtained at Metsimantsho High School in Qwaqwa”. Motsoeneng admitted he had falsified his matric qualifications, Madonsela said. “On the completed application form availed by one of the Complainants, Mr Motsoeneng indicated that he passed Standard 10 (‘matric’) in 1991 at the age of 23 years and indicated five (5) symbols he had purported to have obtained in this regard.
“Mr Motsoeneng further conceded during his interview, as did other Members of the erstwhile board during their recorded interview, that there were systemic corporate governance lapses in the SABC, although Mr Motsoeneng took no responsibility for any of such lapses, blaming everything on the Board, fellow executives and the Department of communications,” Madonsela found.
The SABC has not responded fully to the report. Spokesman Kaizer Kganyago told SABC News, “Obviously we’ve just received a report ourselves and what we are going to do is to go through it and ask the board to also meet and look at it to make sure that they understand what they are expected to do. And after that, we will be in a position to then formally respond to it. We have understood that this report is only released to us today. We cannot make any direct comment onto the content of the report.”
The Media Workers Association of South Africa (MWASA) general secretary, Tuwani Gumani, said he was glad the union had withdrawn from the SABC in 2011. He accused the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union (Bemawu) and the Communications Workers Union of insisting on Motsoeneng’s appointment as acting chief operations officer “in spite of the realities now confirmed by the public protector”. He said MWASA was also “purged” from the SABC for railing against the lowering of standards and its members “tormented”. He said Mwasa “suffered all forms of detriment, prejudice and compromise”.
“The question we continue to ask, ‘Who benefits from a dysfunctional SABC?” remains relevant and must be answered. We had noted as early as 1 October 2012 that the ANC would not readily intervene to remedy or arrest the demise of the SABC given the ruling party’s own benefit-margin from the state of anarchy at the state-owned-company,” Gumani said in a statement.
The union believes it is critical that a permanent GCEO, chief operating officer and chief financial officer be appointed and that Motsoeneng is immediately suspended. Disciplinary measures, in accordance with SABC policies, should be instituted against Motsoeneng, he said. The broadcaster should also establish a Statutory Social and Ethics Committee.
The broadcaster’s GCEO Lulama Mokhobo announced her resignation earlier this month. Was this related to the public protector’s report? Shinn believes this is “highly likely”. “She resigned in a hurry citing exhaustion, but I’m sure it was more than that. Her authority was steadily eroded by Motsoeneng who usurped her role as editor-in chief. He also rammed through the dubious MultiChoice deal when she was away and he had the board appoint him acting GCEO to seemingly make the process legal. She also approved – without proper authorisation, the improper payment of R1million to Pule’s ICT Indaba – on the mere say so of the now suspended CFO Gugu Duda. She seemed out of her depth and allowed herself to become powerless. She should not escape any possible criminal investigation recommended by the public protector. She is also being investigated by the Hawks as part of my request to them mid-2013,” Shinn said.
President Jacob Zuma fired former minister Dina Pule last year. She famously allowed her boyfriend to dictate powerful appointments within the communications portfolio, and ensured he benefitted substantially through the controversial ICT Indaba. Madonsela said Pule was involved in the “irregular appointment of Ms Duda as the SABC’s CFO and her improper conduct relating to the issuing of unlawful orders to the SABC Board and staff”.
What happens from here is in the hands of the communications minister and the latest iteration of the SABC’s board. In the words of the public protector, the South African public can only hope that in future “there is strict and collective responsibility by the SABC Board members through working as a collective and not against each other, in compliance with the relevant legislation, policies and prescripts that govern the National Broadcaster”.