Not only has the SABC’s chief operating officer had his salary raised by R1-million, but he has also lied to parliament about the state of the public broadcaster’s finances, the Democratic Alliance has said. Glenda Nevill reports.
The official opposition has now called on the Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, to investigate how Hlaudi Motsoeneng received a 31% increase in salary, and who authorised such an increase. It has also written to parliament’s portfolio committee on communications chairperson, Joyce Moloi Merope, to ask that she summon Motsoeneng to explain to the committee why he lied about the SABC’s financial situation.
South Africans were taken aback this week at the news of Motsoeneng’s salary increase, recorded in the SABC’s annual report which was presented to parliament this week.
Sekoetlane Jacob Phamodi, co-ordinator for the SOS Coalition, said the civil society activist broadcasting NGO was “astonished” by the news. “… just over a year after Motsoeneng was found by the Public Protector to have irregularly increased his salary a record three times in 12 months, we would see yet another equally significant increase,” he said.
“And for this to happen when the SABC is operating at a loss (something the SABC and Motsoeneng himself repeatedly and baldly denied following the Sunday Times reports) simply adds insult to injury. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see this stunning revelation for what it truly is: a brazen disregard for the integrity of our public institutions and their resources, and the authority of the powers vested in the Public Protector who represents one of the last remaining institutions the people of South Africa veritably look to for ensuring transparency and accountability in the exercise of public power.”
The DA lost no time in writing to the Public Protector about the issue, requesting that she investigate the matter. Shadow minister of communications, Gavin Davis, said in his letter that Motsoening was “already earning an artificially inflated salary, which your office found to be irregular, when he was Acting Chief Operations Officer. Mr Motsoeneng’s latest increase – by some R912 000 in the 2014/15 in this financial year – therefore appears to be built upon layers of irregularities, and artificially inflated as a result,” he said.
Davis pointed out that Motsoening was paid R1 426 000 more than the SABC’s chief financial officer, James Aguma, who received a salary of R2 358 000. “This is anomalous since Mr Aguma and Mr Motsoeneng operate on the same scale, according to the SABC’s organogram on page 10 of its Annual Report. In addition, Mr Aguma holds numerous postgraduate qualifications, whereas Mr Motsoeneng does not have a school-leaving certificate.” Motsoeneng confirmed before court last week he had a Grade 11 (standard nine) school certificate. He had previously been found to have lied, saying he had a matric.
“It should be pointed out that the highest-paid executive at the SABC for this financial year was group executive Anton Heunis, who acted as Group CEO for from 22 September to 22 November 2015. His payment has previously been justified on the grounds that he earns considerable commissions on sales. Nevertheless, this anomaly also requires closer scrutiny,” said Davis.
It’s unclear who authorised Motsoeneng’s increase although the chairperson of the SABC Board, Professor Overt Maghuve, told 702, “We haven’t just decided to give him another million. It is within the SABC benchmark that the COO gets what he is getting at the moment”.
His support was followed by that of SABC GCEO, Frans Matlala, who told media Motsoeneng had been promoted from an acting to a permanent COO and that, “a salary hike was expected when one was promoted”. Motsoeneng himself defended the increase, which sees him now earn nearly R1-million more than President Jacob Zuma, saying it wasn’t a sin for a “black man to earn a decent salary”, despite his race never being brought up as being part of the issue on the table.
As Phamodi says, the heart of the issue is actually whether the SABC can afford such salaries and whether it was ethical for the public broadcaster to award a person to the tune of over R3.7 million.
He said Matlala, being the accounting officer of the SABC, and SABC chairperson, Maguvhe, had to account for several things including “how Motsoeneng was awarded a further salary increase in the face of the clear findings made against him by the Public Protector, and the Board’s failure to implement her recommendations”. He also asked who authorised the increase and on what objective grounds and questioned whether the “rest of the SABC staff should expect to see a commensurate increase in their salaries given that it is they who are really responsible for ensuring that the SABC can still service every one of this country’s 15 million households’ information, education and entertainment needs”.
“The question that should be asked is whether this is ethically justifiable given the findings and recommendations made against Motsoeneng on the frequent and irregular upward adjustments of his salary by the public protector. Further, as noted above, is such a significant pay raise a rational and justifiable move in the face of a R400m loss?”
Matlala blamed the loss of earnings on the public, saying it was their fault as they hadn’t paid their television licence fees. He also said the broadcaster had seen a downturn in advertising.
The DA’s Davis says Motsoeneng must be held to account not only for the SABC’s losses, but also for lying to parliament. He said in April this year, the COO told the portfolio committee that the SABC was “financially sustainable”.
“Significantly, neither [communications minister] Muthambi nor Motsoeneng mentioned the SABC’s projected loss for this financial year. This was despite the existence of internal SABC financial documents dated March 2015 (later exposed by the Sunday Times) that indicated the SABC was due to make a massive loss,” Davis said.
“The loss of R395 million in the 2014/15 financial year, compares with the R358 million the SABC recorded as profit in the previous financial year. This means that, under Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s watch, the SABC’s finances have taken a R753 million nose-dive.”
Davis said the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliaments and Provincial Legislatures Act of 2004, stipulates that lying to parliament is a criminal offence and carries a custodial sentence.
Section 17 of the Act states: “A person who willfully furnishes a House or committee with information, or makes a statement before it, which is false or misleading, commits an offence and is liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years…”
Davis said it was clear Motsoeneng lied to “justify his multi-million rand pay cheque”.
Now the Motsoeneng ball is back in the Public Protector’s court.
As Phamodi says, Advocate Thuli Madonsela is “just about the only legitimate avenue available to approach to investigate and address this matter.
“Parliament has failed outright at making appropriate and timely interventions to arrest the SABC crisis – the nation is still waiting on Board appointments that have been outstanding since last year. The Ministry has no role to play in the matter of salary negotiations beyond ensuring compliance with the PFMA – and, in any event, it is itself compromised given the extent to which the office has gone to protect Motsoeneng. Surely in the light of a R395 million loss, the SABC should not be awarding bonuses and increases to executives? This sits at the heart of whats at issue, here.”
Read: DA complaint to Public Protector here: 24 Sep – Madonsela – Hlaudi Motsoeneng salary
IMAGE: Hlaudi Motsoeneng / SABC