SABC board chairwoman Ellen Tshabalala could be forced to pay back the money she earned in the position. The SABC’s own fraud and corruption policy clearly states that the broadcaster should “recover any losses from fraudulent and/or corrupt activities or any other wrongful act”.
Tshabalala was on Wednesday found guilty of two counts of misconduct by parliament’s portfolio committee on communications (PCC) after a series of attempts to delay the inquiry into whether she had the tertiary qualifications stipulated on her CV. The committee, headed by chairwoman Joyce Moloi-Moropa, after hearing extensive evidence from University of South Africa director of legal services, Jan van Wyk, said Tshabalala had lied about her qualifications, and committed perjury when she signed an affidavit saying the proof had been stolen in a house burglary. The committee recommended her immediate suspension and that she be permanently removed from the position.
Civil society activist NGO, the SOS Coalition, said Tshabalala had earned in the region of R936 000 for chairing SABC board meetings and attending committee meetings. SOS Coalition co-ordinator, Sekoetlani Phamodi, told The Media Online as far as he knew, the PCC had no procedural rule for or against those found guilty in a parliamentary inquiry regarding paying back the money. He said trying to get Tshabalala to do so could be an expensive exercise especially considering how she has used the courts to try and prevent facing the inquiry in the first place. “She does have a moral imperative to set an example, though,” he said.
Democratic Alliance shadow minister of communications, Gavin Davis, said the SABC’s own policy on fraud and corruption, as stated on page 67 of last year’s annual report, indicated she could be liable. It reads: “The SABC shall take appropriate steps, including legal action, to recover any losses from fraudulent and/or corrupt activities or any other wrongful act. This may include action against third parties involved in fraudulent and/or corrupt activities or any other wrongful act, or whose negligent actions contributed to such acts.”
But there are many more steps to take before the SABC could consider doing so as Tshabalala is still fighting, despite overwhelming evidence that she misrepresented her qualifications. She tried, again, to prevent the inquiry from going ahead and did not attend, preferring to send her lawyers, again.
“It is true that she did not attend. She sent Mr Tilney, her attorney, instead. He announced that she was appealing the Baartman judgment and that, in his view, this meant that the Inquiry would have to be suspended. Parliament’s legal advisor, Ntuthuzelo Vanara cited case law to make the argument an appeal did not mean an automatic suspension in proceedings — a specific court order was required for that,” Davis said.
Phamodi said Tshabalala was simply “rehashing old arguments”. Not only did she claim it was unprocedural, but also attempted to have Davis recused. “It’s outrageous,” said Phamodi. “She’s had ample opportunity to present her case. Parliament cannot be expected to continue complying with her whims,” he said.
Davis said Tshabalala alleged that the Committee was biased and that she could therefore not get a fair hearing. He said her lawyers also argued that she had not received certain documents – “which was quickly debunked”).
“Another argument was that, because I had enlisted the services of a an independent verification agency, I had exhibited bias and should therefore recuse myself. This was rubbished by Parliament’s legal advisor,” he said.
Phamodi said the SOS took no satisfaction in Tshabalala’s humiliation. “SOS heartily welcomes this outcome although it came at great cost to the reputation and integrity of Parliament, the SABC and, most importantly, the people of South Africa. Further we are deeply disappointed by and take no satisfaction in Tshabalala dragging this process to the extent where she has been so publicly humiliated in this regard. Most especially after our repeated calls for her to do the honourable thing and resign,” he said.
Another senior SABC executive, chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, also lied about his qualifications, as exposed in a Public Protector report When Governance and Ethics Fail. Could the Tshabalala ruling impact on upcoming proceedings against Motsoeneng?
“It will stop Tshabalala from extending his powers to act as CEO again,” said Davis. “It may also help matters later on when Motsoeneng is eventually hauled before an SABC disciplinary hearing. Although, this will depend on the political orientation of the new Chairperson.”
Moloi-Moropa must now inform Speaker Baleka Mbete of the committee’s findings, and it’s recommendation that Tshabalala be suspended. Mbete has to communicate this to President Jacob Zuma, who will decide on her suspension. As parliament has closed for the year, a resolution will be tabled in the National Assembly when it reopens in February 2015 to have her permanently removed from office. If adopted, Zuma has 30 days to do so.
The fact that Tshabalala’s lack of qualifications wasn’t picked up during the SABC board nominations process is of great concern, said Phamodi. “Parliament took it in good faith that applicants had the qualifications they said they had. Now I think they’re waking up. The chairwoman said the process needs to be more vigorous in future,” he said.
He said it was “astonishing” that Tshabalala was continuing to fight despite the full report presented by Van Wyk that proved without any doubt that she lied.
He said SOS called on the committee to ensure she paid back the money, and called on Zuma to “to direct the National Prosecutions Authority to initiate a criminal investigation into her contravention of the Justices of the Peace and Commissioners of Oaths Act”.
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