SABC board fires missive of bias at Parly
The SABC fired the first salvo this week, accusing Parliament’s oversight committee on communications of bias. It also questioned the committee’s ability to preside independently and fairly over its inquiry into the fitness of the broadcaster’s remaining three nonexecutive board members to hold office.
On Tuesday, SABC board chair Mbulaheni Maguvhe wrote to Humphrey Maxegwana, chairperson of the communications committee, objecting to the inquiry being conducted by the same committee members “on the grounds that there is reasonable suspicion that the committee will be biased against the remaining members of the board”.
The move forced Parliament to take quick corrective measures by establishing an ad hoc committee, made up of MPs who had not previously made statements about the SABC.
Maguvhe said he was writing on behalf of, and with the consent of, the two other remaining board members, Nomvuyo Mhlakaza and Aaron Tshidzumba.
Referring in his letter to the October 5 meeting between SABC board members and the communications committee – during which two SABC board members resigned – as well as to subsequent meetings, Maguvhe wrote that members of the committee had “clearly indicated an unwillingness to hear what the [SABC] board had to say on the questions that it was called to address”.
He added that MPs had dismissed the board’s presentation, saying it did not answer any of the questions raised. “The presentation was labelled a technical response, smoke and mirrors, lousy, superficial and a piece of paper,” wrote Maguvhe.
Listing 35 statements made by MPs during the October 5 meeting, Maguvhe went on to say they made it “pertinently clear that a decision to dissolve the board has been made and that the inquiry will be conducted purely to fulfil the law”.
Maguvhe, Mhlakaza and Tshidzumba refused to resign when Parliament asked them to do so after the October 5 meeting.
The inquiry into the board’s competence has now been postponed to give new committee members time to familiarise themselves with the SABC’s affairs.
On Thursday, the National Assembly adopted a resolution to establish the ad hoc committee. The motion, tabled by ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu, stated that the House noted the need to ensure its processes were fair and reasonable, and would give effect to the rules of “natural justice”.
The inquiry will look into the ability of the SABC board to discharge its duties, as prescribed in the Broadcasting Act. This includes probing the financial status and sustainability of the public broadcaster.
The inquiry will also examine the SABC’s response to the Public Protector’s 2014 report, titled When Governance and Ethics Fail; its compliance with recent court judgments, including the ruling by the Independent Communications Authority of SA to halt its ban on screening violent protests; and the current board’s ability to make legally binding decisions in light of the October 5 resignation of two nonexecutive board members.
The ANC will deploy senior MPs to the ad hoc committee and recommend that Vincent Smith, the former chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, chair the inquiry.