HLAUDI’S R600M SHOCKER
HLAUDI FIRED TV BOSS TO CREATE R600M COMMISSIONING HUB, AGAINST SABC POLICY THE CONTROVERSIAL 80% LOCAL CONTENT POLICY LOSES SABC3 50% OF ITS ADS CELEBRITY PRODUCERS GET JOBS THROUGH HIS OFFICE WE PROVE HLAUDI LIED TO US ABOUT HIS ‘NEW’ POLICY BEING APPRO
An explosive labour court case and details from top SABC insiders reveal how Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the public broadcaster’s controversial group executive of corporate affairs, allegedly ignored governance protocols to seize control of television content. A City Press investigation has found that Motsoeneng allegedly “traumatised” Verona Duwarkah, the SABC’s former group executive for television, and made her staff report to him alone.
He then proceeded to set up a new process to commission R600 million worth of local TV shows.
For these, he brought in chosen producers, many of them celebrity actors, to the SABC through a back door.
This unit, called Special Projects, defies the SABC’s own commissioning policy, as well as the regulations of industry watchdog The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa).
Motsoeneng’s flaunting of legislated procedures has, say insiders, contributed to massive losses at the SABC over the past year. This is backed up by Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu, who this week revealed that the broadcaster’s reported unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful spend – amounting to R421 million for 2015/16 – was massively understated. In fact, the figure amounts to R798.2 million.
City Press also learnt that Motsoeneng’s implementation of an 80% local TV content quota was done without a risk assessment – and with near-fatal repercussions for SABC3.
The war over local TV shows
In September, the labour court ruled in favour of Duwarkah, whose contract with the SABC was terminated in July.
In court papers she said an ongoing battle between her and Motsoeneng had left her “emotionally, physically and mentally devastated”.
This, she said, forced her to write a letter to Motsoeneng and SABC acting group human resources executive Mohlolo Lephaka, asking them to negotiate a settlement for her to leave the broadcaster after 25 years’ service.
The SABC then claimed this was a “resignation letter” and terminated her employment.
In an interview with City Press, conducted in the same expansive and heavily secured 27th-floor office he had in his former post as the SABC’s chief operating officer, Motsoeneng insisted he never fell out with Duwarkah.
However, the SABC’s answering affidavit makes it clear there was escalating tension between them. The broadcaster accuses Duwarkah of nonperformance by dragging out the commissioning of new TV programmes through the SABC’s approved 2014 Request for Proposals (RFP) book, sent to independent producers in its quest for 110 new TV shows.
The SABC also questions why – despite letters from her doctors – Duwarkah took so much sick leave after things came to a head with Motsoeneng, “respectfully” questioning “whether depression prevents one from working”. The broadcaster goes on to say her claims are “malicious”.
The court disagreed and Duwarkah returned to work in a different position. She was eventually paid out.
In her affidavit, Duwarkah, who was unavailable for comment this week, speaks of “severe stress” caused by repeatedly having to confront Motsoeneng over the SABC’s duty to follow procedure.
“The final straw came when instructions were given to me by Motsoeneng that I had to execute and implement material changes in policy, despite the fact that these were not approved in accordance with the operating standards and [were] lacking due diligence.”
She cites how she was hauled over the coals after her team rejected content proposals and the producers then complained to Motsoeneng. “Motsoeneng humiliated me in front of my team, despite me indicating that the SABC procurement process is a highly governed process,” she states, adding that she repeatedly warned Motsoeneng that his meddling in everything from the SA Music Awards line-up to sports events, and especially programming schedules, was negatively affecting SABC audiences and revenues.
“A material watershed moment arrived when Motsoeneng hand-picked a select few producers and instructed me ... to ensure they were given contracts, even though some of their proposals had previously been rejected by the content team.”
The content team evaluates programme pitches and makes decisions based on profitability, audience responses, quality and standard of productions.
Duwarkah says it was Motsoeneng who delayed the RFP commissions by making changes and halting processes – not her.
In response, the SABC says Duwarkah was covering for her failure to perform and that her claims are “irrelevant, untrue, unfounded and unsubstantiated personal attacks” on Motsoeneng. Motsoeneng admits to throwing out the RFP process, saying it was slow and cumbersome.
In court papers Duwarkah says Motsoeneng then wanted to increase quotas for local TV content. Four senior current and former SABC officials, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation, told City Press this was a unilateral decision, made without any risk assessment.
“We were advised that ‘if we don’t walk and talk and behave like Motsoeneng, we should leave’,” Duwarkah says in her affidavit, adding that Motsoeneng called her “a stumbling block” in front of senior staffers such as James Aguma and Jimi Matthews, and “lambasted” her for raising issues of SABC TV’s escalating costs and decline in revenue and viewers.
Duwarkah adds that Motsoeneng then instructed her to set up a meeting with two senior staffers and told her that “they report to him now directly, and he will deal with contentrelated projects in his office”.
On June 13, she says, she was told that “the content team will no longer report to me”.
Motsoeneng then effectively armed Special Projects – which was overseen by SABC’s head of education, Danie Swart, and SABC2’s programming director, Jacqui Hlongwane – with the R600 million budget previously intended for the RFP book for independent producers.
The SABC’s answering affidavit reveals that only 57 of the 1 426 proposals received were commissioned.
Motsoeneng then announced that the RFP book was scrapped – but by then, R200 million had been spent on it.
According to two senior insiders, this sum was diverted from marketing budgets to bring the total back to R600 million for Motsoeneng’s favoured producers.
Motsoeneng did not deny this when the claims were put to him, but questioned City Press’ understanding of how business was done, saying he could, and would, divert funds strategically whenever needed – and that Special Projects was dealing with emerging producers and growing new talent.
Caught in a policy lie
But to scrap the RFP book – and, with it, the process – and establish new ways of commissioning TV shows, Icasa regulations dictate Motsoeneng needs an approved Commissioning Protocol Policy, which must be placed on the SABC’s website.
“We have changed that policy; we have put in a new policy for procurement,” Motsoeneng said in response, adding that the RFP book revealed too many of the SABC’s business plans to rival broadcasters and was painfully slow to implement.
The new policy, he said, “has been approved by the board of SABC. It is a current policy, which means I can’t talk about history, which is the previous policy that you are referring to.”
He and SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago insisted all regulations were followed.
Kganyago later sent the new policy to City Press, but on investigation it appeared that the “new” policy had been extracted from the SABC’s Supply Chain Management (SCM) manual to satisfy compliance with the Public Finance Management Act.
Independent producer Marc Schwinges said he and other producers were unable to find any commissioning policy on the SABC’s website, after a considerable search. City Press managed to find a 2009 policy, approved by Icasa in 2010.
But Motsoeneng’s new content commissioning system contravenes numerous clauses of the SCM and the 2010 policies, not least for failing to be “equitable, transparent, fair and accountable”. The SABC did not respond to detailed questions in this regard.
Icasa spokesperson Paseka Maleka confirmed the SABC had submitted new commissioning protocols in June.
“Upon scrutiny ... the authority noted that certain portions contained in the last amendment, and the approved Commissioning Protocol of 2010, were omitted in the amended protocol ... To this end, the SABC was advised that it needed to address certain sections in line with the commissioning protocols regulations, and that the protocols submitted in June are null and void.”
According to the SABC’s binding 2010 policy, the commissioning of unsolicited proposals should not displace an RFP process.
This week, the Auditor-General reported on the SABC, saying: “Irregular expenditure was a result of SCM processes and policies not being followed. Poor record management, policies lacking alignment and inadequate compliance monitoring contributed significantly” to the SABC’s irregular expenditure.