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

CityPress - - News - CHARL BLIGNAUT and LLOYD GEDYE charl.blignaut@city­press.co.za

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.

PHOTO: FELIX DLANGAMANDLA

Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng

So­phie Nd­aba

Khanyi Mbau

Win­nie Nt­shaba

Somizi Mh­longo

Arthur Mafokate

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