Get off scot-free af­ter SABC in­quiry

CityPress - - News - ANDISIWE MAKINANA andisiwe.makinana@city­press.co.za

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Faith Muthambi and for­mer SABC chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer (COO) Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng have es­caped un­scathed from the gru­elling in­quiry into the af­fairs of the pub­lic broad­caster. Af­ter the months of in­tense in­ves­ti­ga­tions, in­ter­views and eye-pop­ping rev­e­la­tions about the crises at the SABC, the par­lia­men­tary ad hoc com­mit­tee prob­ing the broad­caster did not make any di­rect rec­om­men­da­tions about Mot­soe­neng, de­spite sev­eral allegations against him. In ad­di­tion, it found Muthambi to be in­com­pe­tent, but still de­ferred her fate to Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, to whom she is po­lit­i­cally aligned.

In its fi­nal re­port, the com­mit­tee found that Muthambi had dis­played in­com­pe­tence in car­ry­ing out her re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as share­holder rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

This, it said, was par­tic­u­larly in re­la­tion to her ap­par­ent fail­ure to lodge the Oc­to­ber 2014 amend­ments to the Mem­o­ran­dum of In­cor­po­ra­tion (MOI) – which em­pow­ered the min­is­ter and Mot­soe­neng to over­ride de­ci­sions of the board – as well as to her role in Mot­soe­neng’s per­ma­nent ap­point­ment as COO in July 2014.

It emerged this week that Muthambi may not have reg­is­tered her signed amend­ment with the Com­pa­nies and In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty Com­mis­sion, mean­ing it had no ef­fect in law.

The com­mit­tee dis­agreed on the sanc­tion for Muthambi, with op­po­si­tion MPs propos­ing that she be re­ported to the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor for her trans­gres­sions, in ad­di­tion to be­ing re­ferred to Par­lia­ment’s joint ethics com­mit­tee and the pres­i­dent for in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

How­ever, most MPs wanted the mat­ter dealt with “in­ter­nally” by only referring it to Zuma and the ethics com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate and take nec­es­sary steps.

The only rec­om­men­da­tion for a crim­i­nal charge is against Theresa Gelden­huys, the for­mer com­pany sec­re­tary, for her role in “ob­struct­ing the in­quiry”.

It wants the in­terim board to in­ves­ti­gate her con­duct and, if nec­es­sary, for her to be crim­i­nally charged in terms of the Pow­ers, Priv­i­leges and Im­mu­ni­ties of Par­lia­ment and Pro­vin­cial Leg­is­la­tures Act.

Gelden­huys is not the only se­nior of­fi­cial who may be sanc­tioned. The com­mit­tee wants Muthambi, along­side the yet-to-be-ap­pointed board of di­rec­tors, to in­sti­tute dis­ci­plinary ac­tion against the SABC’s act­ing group chief ex­ec­u­tive, James Aguma, for de­fy­ing Par­lia­ment.

In De­cem­ber, the SABC re­fused to hand over some doc­u­ments to the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee, say­ing do­ing so would “jeop­ar­dise” its com­mer­cial in­ter­ests.

When it even­tu­ally sub­mit­ted the doc­u­ments, not only did the broad­caster hand over the re­quested pa­pers, but it also for­warded hun­dreds of other doc­u­ments for MPs to sift through.

The ad hoc com­mit­tee also wants a foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ques­tion­able and ir­reg­u­larly awarded con­tracts, as well as any other mat­ter that the in­terim board may deem nec­es­sary to probe. It says the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral should be en­gaged to ad­dress all its find­ings re­lat­ing to ir­reg­u­lar, fruit­less and waste­ful ex­pen­di­ture and ini­ti­ate dis­ci­plinary steps against of­fi­cials who made and per­mit­ted such ex­pen­di­ture. It wants Par­lia­ment and Trea­sury to re­view the fund­ing model of the SABC, which operates both as a pub­lic broad­caster and a com­mer­cial en­tity. Me­dia Mon­i­tor­ing Africa’s Wil­liam Bird ap­plauded the work of the ad hoc com­mit­tee, but said it did not go far enough in its rec­om­men­da­tions – es­pe­cially re­gard­ing ex­pos­ing bias at the SABC, hold­ing those re­spon­si­ble ac­count­able and putting sys­tems in place to en­sure that sys­temic bias could not be re­peated. “The SABC in­quiry process was in­cred­i­bly pos­i­tive as an ex­am­ple of how Par­lia­ment can and should work. We had en­gaged MPs who asked dif­fi­cult ques­tions and re­ally held those over whom they ex­er­cise over­sight ac­count­able,” he said. Bird said while the rec­om­men­da­tions cov­ered most of the key ar­eas re­gard­ing the board and edi­to­rial poli­cies, they seemed “de­cid­edly light on is­sues re­gard­ing min­is­te­rial in­ter­fer­ence”. “While some is­sues – such as who ap­points the top man­age­ment and clar­i­fy­ing the Broad­cast­ing Act ver­sus the Com­pa­nies Act – are es­sen­tial, is­sues re­gard­ing the MOI and min­is­te­rial in­ter­fer­ence are equally es­sen­tial to re­solve if we are se­ri­ous about ad­dress­ing the crises at the SABC,” he added. On the edi­to­rial poli­cies, Bird said the com­mit­tee should have given con­crete steps to pro­tect edi­to­rial in­de­pen­dence and build a cul­ture to counter self-cen­sor­ship. The com­mit­tee has rec­om­mended the with­drawal of the SABC’s re­vised edi­to­rial pol­icy, say­ing a thor­ough pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion process should be con­ducted. Bird said how the rec­om­men­da­tions would be in­ter­preted and acted upon would de­pend on who was ap­pointed to the in­terim board. On Tues­day, Par­lia­ment’s port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on com­mu­ni­ca­tions will dis­cuss the pro­posed can­di­dates to serve on the in­terim board.

FAITH MUTHAMBI

HLAUDI MOT­SOE­NENG

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