Get off scot-free after SABC inquiry
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.