Li­cence fee firm slaps SABC with a law­suit

CityPress - - News - POLOKO TAU poloko.tau@city­press.co.za

A com­pany frus­trated by the SABC’s re­fusal to pay it mil­lions of rands for col­lect­ing out­stand­ing TV li­cence fees from the pub­lic has taken the le­gal route in a bid to force the broad­caster to do the right thing and set­tle its bill.

In more than 800 pages of court pa­pers seen by City Press, Lorna Vi­sion vowed that it had met its con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions and helped the cash­strapped broad­caster col­lect about R300 mil­lion in out­stand­ing TV li­cence fees over two years.

The com­pany went on to claim that the SABC needed to stop hid­ing be­hind an im­mi­nent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions that its con­tract was du­bi­ously awarded.

Sylvia Tladi, who heads the broad­caster’s au­di­ence ser­vices divi­sion, has op­posed the ap­pli­ca­tion.

In her re­ply­ing af­fi­davit, she queried the agree­ment that the broad­caster had with the com­pany: “The agree­ment was con­cluded in con­tra­ven­tion of the [SABC’s] peremp­tory pro­vi­sions ... Lorna Vi­sion can­not law­fully be en­ti­tled to re­ceive pay­ment flow­ing from an un­law­ful and/or ir­reg­u­lar con­tract.”

Tladi fur­ther cited pend­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions by the Spe­cial In­ves­ti­gat­ing Unit (SIU) as one of the rea­sons the SABC was with­hold­ing pay­ment.

She blamed James Aguma, the broad­caster’s sus­pended chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, for the mess, de­scrib­ing him in court pa­pers as the “em­ployee re­spon­si­ble for the un­law­ful­ness in this mat­ter”.

Two weeks be­fore his sus­pen­sion, Aguma wrote to Lorna Vi­sion to ter­mi­nate the con­tract, cit­ing “bud­getary con­straints”. He also ad­vised the com­pany that the agree­ment was sched­uled to be the sub­ject of a probe by the SIU.

How­ever, Lorna Vi­sion has dis­missed the SABC’s ex­cuse of bud­get con­straints for ter­mi­nat­ing the con­tract, say­ing it was a false­hood as the broad­caster did not have to pay Lorna Vi­sion it­self, but from funds col­lected from TV li­cence pay­ments us­ing the com­pany’s unique tech­nol­ogy sys­tem and strat­egy.

Frans Bas­son, di­rec­tor of Lorna Vi­sion, wrote in court pa­pers that “the in­no­va­tive sys­tem that we in­tro­duced and pro­posed to the SABC en­tailed a pos­i­tive ap­proach to col­lect­ing TV li­cence fees by re­ward­ing the cus­tomer for mak­ing pay­ment of his/her TV li­cence”.

He said the re­wards in­cluded R8 000 in fu­neral cover and gro­cery vouch­ers, adding that his com­pany had car­ried the costs for all these in­cen­tives.

Lorna Vi­sion was awarded a con­tract with­out the SABC call­ing for ten­ders.

It ap­proached the broad­caster, pre­sented its “in­no­va­tive sys­tem” and the two par­ties en­tered into a two-year con­tract.

A string of emails pre­sented in court at­test to the agree­ment. Some show Lorna Vi­sion rep­re­sen­ta­tives mak­ing pay­ment in­quiries.

In an email sent by Tladi, she ex­plains that the SABC does not have money.

It ap­pears that Lorna Vi­sion only learnt that the SABC was not pre­pared to pay it in early May.

But Tladi has ex­pressed scep­ti­cism about the le­gal ac­tion taken.

“If I were to spec­u­late, I would sug­gest that Lorna Vi­sion seeks, in this ap­pli­ca­tion, to pro­cure for it­self a speedy ‘wind­fall’ such that it will, in ef­fect, be able to avoid the con­se­quences of the agree­ment be­ing found to have been un­law­ful and set aside,” she wrote in her re­spond­ing af­fi­davit. “This can­not be coun­te­nanced.” Lorna Vi­sion has ar­gued that the pend­ing probe should not be an im­ped­i­ment for the broad­caster to pay for the ser­vices it ren­dered.

“It is clear that a pres­i­den­tial procla­ma­tion must be ob­tained be­fore there can be an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the SIU ... There is no such procla­ma­tion [and] there is no in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Bas­son in­sisted, adding that he would wel­come the SIU’s probe once pro­claimed. “We did noth­ing un­to­ward,” he said. “Lorna Vi­sion was duly ap­pointed fol­low­ing a res­o­lu­tion by the group ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, and had per­formed its obli­ga­tion, in terms of the agree­ment, to the best of its abil­ity.”

An­dre van Zyl, the com­pany’s at­tor­ney, de­clined to com­ment, say­ing the mat­ter was sub ju­dice.

“We will gladly have a dis­cus­sion af­ter the court or­ders the SABC to pay its debts,” he said.

The SABC has al­ready asked for a gov­ern­ment bailout from Par­lia­ment, say­ing it needs about R4 bil­lion to con­tinue broad­cast­ing.

It recorded op­er­at­ing losses of more than R500 mil­lion in the first quar­ter of this year.

Khany­isile Kweyama, the SABC’s in­terim board chair­per­son, said: “We are not out of the red yet, but we are not as drown­ing as we were in the past. We have had to jug­gle things.

“At this point, we re­ally are mak­ing ends meet ... We need more money to take the SABC where it needs to go.”

TALK TO US Do you think the SABC is try­ing to get out of pay­ing Lorna Vi­sion for ser­vices ren­dered?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word SABC and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

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