Licence fee firm slaps SABC with a lawsuit
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.”
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