SABC faces long re­cov­ery

Staff are un­happy about pos­si­ble 0% salary in­creases as the new board tries to re­store cred­i­bil­ity, con­tain costs and in­crease rev­enue

CityPress - - News - BONGUMUSA MAKHATHINI news@city­press.co.za

It is nearly three weeks since I was ap­pointed with my 10 col­leagues to serve on the new SABC board for a five-year term. The un­prece­dented chal­lenges at the public broad­caster are well known and the new board has be­gun its work with vigour and ur­gency to en­sure good gov­er­nance, fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity and pro­gram­ming ex­cel­lence.

Dur­ing this short pe­riod, the new board has been through an in­tense in­duc­tion process, ap­pointed board com­mit­tees and taken a num­ber of cru­cial de­ci­sions to try and sta­bilise an or­gan­i­sa­tion that has been plagued by mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion for nearly a decade.

Given that all our top ex­ec­u­tives are serv­ing in an act­ing ca­pac­ity, a ma­jor pri­or­ity is the ap­point­ment of a new CEO, COO and CFO. While no board de­ci­sions have been taken yet, we are in­volved in an in­tense and de­tailed process to scru­ti­nise and find the right ex­ec­u­tives to lead the SABC into the next era.

Con­tin­u­ing where the in­terim board left off, we are de­ter­mined to turn the SABC around and en­trench its place as the shin­ing light for in­de­pen­dent public broad­cast­ing in South Africa and on the con­ti­nent.

In or­der to achieve this, we need the sup­port of all our stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing our man­age­ment and staff, Par­lia­ment, the min­is­ter of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and, most im­por­tantly, the South African public.

Our man­age­ment and staff have kept the or­gan­i­sa­tion go­ing dur­ing a time of ex­treme dys­func­tion. Our peo­ple at the SABC are un­doubt­edly our most valu­able re­source. We em­pathise with and sup­port those who have suf­fered in­tim­i­da­tion as a re­sult of the be­hav­iour of rogue ex­ec­u­tives. We have ap­proached the courts to re­cover money we be­lieve was ac­quired im­prop­erly. Peo­ple must be held ac­count­able.

With the fir­ing of COO Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng and the dis­ci­plinary ac­tion against act­ing CEO James Aguma and his sub­se­quent res­ig­na­tion, the SABC has be­gun the process of heal­ing and re­ju­ve­na­tion. We will not rest un­til all those im­pli­cated in mis­con­duct, il­le­gal­ity and cor­rup­tion are re­moved from the SABC, fol­low­ing due process. There have to be con­se­quences for those who played a part in desta­bil­is­ing this vi­tal public in­sti­tu­tion.

The new board re­ceived a de­tailed han­dover from for­mer mem­bers of the in­terim board and we have met mem­bers of the Spe­cial In­ves­ti­gat­ing Unit to get a progress re­port on the var­i­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions the in­terim board asked for.

The in­escapable re­al­ity is that this re­cent pe­riod of chronic gov­er­nance fail­ure has led the SABC down a road of huge losses and mas­sive debts. As will be pre­sented to Par­lia­ment this week, in the SABC’s sec­ond quar­ter re­port, mis­man­age­ment by pre­vi­ous SABC boards and ex­ec­u­tives has left a sig­nif­i­cant hole in the cor­po­ra­tion’s fi­nances and it will take us time to move the dial in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. This board has agreed to de­fer its own fees while it as­sesses the SABC’s fi­nances.

We con­tinue to pur­sue a gov­ern­ment guar­an­tee – not a bailout – from Trea­sury, to deal with the over­hang of ap­prox­i­mately R650 mil­lion in debt we in­her­ited. Our in­ten­tion is to use this guar­an­tee to so­licit a bank loan to en­able us to bring our back pay­ments up to date while we re­turn the cor­po­ra­tion to growth.

Trea­sury has not ap­proved this guar­an­tee and the new board will re­view and re­fine its pro­posal. How­ever, even if a guar­an­tee is pro­vided, the SABC has to be self-sus­tain­ing. We have to in­crease rev­enue by get­ting the ba­sics right and en­sure that costs are con­tained. Since we have no as­sur­ances from gov­ern­ment that we will re­ceive the guar­an­tee, or when, we must pre­pare to sus­tain the busi­ness if it does not come.

For these rea­sons we can­not be se­duced by short-ter­mism and fall for quick fixes. South Africans ex­pect us to build and pro­tect a vi­brant, sus­tain­able public broad­caster that will en­dure be­yond our five years as board mem­bers.

We have ap­pealed to our staff to un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion the SABC finds it­self in. Our re­cent pro­posal of a 0% in­crease was met with re­sis­tance and strike ac­tion from cer­tain unions and staff. How­ever, our cost-con­scious de­ci­sion has to be prop­erly un­der­stood in the light of five years of above CPI in­creases for SABC staff and the fact that we now have no avail­able funds for any in­crease, let alone the 10% unions de­manded. Agree­ing to this salary in­crease would place the cor­po­ra­tion and jobs in jeop­ardy.

Staff morale is cru­cial and we hope we can re­solve our dif­fer­ences with or­gan­ised labour in a con­struc­tive and mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial man­ner. We are con­fi­dent that we can build a public broad­caster that grows its in­come suc­cess­fully, to pro­vide se­cure and ris­ing salar­ies for staff.

The SABC needs to fo­cus on ma­te­ri­ally im­prov­ing rev­enues from ad­ver­tis­ing, spon­sor­ship, gov­ern­ment grants and li­cence fees. We are en­cour­aged by con­sid­er­able im­prove­ments in li­cence fee col­lec­tion and will be en­gag­ing ad­ver­tis­ers and agen­cies soon about our plans for the SABC.

Apart from our gov­er­nance and fi­nan­cial im­per­a­tives, the board is de­ter­mined to prop­erly equip the SABC for the dig­i­tal world that is al­ready upon us. We need a re­newed fo­cus on dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy and must ur­gently fi­nalise our dig­i­tal ter­res­trial tele­vi­sion (DTT) roll-out plans and con­tent of­fer­ings for the long over­due dig­i­tal mi­gra­tion. We must en­sure that all SABC con­tent and pro­gram­ming be­comes avail­able on all plat­forms – DTT, mo­bile and on­line.

Our vi­sion for the SABC must in­clude a fi­nan­cially sus­tain­able, mod­ern, in­de­pen­dent public broad­caster that brings South Africa, Africa and the world into the homes of all South Africans, re­gard­less of their fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tions. We be­lieve we can achieve this vi­sion and look for­ward to the sup­port of our staff, man­age­ment and the South African public.

. Makhathini is chair­per­son of the SABC board

UNDAUNTED Bongumusa Makhathini and his board have much to do to re­verse nearly a decade of mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion and plug the gap­ing debt hole at the SABC

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