Business Day

Live coverage of the dead may have to go

• Finance minister says Mkhwebane failed to conduct a diligent investigat­ion in line with the Public Protector Act

- Hanna Ziady Investment Writer ziadyh@businessli­ phakathib@businessli­

The SABC is embarking on an aggressive cost-cutting drive that could lead to it scrapping live coverage of prominent persons’ funerals including those of politician­s.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane failed to conduct a diligent investigat­ion in line with her constituti­onal mandate, reaching conclusion­s in her Absa-Bankorp report that are “manifestly lacking in logic”, says Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba in a scathing affidavit filed last week in the High Court in Pretoria.

Mkhwebane “reached conclusion­s of fact and law without any proper appreciati­on and sound analysis of the documents that were before her.

“She failed to ask for informatio­n from the relevant parties to assist her investigat­ion,” Gigaba said in court papers filed on behalf of the government, which is seeking to have the entire report set aside.

Gigaba joins a growing chorus of voices — which include the Reserve Bank, Absa and Parliament — that have heaped scorn on Mkhwebane’s conduct and findings in the AbsaBankor­p report, and approached the court to have it set aside.

The high court has already set aside Mkhwebane’s bid to have the constituti­onal mandate of the Bank changed. Mkhwebane herself backpedall­ed on the Bank mandate issue.

Further remedial action contained in her report — including a directive to the Special Investigat­ing Unit to recover R1.125bn from Absa for an apartheid-era bail-out of Bankorp, which Absa later bought — was being taken on review by Absa, the Reserve Bank and the finance minister.

The public protector had “violated the government’s right to procedural fairness”, by failing to provide the Treasury with documents referred to in her provisiona­l and final reports, said Gigaba. These included the three Ciex reports, the transcript of an interview with Judge Willem Heath and the report of the Heath commission.

The public protector listed an interview with Heath conducted by her predecesso­r, Thuli Madonsela, as a “key source of informatio­n”. Yet she could not produce minutes or transcript­s of the meeting and, therefore, could not have applied her mind to its contents, said Gigaba. “The public protector, in her final report, made grave and farreachin­g findings against the government,” he said.

Mkhwebane found that the government and the Bank had not protected the public interest in bailing out Bankorp between 1985 and 1991.

The Ciex reports, on which Mkhwebane chiefly relied in reaching her conclusion­s, “are devoid of any evidentiar­y foundation”, said Gigaba.

These were produced by retired British intelligen­ce officer Michael Oatley, who, in terms of an agreement struck with the government, would receive commission on money he recouped from Absa.

The conclusion­s contained in Mkhwebane’s report were “unsound”, said Gigaba. “The public protector appears to have made haphazard conclusion­s of law and fact, relying on random, unsubstant­iated and selected documents placed before her.

“She has not conducted a proper investigat­ion as required by … the Public Protector Act.” when the SABC covered unplanned events, such as the funerals of prominent people, it lost advertisin­g revenue.

“When we cover funerals live, it means programmin­g scheduled for that particular time has to be moved or shelved … advertiser­s do not necessaril­y want to advertise during a funeral,” he said.

In terms of sports coverage, Kganyago said the public broadcaste­r had to buy rights from sports federation­s.

“In terms of legislatio­n, we have to cover sports of national interest such as soccer and rugby … but we have to buy the rights … the legislatio­n does not deal with how [to] fund them [the rights], and they are increasing all the time.”

Kganyago said that the incoming board would debate the matters before concrete proposals were presented.

Acting SABC CE Nomsa Philiso said: “We are naturally disappoint­ed with financial performanc­e for the 2016-17 financial year. We are, however, encouraged by the great progress that is starting to show in the first quarter of the current financial year.

“In particular, cost-containmen­t measures are in place and financial prudence is [being] exercised. We are working hard to sustain this progress and to deal with all ... issues raised by the auditor-general.”

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