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
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.”