SABC owed R25bn in fees View­ers not pay­ing li­cences R4.5bn has been writ­ten off

The Star Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - KHAYA KOKO @khayakoko88

THE SABC is owed a stag­ger­ing R25 bil­lion in un­paid li­cence fees that have steadily ac­cu­mu­lated over three years and are sink­ing the pub­lic broad­caster into deep fi­nan­cial trou­ble.

The moun­tain of debt is re­vealed in Par­lia­ment’s writ­ten re­ply from Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Minister Nomvula Mokonyane to Phumzile van Damme, who is a DA MP and the party’s spokesper­son on com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Van Damme, in ques­tions sent to the minister seen by The Star, wanted to know, among other things:

The to­tal number of li­cence hold­ers at the SA Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion as of April last year

The out­stand­ing amount due in li­cence fees; and

The amount the broad­caster wrote off in un­paid debts.

Mokonyane stated that an as­ton­ish­ing R25 588 801 443 was owed to the SABC in un­paid fees over the last three years as view­ers chose not to pay their li­cence fees.

The minister added that the debt could have been higher but the pub­lic broad­caster wrote off more than R4.5 bil­lion of un­paid debts on over a mil­lion “in­valid” ac­counts in the 2016/17 fi­nan­cial year.

As of April last year, there were just over 9 mil­lion li­cence hold­ers, 2.6 mil­lion of whom had paid in full and 539 693 were pay­ing monthly or mak­ing part-pay­ments.

Van Damme yes­ter­day de­scribed the debt as a di­rect re­sult of mis­man­age­ment of the SABC over the re­cent years, adding that South Africans had lost con­fi­dence in the pub­lic broad­caster and that many had stopped pay­ing in protest.

“Ad­ver­tis­ers also with­drew their business by not want­ing to ad­ver­tise with an SABC in tur­moil. One of the big­gest tasks of the new board is to look at new sources of rev­enue and start mov­ing away from li­cence fees,” she said.

“The bulk of their fund­ing is from advertising. The SABC board should con­tinue to re­store con­fi­dence and vig­or­ously at­tract ad­ver­tis­ers back to the pub­lic broad­caster in or­der for it to stay afloat,” Van Damme added.

In its an­nual re­port for the 2016/17 fi­nan­cial year re­leased in Septem­ber, the SABC posted a net loss af­ter tax of R977 mil­lion. The or­gan­i­sa­tion said it “ex­pe­ri­enced fi­nan­cial con­straints ow­ing to rev­enue streams de­te­ri­o­rat­ing at a rate of 6% higher than cost re­duc­tion”.

“Cash and cash equiv­a­lents as at the end of the 2016/17 fi­nan­cial year were R82m com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year’s R881m,” the re­port said, ac­cen­tu­at­ing the grim state of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s fi­nan­cial af­fairs.

The re­port added that this re­sulted in its not be­ing able to pay its debts in full.

Van Damme added that the par­lia­men­tary port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­ducted reg­u­lar over­sight over the broad­caster, but would as­sist it in ex­plor­ing new rev­enue col­lec­tion meth­ods.

“One of the rec­om­men­da­tions of the SABC in­quiry (last year) was for the port­fo­lio com­mit­tee to look at other pub­lic broad­cast­ers from around the world in or­der to come up with some ideas around the fund­ing mod­els for the SABC,” she noted.

Her views were echoed by Mzi­wa­madoda Kalako, the ANC’s MP and whip of the party’s study group on com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Kalako ex­pressed great con­cern at the amount owed to the SABC and the losses it made in the pre­vi­ous fi­nan­cial year.

“As the ANC, we are con­cerned about this be­cause we can’t have an SABC, as a pub­lic broad­caster, which can­not sus­tain it­self.

“The SABC does not have any col­lec­tion mech­a­nisms to col­lect what is owed to it, which is a ma­jor prob­lem. We have been ask­ing them to de­velop that sys­tem,” Kalako said.

He did say, how­ever, that col­lec­tion was not the only prob­lem, and they would ex­plore other rev­enue-col­lec­tion meth­ods, in­clud­ing vis­it­ing other broad­cast­ers from other coun­tries.

SABC spokesper­son Kaizer Kganyago said he could not com­ment im­me­di­ately on the large sums owed to the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

On al­ter­na­tive rev­enue col­lec­tion, he said he could not speak pub­licly about this as it was a “cor­po­rate is­sue”, which he didn’t want to di­vulge be­cause of the “com­pet­i­tive space that we find our­selves in”.

Kganyago said the SABC gets roughly 80% of its rev­enue from ad­ver­tis­ers, 17% from li­cence fees and 3% from govern­ment grants.

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