South Africa: Minister of Communications Argues Her Case Before Ad Hoc Committee

The amendment of the much-talked about SABC editorial policy was promulgated after a rigorous public hearing which solicited the input of various stakeholders, the Ad Hoc Committee on SABC Board Inquiry was told by the Minister of Communications, Ms Faith Muthambi.

Presenting her heads of argument, she said she never received request from the Portfolio Committee on Communication to brief it on the amendment of the SABC editorial policy. And she denied any involvement in the alleged purging of certain board members that led to its near-collapse.

She said that in her introductory meeting with the board on 2 July 2014, she explained to the board that the SABC needed to respond to the Public Protector’s report. “I told the board that the findings of Public Protector required urgent response. That although the board sought legal advice, it must adhere to the findings of the Public Protector. I also highlighted the claim that Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneg has not been subjected to a disciplinary hearing was not correct. And that must be discussed by HR. And I needed to be furnished with the legal fees surrounding this matter.”

She said she refused to elect Mr Motsoeneg as the acting COO (chief operating officer) but the board ratified it.

The Chairperson of the Committee, Mr Vincet Smith, asked how come Parliament was denied access to some documents it requested on the 3rd of December and was forced to issue summons to get access to them? And how come on the 6th of December a letter coming from the SABC’s legal representative on this matter explained the basis of such a refusal? The letter read: “We have considered your summons. We have received instructions that we may not furnish you with documents that are already in the public domain.”

The Chairperson decried this act as being unconstitutional and an urgent recourse is needed on this matter. He asked the minister if she was aware of all of this.

“I instructed them to comply with parliamentary request because we are accountable to it, said the minister.

The Chairperson responded: “There is a board that defies you and Parliament and which breaks the law together with its legal advisers. Can the existing board be called a board? These actions spell the death of a board. It took us half a million rands (R500 000) to get these documents. We cannot sit here to decide whether this is a board or not. We cannot do that when there is clearly a board that does not abide by the law that governs it.”

How do you regard this behaviour? asked the Chairperson. “The board controls the business of the SABC. The board will have to account in this regard.”

This board disregarded Parliament and we all sit here and try to answer the question of whether its members are worthy of being called the board members of the SABC. “Those that instructed the attorney deliberately mislead Parliament. I am saying this minister, so that you understand the problem that we have at the SABC. The question we must ask ourselves is whether the existing collective is fit to hold office?”

We hear the minister’s response to the witnesses’ presentation before this Committee. As we speak the accounting authority has collapsed. What is your view of the current status of the board? asked a member of the Committee, Mr Patrick Chauke.

The minister replied: “We thought Parliament will expedite this process. The law provides for the election of an interim board when an existing one is no longer complying with the laws that governs it. However, the current Broadcasting Act is cumbersome in this regard. We will urge Parliament to expedite this process with the urgency it deserves.”

The SABC board removed of its members when it could not form a quorum. How can an executive member of the SABC vote in the termination of board members? Those decisions can be challenged because they are not legitimate, contested Ms Juliana Killian. She continued: “On what basis did the executive member participate in pushing the members of the board out?” The minister cited court judgements to oppose Ms Kilian’s definition of what constitutes a board.

Ms Kilian went to state to the minister that the Chairperson of the SABC board, Prof Mbulaheni Maguvhe, said he heard about the purging of the SABC 8 on radio, what is you take on that? And is he fit to remain the chairperson of the board? she asked the minister.

The minister replied: “That is the question you have to resolve with him. And I cannot determine how you deal with it because it is him who represented the report on the SABC 8 to the portfolio Committee. I don’t know why he decided to say he knew nothing about it.”

But as a shareholder the buck stops with you, can we have such an individual to run such an institution? she asked. “I hear you. And you are putting me in difficult position to comment. This person was appointed by Parliament and I don’t appoint them. It is for this House to take the decision to ensure whoever it appoints is fit and proper.”

Minister, you cannot disown the very board that you ratified and blocked an opposition to it while you were a member of the Communications Committee, said Ms Phumzile Van Damme. She added: “Hence you went there with authority, turned a blind eye when people were shot at and lifted no figure. You turned a blind eye on many things that happened at the SABC because this is the board of your own choosing.”

Is there a board at the SABC? asked Mr Jabulani Mahlangu. The minister duly replied: “There is currently no board at the SABC.”

Would you allow a R1.3m salary hike within five years? asked Mr Mahlangu. The minister replied: “This is a board matter that it must account for to the Committee. These are the matters that the A-G report raised. Whoever approved that will explain why they approved such a pay hike.”

There are claims that procurement procedures have been flaunted at the SABC, what is your response to that, asked Mr Steven Swart.

The minister replied: “Procurement is the area that concerns me. But those who know of any wrongdoing in this regard should have reported it to the police. That official too had a responsibility to act on this. This is a matter that is concerning to me. This is a matter I am going to look at and report back to the Committee.”

It is alleged that the meeting for the appointment of the COO had no documents accompanying it and the board was invited via SMSes, what is your take on the other board members who said that was not a wise decision? asked Mr Swart.

The minister replied: “I refused to be part of that meeting. I said to the board what you need to do is to communicate your decision to me in writing. I never heard that members were invited through SMSes and if that happened, it was wrong.”

We had witnesses who came before this Committee, they put the blame squarely on you, said Ms Makhosi Khoza. “The governance issues should not be put on the shareholder. I am not exonerating myself, but I have a defined role as a shareholder. I am happy with this process to get to the bottom of this matter. On matters raised by the AG are the responsibility of the accounting body: the board.”

There has been a financial regression, what do you attribute this to, asked Ms Khoza. “That remains a concern and I have instructed the board to tell me where are the areas of regress and those liable must take responsibility.”

When the board refused to come to Parliament, what was your response? Do you tell us that all these unlawful acts of the board and SABC are not your responsibility? asked Mr Lehlohonolo Mokoena. “I was out of the country when that was said. When I get an opportunity I will reprimand them, as the board they have a responsibility to account to Parliament.”

He then asked, should those involved in unexplained sales or expenditure be personally liable? “I won’t express an opinion on this matter. If there is an irregular expenditure the board must come with remedial recommendations.”

Source: Parliament of South Africa