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SABC inquiry committee censures Faith Muthambi in leaked document
Communications Minister Faith Muthambi has been sharply criticised in a leaked document by the parliamentary ad hoc committee looking into the crisis at the SABC, for unduly interfering in matters concerning the board. The committee said this contributed to the board’s failure to uphold its fiduciary duties.
The working document, which was leaked on social media on Tuesday evening, also criticises Muthambi for insisting that the Companies Act trumped the Broadcasting Act when it came to SABC matters.
The document was compiled following the conclusion of the work of Parliament’s ad hoc committee on the SABC board inquiry.
The committee concluded its investigation into the fitness of the board to hold office‚ after grilling two former chairs‚ Ben Ngubane and Ellen Tshabalala‚ on Friday.
The document was due to be discussed on Thursday and Friday.
“Many witnesses also gave testimony to illustrate the use of the Memorandum of Incorporation to trump the Broadcasting Act …. The application of the Companies Act over the Broadcasting Act is unlawful,” the document reads.
“Evidence provided during testimony indicated that the minister had direct interaction with certain board members in an attempt to have them resign or removed as board members without any involvement of Parliament.”
The committee also says in the document that the level of ministerial involvement in matters normally reserved for the SABC board was evident in the appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as permanent chief operating officer in 2014.
“Evidence presented suggested that the hasty appointment was done in contravention of the SABC’s recruitment policies and procedures. Many witnesses further alluded to undue pressure having been applied by the minister of communications.
“The minister, in her own testimony, could not allay suspicions that the board was pressured to make the appointment, and in so doing had failed to uphold its fiduciary duties.
The committee adds: “While she had been justified in emphasising the urgency with which the acting senior management posts had to be filled, little evidence was presented that confirmed her insistence that the appointments be done in accordance with the applicable recruitment policies and procedures.
“The committee received no evidence that adequately explained why the minister had confirmed the board’s recommendation that an individual without the requisite qualifications, and against whom the public protector had made a series of adverse findings, be appointed.”
Motsoeneng was appointed despite a damning report by the public protector, which found that he had fabricated a matric qualification, purged those he disagreed with and irregularly increased his salary from R1.5m to R2.4m in one year.
The public protector recommended that he be disciplined. But the SABC went on to confirm Motsoeneng as its chief operating officer. The recruitment process, including interviews, was not complied with and the position was never advertised.
“Testimony suggested that Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng was at the centre of the divisions within all boards between 2009 and 2016,” the report states.
The committee also criticises the board for failing in its fiduciary duties, including to investigate all irregular, fruitless and wasteful spending and to take relevant action.
Among the committee’s recommendations in the document was for a new, interim SABC board to “institute an investigation into all irregular‚ fruitless and wasteful expenditure”, which amounts to R5.1bn ‚ and that “steps must be taken to recover” these funds.
The document also hinted that the deal between the SABC and the Gupta-owned The New Age media outlet — which gets paid for the televised TNA Business Breakfasts — could be “terminated”.
It raises questions about the controversial R550m deal the SABC agreed to with MultiChoice, and the public broadcaster’s subsequent decision to advocate for nonencryption of set-top boxes.
Committee chairperson Vincent Smith said on Wednesday he was dismayed by the leaking of the document.
“The working document was prepared as a foundation upon which a constructive meeting of the committee and deliberations will commence, and it was drafted for that purpose only. It has no standing as an official document of the committee until deliberations are exhausted, possibly by Friday,” Smith said.
Earlier, when asked whether Motsoeneng — whose shadow loomed large during the inquiry and who has been blamed for the crisis at the public broadcaster — would be given an opportunity to state his side of the story, Smith said all affected parties would be given a chance to comment on the draft report in writing.
On Friday last week, United Democratic Movement chief whip Nqabayomzi Kwankwa requested that Motosoeneng be called to testify, but Smith said that this was very unlikely to happen as the committee had decided that it would no longer hear oral testimony.
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