Purge without process


Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts in a guest column in the Sunday Times (20/06/09) provides another perspective on the merits of the current SABC board and puts paid to the possibility of the appointment of a new Interim Board in two weeks’ time.

  Here we quote the full article:
General Simphiwe Nyanda should sit back, put his boots on the desk, and stop sending  in toy tanks to try to stop the Prague spring at the SABC.
Democracy has had its best deal since the 1994 elections under this SABC Board, and the new Communications Minister has no firepower. His announcement that the President will appoint a new Interim Board in two weeks’ time is fantasy, whatever his commanders at Luthuli House told him.

Neither this President nor President Mbeki have had any discretion in the appointment of either the SABC Board nor the “interim board”, the invention the ANC wrote into the law as part of its attempt to purge the sitting board before the elections.

Parliament invites public nominations, shortlists, interviews in public and votes on the exact number of board members. A President signs on the dotted line simply because Parliament has no executive powers. Government cannot choose Board members because the SABC enjoys section 16 media freedom from the government of the day and its Board has a duty to protect the free speech rights of its editors and journalists. It is for these reasons that I was able to change, among many other things, that clause of the  draft Broadcasting Amendment Bill which blithely suggested the President could appoint an Interim Board all on his own. (Raw revenge by the new ANC for the insistence by Luthuli House as it was before Polokwane that the ANC caucus insert three Luthuli House choices into Parliament’s list) . Luthuli House, now in Communist control, clearly labours under the illusion that the draft version is the law. It  isn’t.

The fact that Luthuli House persuaded the ANC caucus in Parliament to insert the three names over and above the 9 others all MPs wanted before the National Assembly voted the list through is a subversion of the Parliamentary process, but because it was embraced by the ANC MPs, the Board was properly elected by Parliament and properly signed off by Mbeki. It was not a Mbeki Board, no matter how many times how many newspapers call it that. Opposition parties have had the first fair coverage during the 2009 election since 1994. Yet many newspapers , who will apparently print any disinformation provided it is sensational, irrespective of the discernible agenda driving the information, have continued accusing the SABC of being His Master’s Voice.

In the process THEY , and not the SABC editorial teams, have become the voice of the very Master who has openly driven the attempt at a political purge. Have they forgotten that Blade Nzimande went for print first – City Press? How long before he comes for you again? Yet newspapers, especially the Sunday Independent, which I stopped reading in disgust  after it published scurrilous personal allegations against a sitting President and lost its best reporter, Jeremy Gordin,  have assisted in the attempted sacking of the SABC Board even as Mrs Phumelele Nzimande – a member of the oversized and underskilled executive management at the SABC – sat in on every Parliamentary Communications  Committee meeting like Madame Defarge, waiting for the guillotine to fall.

That blade has however been successfully blunted by  the opposition parties who jointly petitioned our then President Motlanthe to send the Broadcasting Amendment Bill back to Parliament for unconstitutionality and to write administrative justice into any attempt to dissolve the sitting Board. The requirement for due enquiry had been expressly deleted by the terrified ANC MPs during the legislative process after a submission by the SACP, which called due process an counterrevolutionary attempt to protect bourgeois space. It was put back after our petition.
That is why Communications Chair Ismail Vadi is now forced to fulfill all the dictates of fair procedure and is being frustrated in every attempt to purge without process.
Please discard any illusions that the ANC has any desire either to know what caused or to fix the financial meltdown at the SABC. It offers the perfect excuse to implement the Polokwane resolution, preceded by the Stellenbosch resolution, to fund 60% of  SABC requirements as a strategic asset  directly from your tax money.

The ANC MPs in the Communications Committee tried to pass a “Motion of No Confidence” in the Board at its very first appearance before the same  Committee which selected it on 30 April 2008 when the Board was 4 months old. The Committee refused to deal with the budget and strategic plan which was on the agenda and which  the Board inherited from the CEO Dali Mpofu and his dreadlocked stategy and  risk manager Mr Sipho Sithole ,and which the Board did not like. (I did not like it either, it was illiterate.The ANC did not bother to  read it.) The National Assembly declined to adopt the Motion of No Confidence. I said at the time, addressing the NA, that the ANC MPs in Communications  were like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, who said: “First the sentence, then the verdict”  – let alone any charge, trial or enquiry preceding the verdict and the sentence.

It was the same thing this week. All the political party whips were advised there would be a special sitting of the National Assembly at twelve noon on Thursday to pass a resolution dissolving the SABC Board. Then they were advised that the sitting was cancelled because the enquiry would was to be conducted on  Thursday afternoon. (One afternoon, never mind the sequence!) On Thursday the whips were advised before the various party caucuses which always occur on Thursday mornings that there would be a plenary sitting at 9 am on Friday (before the scheduled 10 am budget votes) to deal with an SABC motion (note the sequence: before the Thursday afternoon “enquiry”!). First the sentence, then the verdict…and never mind enquiry, trial by media was enough…

By 4pm on Thursday, as we sat in the green leather benches of the wood panelled  Old Assembly debating the Environment and Tourism budget, a note was passed around to postpone the 9 am sitting. Communications Chair Ismail Vadi and his new committee member Johnny de Lange (who chaired the passage of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act in 2000!) were being confronted elsewhere in the building with the inconveniences of due enquiry, such as the fact that the full Board, all but one of whom were still serving out their notice periods after resignation, had not received sufficient notice. (They should also be told what the possible consequences are, what appeal mechanism are available and so forth).The committee will in due course also be confronted with the inconvenient truths they have so striven for 14 months to avoid confronting.
Such as: it is Parliament that holds the SABC to account, not the Ministry, no matter what Articles of Association the Deparment of Communications have cooked up. The Articles are invalid to the extent of their inconsistency with the Broadcasting Act, and the Act says the Board  controls the affairs of the Corporation. The ANC in Parliament has studiously avoided dealing with the finances of the SABC – I had to defeat a second No Confidence ambush late last year just to be able to question the CFO on the Annual Report. The meltdown was not visible, but the deficit which Chairperson Khanyi Mkhonza has warned against since the inception of her service was discernible. She wrote to Chairperson Vadi in early 2009 to ask for the engagement of the Committee on a looming R700 m plus deficit, to no avail.

You don’t have to look much beyond the CEO, former and acting,but especially former, for the source of the financial woes.  My old foe Christine Qunta has written that the appointment of a new CEO after much headhunting is imminent, as is the appointment of a News Head to replace my other old foe, Snuki Zikalala. She says that must explain the present panic. I believe her. And the DA will not let this attempted purge go without challenge any more than we have allowed it before: we have kept it back since Polokwane, and we are not about to stop now. The four remaining board members must remain. The vacancies must be filled . Why go through the  same Parliamentary recommendation process that will give you five so-called Interim members following dissolution when it could give you eight members to fill the unexpired portion of the term of the eight members who have resigned? And President Zuma would be able to choose the Chair and Deputy Chairperson, whereas the Amendment Act now dictates that Parliament chooses the Chair and Deputy of an Interim board?


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