The SOS Campaign representing trade unions (including Cosatu, Fedusa and Bemawu), NGOs (including Media Monitoring Africa, the Freedom of Expression Institute and Misa-SA), CBOs, industry related bodies (including SASFED), academics and freedom of expression activists notes with dismay the seemingly endless governance problems at the SABC.
From media reports it appears that the Chair of the Board, Dr Ben Ngubane and the CEO, Mr. Solly Mokoetle are again involved in decisions that flout good corporate governance practices and procedures. It appears that the CEO, Mr Solly Mokoetle, without Board approval, has authorised additional bonuses to staff. These discretionary bonuses related to the World Cup are reportedly costing the public broadcaster R4.5m – and this at a time of great financial strain for the broadcaster. Further, there seems to be some controversy around whether these payments were in fact in lieu of overtime.
The interim Board of the SABC arranged a R1.47bn government guarantee in 2009 to pay back the SABC’s debts and further to assist with the implementation of a much needed turn-around strategy. The understanding from National Treasury was that the starting point was that all unnecessary spending would be strictly curtailed. So even if the CEO did not require specific Board approval for the World Cup bonuses, the wisdom of the decision must surely be questioned.
The Coalition believes that the ongoing crises at our public broadcaster have become so serious that urgent intervention from Parliament is, sadly, once again required.
We believe the following interventions should be undertaken by the Board:
- First, the Board needs to pass a resolution of no-confidence in the Chair for non-compliance with Board procedures and decisions.
- Second, the Board needs to pass a resolution to send a formal letter to the Speaker of Parliament requesting the National Assembly to initiate an enquiry into the alleged misconduct of the Chair with a view to removing him from the Board on the grounds of misconduct in terms of the sections 15, and 15A of the Broadcasting Act.
If the Board is effectively paralysed and cannot act in the ways we suggest, then we call upon Parliament to act. Parliament must (as it is legally entitled, indeed required, to do in times of crisis involving the SABC) initiate its own enquiry into what appear to be serious violations of corporate governance processes involving the Chair of the SABC Board. If after due enquiry it is clear that such violations have taken place, then Parliament must act to remove the Chair. Parliament cannot afford to drag out these crises in the same way it did over the crises that plagued the previous SABC Board.
SOS notes that the Board has been in office for the last seven months and yet we have little to show for this. No new vision for the SABC appears to have been crafted and the much-talked-about turnaround strategy is still not forthcoming. Further, communication with the general public in terms of its numerous corporate governance breaches and crises has been grudgingly scarce. For the most part the public has been forced to rely on media leaks.
SOS reiterates once again the critical importance of the SABC fostering a culture of transparency and communication. As a public broadcaster, the SABC’s main stakeholder is the public. Hence the SABC needs to ensure that its decision-making and governance processes – and the details of the crises and how they are being handled – are effectively communicated to the nation.
Further, SOS is considering taking up the numerous corporate governance breaches with the Public Protector. It is critical to restore the credibility of the SABC and this may be one important way.
Finally, SOS notes the comments made in today’s Mail & Guardian newspaper that there are further crises around the appointment of the Head of News and that allegedly divisions have arisen in terms of the disciplining of the CEO, Solly Mokoetle. SOS believes that this further confirms the need for the proposals we have outlined above.