MPs on Tuesday blasted the SABC for its “reckless” decision to apply for leave to appeal a Western Cape High Court ruling that Hlaudi Motsoeneng not be allowed to hold any position at the public broadcaster, suggesting that executives should foot the legal bill in their personal capacity.
“It is time that public entities … either Parliament takes a decision or we enact law … [that] when people take reckless decisions … that those people should actually pay out of their own pockets,” African National Congress MP Jabu Mahlangu said as Parliament’s ad hoc committee probing the affairs of the broadcaster met for the first time since releasing its draft report in January.
“We cannot allow a situation where public funds are just used by people employed by the state recklessly.”
Mahlangu inferred that since there was no SABC board in place, the decision to apply for leave to appeal could not have been approved.
Inkatha Freedom Party MP Narend Singh said a clear message should be sent to executives not to “treat this committee with contempt”, while the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Fana Mokoena said Communications Minister Faith Muthambi should be asked to explain the actions of the executives.
“What we should then do is recommend to the minister … to ask Mr [James] Aguma [acting CEO] and in particular Mr [Kaizer] Kganyago [SABC spokesman] that they should explain themselves why when there is an inquiry in process, why do they go and make such terrible decisions on behalf of the SABC? Are they doing it with her permission? If not, they must explain both to her [Muthambi] and to Parliament so we have an understanding of what we are dealing with,” Mokoena suggested.
Patrick Chauke, ANC MP, stressed the importance of raising these concerns with the portfolio committee on communications, as some disturbing matters had come to the committee’s attention.
“There are issues of contracts happening fraudulently in the SABC,” said Chauke, citing reports that various multimillion-rand contracts had been pushed through by executives during the festive season, ahead of the committee’s draft findings.
Committee chairman Vincent Smith said he would write to his counterpart on the portfolio committee on communications to raise MPs’ concerns.
Meanwhile, MPs have agreed to postpone deliberations on responses they received from interested parties to the draft report. It emerged that only three submissions were received ahead of the February 16 deadline.
The draft report was sent to, among others, the SABC and Muthambi to respond before MPs finalised the report with recommendations.
The draft, released last month, crucifies Muthambi, suggesting she may have violated the law by overstepping her mandate and unduly interfering in the affairs of the SABC.
In the report, MPs also expressed concern about the minister’s role in the removal of board members “either through dismissal or resignation”, adding that she may have “covertly or overtly” pressured members of the board to appoint Motsoeneng, the controversial SABC executive, without a matric certificate. Several courts and the former public protector found him unfit to hold office at the broadcaster.
MPs contend the former SABC board failed to act to prevent irregular expenditure, which, according to the report, accumulated to R5.1 billion over the past few years. The bleeding of money was continuing, with the parliamentary committee noting a “looming financial crisis” at the SABC.
Last year, the Western Cape high court ruled Motsoeneng could not hold any position at the broadcaster, either pending the findings of a new disciplinary hearing or a review application being sought against the public protector’s findings on Motsoeneng.
Earlier this month, the SABC, in a widely condemned move, applied for leave to appeal, but the court dismissed the application.