There is a mafia operating in the SABC, the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) heard yesterday as MPs called for heads to roll at the embattled public broadcaster.
Scopa questioned why acting CEO James Aguma hadn’t bothered to attend the meeting, as the debate centred on answers from the head.
Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa said there was too much “trickery” going on at the SABC.
“There is a mafia operating in the SABC and you are going to need to be very firm in terms of how you root it out,” he told Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo. DA MP Timothy Brauteseth said he agreed Aguma had to go.
“He [Aguma] didn’t have the courage to be here today. We’ve seen this movie before,” Brauteseth said.
Dlodlo said she had temporarily replaced Aguma in his position as acting CEO but, in the longer run, Tshidiso Ralithabo, the general executive of technology, would be at the helm. She said it was not her job to pronounce on whether Aguma would be suspended or axed.
“Over the years the SABC has been dogged with controversies that have often been subject to rules rather than producing news,” she said.
Another MP said Aguma had to face parliament before he gets suspended. “He’s a rotten potato, because everything he touches turns to black,” she said.
The SABC is in the red for R5.1 billion in fruitless, wasteful and irregular expenditure.
Dlodlo said: “We seriously have a problem at the SABC. Year after year, board after board, we still sit with the same problems.”
Deputy chairperson of the SABC board Mathatha Tsedu said Aguma was not present as he had been called as a witness in Hlaudi Motsoeneng disciplinary hearing.
As the national broadcaster was in financial dire straits, Scopa chairperson Themba Godi wanted to know if SABC staff would be paid at the end of the month.
Tsedu said staff and payments [to local artists] have plunged the broadcaster in a financial crisis. He tried to explain through a waterfall analogy that staff, like journalists, were at the top and would be paid first. “No matter what, our staff will be paid.”
The board had also taken a decision to suspend their own payments until the SABC got its act in order. ANC MP Vincent Smith was not happy that documentation had disappeared, that this couldn’t be found or was seemingly disposed of.
It had become common cause that the SABC kept crucial documents about financial and governance from scrutiny, parliament heard.
“I think we must call a spade a spade. Minister, you know and I know, that the lack of record keeping or destruction of records is to destroy incriminating evidence,” Smith said.
Smith was in part referring to the ongoing contract with audit firm Sekela Xabiso, which had initially been awarded a four-month contract in 2014 at a cost of about R5 million.
However, to date, the forensic audit is yet to be completed and has so far lumped up R25 million in service fees.
Tsedu said it was unlikely the banks would bail out the SABC broadcaster without government standing for security.
“We haven’t asked for a bailout; we have asked for a guarantee from Treasury, which we would use to go and request a loan from the bank. On our own [the SABC] the banks don’t trust us anymore,” Tsedu said to Scopa.