National

SABC in hot water over coffee bill

Glynnis Underhill

The public broadcaster's excessive spending 'borders on criminal conduct', say unions.

When SABC executives held a financial strategy and planning function with hired consultants in January last year, the outside catering bill came to R1.38-million. Three broadcasting and media unions have condemned the jamboree as one of the “most extravagant and irresponsible wastage[s] we have come across, which borders on criminal conduct”.

The Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers’ Union (Bemawu), the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) and the Media Workers’ Association of South Africa (Mwasa) have demanded that the splurge be investigated, with other cases of extravagance they have documented.

At a time when the SABC was already heading for the financial doldrums, an invoice for the planning function reveals that R52 200 was paid for tea, coffee and muffins and R104 400 for a buffet lunch, apparently for 30 people. The draping of the corporation’s Renaissance room came to R348 000.

The three unions have handed their allegations to Parliament and they will now form part of a forensic audit.

Their submission to Parliament was backed in many cases by invoices and documents, unlike the claims of irregularities by “organised labour”—understood to be shop-floor workers at the SABC—which were presented in a memo to acting chief executive Gab Mampone.

The CWU and Mwasa distanced themselves from the memo, whereas Bemawu has asked for further documents to support allegations from union members.

The unions have collected invoices showing that as late as January this year, when the broadcaster was already running at a loss, it continued to splash out on Pongracz champagne, KWV brandy and Johnny Walker Black and Jack Daniels whiskies.

Invoices for liquor on consecutive days in May last year are for a total of R8 504. Other examples of “fruitless and wasteful expenditure” listed by the unions include:

  • The purchase of 10 iPods for R34 078 last year. “The SABC does not use iPods and we suspect these were bought for friends and family,” the unions said;

  • Ten “gratitude gifts” bought just before Christmas last year, for which the unions produced invoices amounting to R79 200;

  • Mont Blanc briefcases costing R58 050;

  • Twenty Martini sets and 30 pocket jotters amounting to R60 461; and

A cherry veneer eight-seat boardroom table for R18 810. This was ordered by the sales and marketing finance department on March 12, when an austerity plan was already in force.

The unions also condemn over-reliance on outside consultants, legal firms and recruitment agencies, when matters could have been dealt with internally.

Bemawu president Hannes du Buisson said the three SABC unions had staged a lunchtime picket in all the regions over pay on Wednesday.

The SABC sent a “very junior team” to talk to them, he said, which showed they were not taking the strike seriously.

Bemawu has given the SABC seven days’ notice of its intention to strike and by Tuesday next week all three unions will embark on a “full-blown strike”, said Du Buisson.

The unions rejected the SABC’s offer of an 8.5% wage increase at a CCMA hearing last month. Staff want 12.2%, saying this was promised to them.


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