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MPs steer budget review into stormy Hlaudi territory

Andisiwe Makinana

Opposition MPs pulled no punches while grilling the communications minister over her role in Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s plum SABC appointment.

SABC chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Opposition parties have come down hard on Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, criticising her for endorsing the decision to appoint the controversial Hlaudi Motsoeneng as the chief operations officer of the SABC on a permanent basis.

Parliament was debating the budget of the government’s mouthpiece, the government communication and information system (GCIS) an entity which in the past was placed under the presidency, but now falls under the department of communications since May 25.

The DA’s spokesperson on communications, Gavin Davis, began by questioning the decision to split the former department of communications into two ministries – communications and telecommunications, and postal services.

He speculated that the creation of the new department was “political” – that the ANC was losing its grip on power and President Jacob Zuma needed a good story to tell to survive the next five years.

“So when the president appointed the Cabinet in May, he put his faith in communications. And, make no mistake, minister Muthambi is a very strategic deployment,” said Davis.

Davis pointed out that the world had entered the age of convergence, where traditional broadcasting was merging with new digital technologies. “So why is the department diverging when it should be converging?” he asked.

Interference
The GCIS has a budget of R413-million for 2014-15 and is at the heart of the government’s new propaganda machine, according to Davis.

“It should concern us greatly that the GCIS will now be working much more closely with the SABC, under the aegis of one minister. It is this arrangement, more than anything else, which signals the SABC’s shift from public to state broadcaster,”

“The minister knows how much she needs the SABC for this project. As she said last week: ‘The effective use of the 18 radio stations of the SABC stands between us and reaching millions,’ ” he said. “So it must be of some concern to the minister that fewer people are watching and listening to the SABC than before.”

“Internal research commissioned by the SABC has shown that the key reason for declining audiences is the perception that the public broadcaster is partisan.”

Davis suggested that Muthambi should reject Motsoeneng’s proposed “happy news” quota and end all talk of licensing journalists, that she should allow the SABC board to take steps to remove Motsoeneng from office and allow an independent SABC board to appoint the chief operating officer, chief executive and chief financial officer without ministerial influence among the remedial action to turn the SABC around.

Furore over Motsoeneng
The Economic Freedom Fighters members, who have previously marched to the SABC over a banned election advert and called for Motsoeneng’s dismissal, were even more scathing in their attack of Motsoeneng.

EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi referred to Motsoeneng – who was sitting in the gallery listening to the debate – as a “mythomaniac” and a “pathological liar”.

The party declined to support the budget for GCIS, saying it was money that would be used to mask the “broad kleptocratic drama which has been unfolding since the resumption of President Zuma to the highest office”.

“Today, the country is waiting to hear what Parliament will say to the minister [Muthambi] as she asks for parliament’s approval of her budget – when she has appointed Hlaudi Motsoeneng as the permanent chief operating officer.

This is after she assured the joint committee that she will make sure that the public protector’s report on the SABC is complied with as it is a chapter nine institution.

“The minister understood what she meant when she said [as] a chapter nine institution, the Constitution compels her and the SABC board to respect the findings of that institution,” said Ndlozi.

He said Motsoeneng’s appointment of Hlaudi signified the government’s disregard of law, the era of triumph of “the mythomaniac, a pathological liar who is so proud of his lies that he tells us that parliamentarians are just making noise and that is all they can do”.

Minister speaks
Ndlozi said Motsoeneng made this statement to him off-air when they both appeared in a current affairs television show in Johannesburg last week.

“I ask the minister, have we no shame, have we no regard for law, have we no respect and even self-respect to take a platform and force a man who has forged and lied about his qualifications down the throat of South Africans?” said Ndlozi. “Do you really not see the danger in the appointment of Motsoeneng?”

Sibongile Nkomo of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)  also expressed her party’s disappointment over Motsoeneng’s permanent appointment, saying it was sending a wrong message to the country and its children.

“The message is extremely misleading and is a worry to us as the IFP,” she said. “It says that it’s okay to rise as high as you can without the education that you need – that you don’t even need a matric certificate.”

Muthambi had sought to defend her decision to appoint Motsoeneng at a press conference held before the debate.

While she said it would be inappropriate for her to comment in detail as legal action was being pursued over the matter, she added that there was nothing wrong with the appointment.

“I think it is important for me to emphasise that when I approved the recommendation of the board [that Motsoeneng be appointed], I saw nothing untoward,” Muthambi said.

She added that stabilising the SABC was at the top of the department of communication’s agenda and the filling of key positions, including that of chief operating officer, would result in “clarity of purpose” for the public broadcaster.


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