SABC is solvent, says Mampone

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is not insolvent, its acting group chief executive, Gab Mampone, said on Thursday.

“Also, we are not under liquidation,” he said at a briefing in Johannesburg.

The national broadcaster was reacting to reports that it was financially strapped to the extent that it could not pay its creditors.

“We are concerned, but are not in crisis mode,” said the broadcaster’s finance board committee chairperson Gloria Serobe.

The corporation’s responsibilities in delivering coverage of the April 22 election, the Confederations Cup and the 2010 Soccer World Cup “will be delivered”, she said.

The problem was cash liquidity, said Mampone.

The SABC faced a R784-million deficit this year, said its chief financial officer, Robin Nicholson. An estimated R400-million of this was from the unforeseen cancellation of advertising expenditure because of the global financial crisis.

It was also under financial pressure because of, among other things, the cost of changing from analogue to digital technology and suppliers’ insistence on upfront cash payments of up to 50% on expensive contracts.

Banks had reduced the corporation’s lines of credit—also in response to the global financial crisis.

The national broadcaster was slashing budgets, collecting debt more aggressively and was formulating a new financial model.

It had also held talks with the National Treasury—more to obtain a guarantee for the banks than a cash handout.

A request had been made to the government to increase television licence fees, which had gone up just twice in the past 11 years, despite annual increases in the costs of collecting them.

The SABC hoped to be R55-million in the black by 2010.

At the moment, contrary to rumours in the corridors of the SABC, the corporation could afford to pay its staff, said Serobe.

Although these salaries were being paid from an overdraft, this was a standard business practice.

Quashing suggestions that the corporation was dipping into its pension fund to cover salary shortfalls, Serobe said that, by law, it could not touch this money, which was administered by trustees. Mampone said retrenchments of permanent staff were not on the cards at this stage.

While he said its headcount remained higher than budgeted for, he would not put a figure on how many of the SABC’s large contingent of contract workers could lose their jobs.

“We may be facing challenges. However, we have a clear, concise plan to turn the business around,” Mampone said.—Sapa