/ 14 March 2009

Two more SABC execs face axe

Two senior SABC executives have been placed on special leave pending an investigation arising from allegations made by staff to top management.

The SABC confirmed this week that acting chief executive Gab Mampone had decided to suspend the general manager of sales for radio and television, Strini Naicker, and the general manager for human resources, Lene Chamberlin.

Naicker is facing further heat as one of the SABC managers singled out by the Communications Workers Union (CWU) in a dossier it is compiling about alleged wasteful expenditure.

The unions are understood to have singled out numerous examples of what they deem wasteful expenditure, including R481 000 spent on a 2007 SABC board Christmas party; R175 000 on Naicker’s MBA degree and millions spent on consultants they allege do the job management is employed to perform.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago accused the unions of singling out expenditure items which, taken out of context, look sensational.

Kganyago explained Naicker’s MBA by saying the SABC had numerous bursaries for staff members wanting to further their education. The Christmas party was a farewell function for the previous board.

The SABC recently announced that it is almost R800-million in the red and has requested a R2-billion loan guarantee from the treasury.

Kganyago said members of the sales group handed Mampone a memorandum containing a number of allegations.

”The acting chief executive met staff members last week to address these allegations and decided to investigate the matter,” said Kganyago.

He added that the SABC’s internal audit committee had been asked to investigate. On Wednesday, after being briefed by the committee, Mampone decided to place the two managers on special leave so the investigation could continue unhindered.

”The acting CEO is expecting the outcome of the investigation in a matter of days so that he can act, and the two managers are on special leave until the investigation is complete,” said Kganyago.

He refused to disclose the allegations against the executives, saying ”it would not be proper” to do so while the committee is investigating.

The CWU’s Kharti Pillay said the union was calling for Naicker’s dismissal. A sit-in on Wednesday outside Mampone’s office formed part of its campaign.

The unions accuse Naicker of selling advertising at heavily discounted rates, costing the SABC millions, and blame him rather than the global slump for the broadcaster’s financial woes.

Media analyst Gordon Patterson said the SABC has been heavily discounting advertising slots.

”You only discount if you believe you can bring in additional value,” said Patterson. ”You need to tell people you are under-pricing to get the increased volumes needed.”

The Mail & Guardian understands the SABC had targeted an average rate of deflation of 16% on all advertising pricing for the first six months of the year.

”A number of strategies and initiatives have failed or been stillborn,” said Patterson. ”There is a sense of desperation coming through.”

Kate Skinner of the Save Our SABC Coalition said all media are ”feeling the pinch”, but the crisis at the SABC was aggravated by shoddy governance, poor staff morale and endless fights between management and the board.

”You need good management when the going is tough,” said Skinner. ”There has been laxness in financial control, unauthorised expenditure and requisitions have not been going through the proper authorisation.”

Additional reporting by Percy Zvomuya