SABC 'pillaged' by corrupt staff
SABC chief financial officer Robin Nicholson issued a sharp warning to incoming board members when he spoke at the urgently convened parliamentary inquiry into the functioning of the public broadcaster’s board this week.
“I would say to future boards: it’s a bloody hard job and it’s a damn thankless task,” he said.
Nicholson, who is being called on to resign from his post by members of the SABC’s senior management forum after the cash-strapped corporation asked the government for a short-term R2-billion bailout, never got a chance to present the financial report he had prepared for the inquiry.
But he was less than flattering about his fellow board members and said he was “bloody angry at the mess”.
“The board got a motor car that was rusty, with the wheels wobbly, and drove it off the cliff,” he told the inquiry.
Desmond Golding, a former member of the board and chairperson of the audit committee, painted a different picture and told the inquiry the SABC was “thick on wastage and inefficiencies and thin on accountability”.
The board had found staff members who had a clear conflict of interest, with their companies doing business with the SABC, colluding with suppliers or transgressing procurement processes.
“These conflicted conducts amounted to pillage and ‘raping’ of the resources of the organisation. These transgressors are both at senior and junior levels. We know them. I have dealt with many cases arising from the normal processes and some cases referred to the internal audit by the trade unions, and concrete action has been taken against the transgressors.”
Golding said when the current board took tenure in January last year the SABC’s financial health was already in the doldrums, with the lack of robust financial controls at the public broadcaster adding to the cash-flow problems. “For example, the corporation had no funding plan. Also, commitments without contracts, which accounted for a big expenditure bill, placed a huge pressure on the cash flow.”
A deficit budget of more than R300-million was presented to the board in mid 2008. The board rejected it.
“That, for me, did not only demonstrate a lack of comprehension of the situation, but also the lack of budgeting expertise. The wheels had completely gone off in the leadership of the financial management.”
Personality issues, which in the main were historical between management and some of the previous board members, also put strain on the working relationship between management and the board. “It resulted in many of the decisions of the board not being implemented at the organisational level and general undermining of board decisions,” said Golding. “The political uncertainty of the board did not assist either.”
Among the steps it took, the board had introduced the Turn Around Plan, which included cost containment measures and an austerity plan. This, urged Golding, should now be “aggressively implemented”.
Broadcasting specialist Alison Gillwald is the last member of the board standing, after businesswoman Gloria Serobe and former chairperson Khanyi Mkonza stepped down this week. If the move to dissolve the board is approved by the National Assembly, an interim SABC board will be appointed.
Youth leader and former board member Andile Mbeki brought an end to the inquiry’s deliberations when he pressed for the immediate dissolution of the board, saying some of the discussions that had taken place “had been an embarrassment to the nation”.
“I have held back my ammunition. Umshin’ wami is loaded,” said Mbeki.
Mbeki urged the committee to appoint a structure that Parliament could have confidence in. The board “lacked [the] chemistry” required to discharge its functions.
“I have been saying this thing in a diplomatic manner now I am cutting straight to the jugular—dissolve us.”