Axe hangs over four SABC execs

Four top executives at the crisis-ridden SABC—including chief financial officer Robin Nicholson and the group executive of content enterprises Mvuso Mbebe—have been asked to supply reasons to the interim SABC board why they should not be suspended.

The Mail & Guardian has learned from impeccable sources that the executives, who also include head of procurement Mabela Sathekge and head of audience services Anton Heunis, were called to meetings by the board and told it was considering action against them.

They were also asked to give reasons why they should not be suspended. Last week a report by the auditor general to Parliament revealed that SABC executives squandered millions of rands.

The four executives arrived at work this week to be confronted by a union notice in the lifts suggesting a “celebratory party” because they were being suspended.

“The names weren’t on the list but it was all over the building which executives were involved,” said a reliable source.
“Staff were already popping the champagne corks.”

A senior insider sympathetic to the four said the allegations against the executives would not “stick” if placed under scrutiny of the Public Finance Management Act.

It is understood that a particular source of frustration for some of those in the firing line is that the auditor general has selected certain allegations to pursue while ignoring others.

The M&G also understands that the executives claim they had to find ways to deal with new technology and be 100% compliant after the SABC threw out its old accounting system and replaced it in 2007 with a more modern system.

They are understood to be objecting that they were not given a chance to read the auditor general’s report or defend themselves before it was released to the media. They now believe they are the victims of “a trial by media”, in violation of their rights.

The SABC reported a financial loss of R839-million for the 2008/09 year and has asked the government for a R2-billion bailout.

The low-profile Nicholson has so far survived the purges plaguing the public broadcaster. But as the subject of five major investigations and 130 complaints during his term of office, he is known to be under heavy stress. He declined to comment on the latest controversy.

“I will not comment on personal matters or my contract with the SABC,” said Nicholson. “What I can say is that nobody has been suspended.”
The auditor general found many instances of inadequate financial controls, including:

  • Nicholson signed an agreement with a consultant to provide services in connection with SABC’s asset and liability risk management committee. The consultant was paid past the expiry of the contract and no evidence was found that quotations were invited during the procurement process, or of a competitive process.

  • The same consultant proposed its services as a debt originator and the SABC was invoiced for services rendered to the value of R100 000 in April and May 2009, without a signed contract. Nicholson accepted the proposal without following the correct processes, according to the auditor general.

  • The SABC entered two management consultancy agreements with a service provider at great cost. One was to develop and implement a “communication plan for the office of the chief financial officer” for a 12-month period. The contract for the period July 15 2008 to July 2009 was worth R1.15-million.

  • The same consultant invoiced the SABC for professional services rendered to the broadcaster’s financial control division for “transition management” for the period January 2008 to September 2008. The cost was R1,2-million. No agreement could be submitted for the professional services rendered.

  • As many as 1 465 employees were identified who had interests in companies or close corporations. There was no central register of approval granted to the employees—an example of inadequate management of information—and 20 of these employees were directors or members of 20 companies or close corporations which had received payments from the SABC to the amount of approximately R3,4-million, which was a contravention of the SABC’s group supply-chain management policy.

  • According to the auditor general, a legal firm appointed to conduct a forensic investigation of programming concluded in August 2009 that there were irregularities of some R111,7-million relating to double payments, overpayments, material paid for but not received, agreements that had to be renegotiated and programme titles acquired more than once from the same supplier during the same licence period.
  • Glynnis Underhill

    Glynnis Underhill

    Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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