/ 8 January 2010

SABC board backs new boss

SABC board members have scorned reports suggesting there is a rift between the new board and the ­broadcaster's new chief executive, Solly Mokoetle.

SABC board members have scorned weekend reports suggesting there is a rift between the new board and the ­public broadcaster’s new chief executive, Solly Mokoetle.

According to a Sunday Times report the new board is set to challenge Mokoetle’s appointment by the SABC’s interim board.

The Mail & Guardian has in its possession a copy of a Labour Court judgement of December 2008, which finds that the SABC victimised Mokoetle because of its ‘undue delay” in instituting disciplinary proceedings against him based on ­the findings of a report by Gobodo Forensic and Investigative Accounting in 2005.

The Sunday Times quoted anonymous board members saying they would act on the Gobodo findings, allegedly that Mokoetle had failed in his corporate governance duties.

The Labour Court queries the fact that at the time the report was presented to it, the then-SABC board decided not to pursue charges.

‘It would then not be legally competent for a successor [or even the board] to reverse that decision some two years later on the eve of the expiry of the applicant’s contract of employment,” says the judgement. However, the court does not detail the charges or specifically exonerate Mokoetle.

The Sunday Times reported that the Gobodo allegations related to R56-million paid to companies involved in collusive tendering and to the preferential treatment some companies received in the award of production contracts.

One of the new SABC board members, who asked not to be named, told the M&G that ‘it seems underhand to raise these issues now”.

‘I think a lot of this underhand behaviour is coming from some of the senior managers at the SABC,” said the board member, adding that a member of the broadcaster’s existing top management, who might have been a candidate for the chief executive’s job, had ‘probably” raised the Gobodo report.

The board source said there had been no discussions between board members about Mokoetle’s fitness for the job. This was confirmed by other board members.

Asked for reaction, Mokoetle said this week he preferred to let the board make a statement after it had convened. ‘I am not keen to enter this fist fight,” he said. ‘I’d rather focus on the challenges I have to face at the SABC.”

A former colleague of Mokoetle’s at the SABC said he was very ‘blunt” with colleagues and had not made many friends during his previous tenure as chief operating officer between 2001 and 2006.

‘He rubbed some people up the wrong way,” the former colleague said. ‘I don’t think the issues are about corporate governance or ­honesty; it’s about people that don’t like the idea of him coming back to the SABC.”

The interim board’s appointment of Mokoetle has also come under fire, but Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda and interim board chairperson Irene Charnley defended the move this week.

‘The interim board was well within its rights to make such an appointment because it has the equal amount of authority as a full, permanent board,” said Nyanda in a statement this week. ‘The point being made by some, including these faceless sources, that the incoming board should have the prerogative to appoint a group chief executive officer is baseless and unfounded.”