SABC board member fights vote of no confidence

While South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) board chairperson Ben Ngubane described Mahlati – a member of the broadcaster's board – as being disruptive, she in turn hit out at his leadership style and called it "autocratic" on Tuesday. The vote of no confidence by the board was unanimous, the committee was informed.

Mahlati said nobody from the SABC had informed her that the issue of conflict on the board was going to be tabled in her absence.

"When I returned from overseas, I immediately tried to formulate a press statement, premised on news reports read," she said.

Mahlati said she had been accused of being disruptive and rendering activities at the SABC board dysfunctional. Unsubstantiated inferences had also been made in Parliament that she was a tenderpreneur, seeking to advantage herself, she said. Mahlati said she welcomed a thorough investigation into the matter.

Describing Ngubane's leadership style as "abrasive and autocratic", Mahlati said she tried to "outscreech him" at board meetings. Board members Pippa Green and Suzanne Vos defended Ngubane in Parliament, saying the diverse board had had their differences, but they worked well together.

Mahlati alleged wide-spread corruption and malpractices persist at the SABC, and she said she was the "voice of uncomfortable truths".

It was claimed Mahlati was the only member of the board not to declare her business interests, but she told Parliament she declared her interests to the previous company secretary.

'Questioning appointments'
Ngubane was given a chance to address the committee on Tuesday, saying since coming on board in 2011, Mahlati had continued to doubt the actions of the board.

"We tolerated and went along with that, but then when she started questioning appointments made and several other issues, we felt were really being obstructed," said Ngubane.

Grievances were also lodged against Mahlati by board and staff members at the SABC, he said.

Among other claims was that Mahlati had gone to a sports award event at Sun City and booked extra rooms for herself, over and above her own, and spent extra money, alleged Ngubane.

It is expected a resolution will be taken on Wednesday by the committee to launch an inquiry into the various allegations made by the board members and Mahlati.

Not present at the meeting was the SABC's group financial chief Gugu Duda, who is being investigated in connection with irregular tenders that were approved under her watch, as well as the acting head of procurement Nompilo Dlamini, who was also suspended following a preliminary investigation into the irregularities.

Corruption is high on the agenda of the SABC, but Parliament's communications portfolio lashed out at the SABC and its board for failing to give detail in its report back by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) into irregularities at the broadcaster.

'Condemnation of the report'
For once the various political party members sitting on the committee were united in their condemnation of the report presented by the SABC, which they said was so scant in detail, it did not allow them to provide proper oversight.

The ANC's blind committee member Danny Kekana, expressed his unhappiness after the SABC had given a brief overview of the report.

The SABC was always pronouncing on corruption, said Kekana, but it was not giving names of people involved or details of the various investigations.

"You can't be a priest if you have got a big zollie [dagga] in your mouth," said Kekana. "You can't convince anyone if this is what is happening at the SABC itself."

Kekana said details of those suspended or facing disciplinary actions and a thorough report-back on criminal proceedings would help the committee keep up to date with progress in stamping out corruption.

The chairperson of the committee, Eric Kholwane, thanked Kekana for his input. "I hope you don't have a zollie in your pocket," he quipped.

Ngubane explained to the committee that the report had been prepared by its turnaround sub-committee.

"We just couldn't have summarised all those issues," he said. " In terms of work it has been huge. Last night the committee didnt sleep to give you a very clear outline on what has been done."

The SIU was hired by the board after the auditor general issued a report on the SABC in September 2009.

Kick-backs
Sully Motsweni, head of compliance and monitoring at SABC, said where the SIU had identified allegations of kick-backs, the SABC executive and board had taken the necessary action of suspending the identified employee.

As there had been a problem with outsourcing legal services, new procedures had been put in place to ensure that this outsourcing was now subjected to normal procurement processes.

In summary, the following had been identified and recommended by the SIU:

  • R9.6-million fruitless and wasteful expenditure
  • R428.6-million irregular expenditure
  • disciplinary action against more than 300 employees
  • financial misconduct in terms of the PFMA
  • nine ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Based on these findings, it is expected the SABC board should make decisions in order to bring these matters to conclusion in the interests of good corporate governance.

Congress of the People MP Julie Kilian said the feedback report was unsatisfactory and further details need to be provided so the committee could monitor progress.

"There is serious concern. The report just says these were the findings, with no details. Yet last week we were again presented with a shocking situation and very serious allegations," said Kilian. "On this SIU matter, there seems no sense of urgency, and most of the issues go back to 2009."

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