Pule wants in on SABC board appointments

Communications Minister Dina Pule. (Gallo)

Communications Minister Dina Pule. (Gallo)

While delivering her department’s budget in Parliament, Pule revealed she was concerned about governance arrangements at the SABC and would be consulting the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications to explore an urgent review and amendment to the Broadcasting Act.

She told journalists on Tuesday afternoon that it was a "challenge" for the minister of communications to have to account for an SABC board which he or she had not appointed. The SABC has had a high turnover of board members over the past four years.

This is the fourth board the SABC has had in as many years. It is an interim board, which was appointed in March after the resignations of several board members earlier this year.

"It’s not about the powers of the minister or [having] more say but the SABC and making sure that it is stable,” Pule told journalists.

She said it was a challenge that there was no stability in the broadcaster and that it had its fourth board in a single administrative term.

“We then thought we must look at what exactly is the problem at the SABC.
Is it a problem of the board or is it both at board level and executive level, because it disrupts the workings of that corporation.

“We also looked at what is it that makes these board members resign or have challenges,” she said.

Discussions
Pule said they have begun discussions with the portfolio committee, which has oversight of the department of communication and the SABC because they want to make amendments to the Broadcasting Act.

“At a personal level, we have these challenges [where] you have a board that is appointed at the level of Parliament. They are interviewed by Parliament, the minister is not there and this board is then deployed at the SABC, but when there are challenges, the challenges become the problem of the minister."

Pule said the difficulty with the minister not being part of the interviews is that she didn’t know what kind of qualifications the appointed people had or what the committee saw in them.

Currently, Parliament selects and interviews candidates for the board before sending the names to the president who does the actual appointment.

Deputy director general of information and communication technology policy development, Themba Phiri, further explained that while the Broadcasting Act of 1999 outlines the procedures of appointment of the board, their own research showed that something was not right with the governance model.

“We have looked at a number of options, including Australia, which has recently changed their model."

Phiri said the question from Cabinet was: why are we currently having such a high turnover of SABC boards?

He said the Act amendment would first have to be adopted by the committee, which will also say how it wants to approach it. “It is in the quest to strengthen accountability in the SABC itself,” he told journalists.

Phiri said the amendment would also address the kind of skills set that constitute the SABC board.

Data costs
Meanwhile, the price of making a call and using data is expected to come down. Pule said she will be making an announcement soon in this regard.

“It’s a situation that cannot wait. Cost to communicate has to change in the country; many people have complained about it,” she said.

She said as policymakers, the government has to direct the policy to make sure that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) helps to deal with the “unacceptable” issues of the cost to communicate in the country.

The Icasa regulates communications, broadcasting and postal services sector.

"I intend to issue a policy directive to Icasa on transparent pricing of services such as SMS, voice and data to ensure market pricing transparency for the benefit of our consumers. This policy measure will also ensure that competition is strengthened in the telecommunications market," said Pule.

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