Senior ANC MP and one of the National Assembly’s chairpersons, Cedric Frolick, has overruled a resolution of Parliament’s oversight committee on communications that President Jacob Zuma should suspend chairperson of the SABC board, Zandile Ellen Tshabalala, from her position.
Frolick instead recommended to National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and chairperson of the communications committee Joyce Moloi-Moropa that the inquiry into Tshabalala be allowed to proceed on October 14, that Zuma be informed of its findings and decisions and that it then be left to the president to decide whether to suspend Tshabalala or not.
The communications committee will hold an inquiry into Tshabalala following her failure to submit proof of her academic qualifications to Parliament.
The multi-party committee unanimously resolved on September 16 to formally institute an inquiry into the allegations that Tshabalala misrepresented her academic qualifications when she applied for the position.
The committee also recommended that Tshabalala be suspended while the inquiry into her qualifications was underway “in order to avoid this compromising the integrity and image of the entire board and the national broadcaster”.
Perogative of the president
Frolick, who is the National Assembly’s house chairperson responsible for committees and oversight told the Mail & Guardian on Monday that Parliament cannot take such a decision and that it was the prerogative of the president to suspend an SABC chairperson.
Frolick said the inquiry will proceed next week, and once the committee has come to a decision, it will inform Zuma, who will then make up his mind on whether to suspend Tshabalala or not.
He said his recommendation was in line with the Broadcasting Act, which is one of the acts governing the running of the SABC.
“The problem came in when the committee said ‘this is what must happen’. It is the prerogative of the president to suspend or not to,” said Frolick.
He said that he had discussed the matter with Moloi-Moropa and she had agreed to his advice.
The section of the Broadcasting Act that deals with the removal of a board member from office states that the appointing body may remove a member from the office on account of misconduct or inability to perform his or her duties efficiently after due inquiry and upon recommendation by the board.
Members of the SABC board are appointed by the president on recommendation from the National Assembly. It is the National Assembly’s communications committee that interviews and shortlists candidates for appointment.
Parliamentary spokesperson Luzuko Jacobs had earlier told the M&G that Frolick was of the view that the request for the president to suspend Tshabalala was not necessary because there was no possibility that she could in any way interfere with the inquiry or its outcome.
Asked where a house chairperson got the powers to overrule the decisions of a parliamentary committee, Jacobs explained that among other things, the role of house chairperson was to advise and give guidance to portfolio committee chairpersons, who “have powers and capacity to represent their committees”.
“It’s a routine or regular role of a house chairperson to advise a portfolio committee chairperson and the advice [Frolick’s recommendation] will go to the committee when it reconvenes,” said Jacobs.
The presidency revealed in a statement on Monday afternoon that Zuma had not received the letter from the National Assembly requesting him to suspend Tshabalala.
It said that the presidency could only process requests when formal communication had been received from the National Assembly.
This followed another statement by the Democratic Alliance (DA) which queried why Zuma had not suspended Tshabalala three weeks after the committee had sent a memorandum to Mbete recommending that Zuma suspend the SABC chair.
Close relationship with the president
In the statement, DA MP Gavin Davis, who sits on the communications committee, said he would write to Zuma to determine why Tshabalala had not been suspended. “If it is a delay, we would like to know what is causing the delay. If he has decided to not suspend her, then we would like to know the reasons,” said Davis.
Davis said it was no secret that Zuma and Tshabalala had a close relationship.
“She is a member of his advisory panel on broad-based black economic empowerment and she controversially campaigned for the ANC in his KwaZulu-Natal stronghold during the 2014 elections,” he said.
He said the DA hoped that Zuma’s judgment on the matter had not been clouded by his proximity to Tshabalala.
City Press newspaper reported in July that Tshabalala misrepresented her qualifications on her CV when she applied for a position on the SABC board in 2013. Following the newspaper reports, and on a request by the DA, the portfolio committee asked Tshabalala to furnish Parliament with her response to the allegations for them to make an informed decision on the matter.
Tshabalala didn’t meet the first deadline, which was August 11, to respond to the committee by submitting copies of her qualifications. She instead asked for an extension of the deadline. Parliament obliged and gave her until August 26 to do so.
Moloi-Moropa told the M&G last month that Tshabalala’s response was “vague and neither here nor there”.
“She said she was making further inquiries about her qualifications and that she awaiting [a] response [from the institutions]. This after we gave her an extension to submit the proof,” said Moloi-Moropa.