Hlaudi Motsoeneng: I’m a decisive guy

SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng was in good spirits on Thursday following the release of the SABC’s annual report, saying the SABC was stable and going in the right direction. 

Motsoeneng spoke at length with the Mail & Guardian, along with two other SABC executives, about the company’s recent annual results and their turn-around plan for the SABC. 

“When we arrived in these positions things were bad. The SABC was under guarantee, which is almost like being under administration,” he told the M&G. “Now we are financially stable, and we have strategies in place.”

He brushed aside the onslaught of criticisms about his leadership, and allegations of purges at the SABC. “I am a very decisive person, when I lead, I lead.”

Neither would he acknowledge negative sentiment towards the broadcaster. “It is misleading to say the public are negative towards the SABC,” he said. 

He denied that he was close to President Jacob Zuma. “I know the president like any journalist,” he said, “If you check your history I have been promoted through the organisation by different people, white and black… people who know I am able to do the job. This thing of Hlaudi being influence by politic is nonsense.”

Negative media coverage
And he was still adamant that other media outlets are far too negative in their coverage – particularly of government, and the SABC. 

“I’m not saying they shouldn’t report negative stories, but it should not occupy our minds. Let us also tell the good stories. If you listen to media it’s all negative and that has huge influence with the young ones listening to the radio and so on.”

He emphasised he did not interfere with the editorial processes at the SABC to achieve this end, however.

Morale at the broadcaster had also improved, said Motsoeneng.

“It’s not 100% but it’s there. SABC is the best employer. No one can compare themselves with the SABC.”

Irregular expenditure
The profit before tax for the 2013/14 financial year for the SABC Group amounted to R469-million, according to the annual results tabled in Parliament this week, up from R152-million in 2013. 

But news that the SABC declared R3.3-billion in irregular expenditure shocked South Africans.

The SABC’s acting chief financial officer James Aguma emphasised that the money had not been lost or wasted, which is categorised as fruitless expenditure. He noted the large amount was due to a number of issues he dubbed largely technical, which he explained in detail to the M&G

  • Internal policy that was too onerous and should be brought in line with simpler treasury regulations. 
  • The Auditor General taking over the SABC’s auditing from KPMG, meaning different processes, which took some time adjusting to. 
  • The SABC was instructed to go through previous years and collate all irregular expenditure, meaning the R3.3-billion was not just from one year. 
  • Many suppliers had not provided original copies of their tax clearance certificates, meaning all that expenditure would be declared irregular. 
  • Negotiations for the acquisition of sports and other broadcast rights often dragged on, meaning that contracts were often signed after the broadcast had happened, again meaning that expenditure, which could run into tens of millions would be irregular. 

The team said they were putting numerous measures in place to deal with the issues, including setting up a compliance unit and reviewing their policy annually to ensure it matches the needs of the business. 

Motsoeneng said the finance department had headhunted employees from the auditor general, like Aguma, who understood all the regulations and could help them meet it. 

A further the controversial aspect of the annual report revealed that R13-million was spent on “golden handshakes” for two former executives

Chief executive Lulama Mokhobo, who resigned in February, was paid just over R8-million for 11 months of service and former executive Phil Molefe received R4.8-million.

Motsoeneng’s presence at the broadcaster is itself controversial. In February, public protector Thuli Madonsela released a report titled “When governance and ethics fail”, which found Motsoeneng’s SABC appointment irregular. Among other things, his salary increased from R1.5-million to R2.4-million in one year.

She found he had misrepresented his qualifications – that he passed matric – to the SABC, and recommended that he be replaced.

Senior ANC leaders were shocked when new Communications Minister Faith Muthambi appointed Motsoeneng permanently to the position, despite a report by the public protector recommending against it. Muthambi has little clout within the ANC but is understood to be deeply loyal to Zuma. 

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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