Public interest trumps SABC in court ruling on Motsoeneng disciplinary hearing

Public interest won on Friday when a judge dismissed the SABC’s application to delay a court hearing challenging the disciplinary hearing that cleared its former chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

The Western Cape High Court on Friday said the public protector and the public interest would be prejudiced if the broadcaster’s application was successful.

The SABC had already complied with public protector Thuli Madonsela’s recommendation to institute the disciplinary hearing, as per her report into maladministration.

Motsoeneng, the former COO, was acquitted of charges after disciplinary proceedings took place between October and December 2015.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) applied to the high court in April to review and set aside these proceedings.

The SABC launched a review of Madonsela’s report and findings in the Pretoria High Court just days before the DA’s matter was to be heard.

In June, the public broadcaster argued in the Western Cape High Court why the DA’s application should be stayed until the Pretoria High Court had made a decision.

Both the DA and the public protector opposed the move.

One of the arguments was that the SABC had more than ample time to make the application since Madonsela’s report was made public in 2014.

Another argument was that by instituting disciplinary proceedings, it had waived its right to seek a review.

Judge Monde Samela said in his ruling on Friday that his court and the Supreme Court of Appeal had upheld Madonsela’s directive.

He took note of the public protector’s argument that the effectiveness and importance of her findings would be severely undermined.

“In terms of the Constitution, the public protector is an institution established to strengthen constitutional democracy,” the ruling read.

Samela reiterated that the office was independent, subject only to the Constitution and the law.

Granting the application would not prejudice the SABC or Motsoeneng, he said.

“As was held by the SCA, if the SABC is dysfunctional, it will not be able to fulfil its statutory mandate and the public interest should be its overarching theme and objective.”

DA federal executive chair James Selfe welcomed the judgment.

It would ensure Motsoeneng faced a proper inquiry, “not the stitch-up previously manufactured to shield him from accountability, which we contended was at odds with the remedial actions as ordered by the public protector”.

The party wanted an independent and impartial inquiry into his fitness to hold office.

It said the inquiry should be independently chaired, commence in the next two weeks, be open to the public and seek Motsoeneng’s suspension pending the outcome.

“Mr Motsoeneng cannot continue to serve at the SABC in any capacity, even in a position where he deems himself to be an ‘ordinary employee’.” – News24

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Jenna Etheridge
Jenna Etheridge
Journalist, writer and editor

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