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SABC board fails to report to MPs

Oct 20 2010 18:35 Sapa

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Cape Town - A long-awaited parliamentary meeting on the latest crisis at the SABC came to nought on Wednesday when chairman Ben Ngubane told MPs the embattled board had failed to produce a performance review of its first six months in charge.

"There are many documents before us that need to go for board approval. So I'm saying there are many balls in the air. I'm very sorry that we could not provide a document approved by the board for today," Ngubane told Parliament's portfolio committee on communication.

This prompted MPs from several parties to call for the meeting to be postponed again, two months after an initial crisis meeting was delayed after media successfully challenged an ANC decision to hold it in camera.

"It is clear we have reached the end of the line for today. It will be very difficult for us to continue with a process where the document hasn't yet been finalised. What are we going to say to them?" ANC MP Johnny de Lange said.

"How do you asses the value of reports that are not finalised?"

Committee chairman Ismail Vadi agreed, but signalled his dismay with the board's failure to prepare and said it was hampering the committee's oversight work.

"I just want to register my own dissatisfaction with what has transpired," he said.

"I don't want to set a precedent that if any entity does not want to report, all it has to say is that it does not have the documents.

"This board had sufficient notice. They were aware of the outstanding issues that faces this committee and there is absolutely no reason for the board whatsoever not to have been prepared.

"This is the singular most important failure of this board ... Now our meeting with them is dependent on when they could possibly schedule a board meeting to process this."

The breakdown of the working relationship between Ngubane and board members was evident as the chairman accused them of having obstructed even the appointment of Robin Nicholson as acting CEO, following the suspension from that post of Solly Mokoetle in August.

"The SABC has gone through incredible difficulty... As I sit here next to Robin he is legally not the acting GC (group chief) because the board has not been able to agree. We are in an illegal situation," Ngubane said.

Board members scoffed at the suggestion that they had held up the process, while Nicholson said his position was unclear because Ngubane had failed to sign off on his appointment.

"He has not signed the delegation of authority letter," he told Sapa.

Board members said they had not met to compile a performance review.

"We've had one regular board meeting, and then we've just had one special board meeting on the other. It has just been Molefe, Molefe," one told Sapa, referring to the clash between Ngubane and the board over the appointment of Phil Molefe as head of SABC news.

The appointment, which came while the board was still reviewing candidates, brought relations with Ngubane to breaking point in May, a mere five months after new management was appointed to pull the broadcaster back from the point of collapse.

The board suffered another setback in recent days when four members quit.

Wednesday's meeting began with an announcement by Vadi that President Jacob Zuma had accepted their resignation with immediate effect, which meant that they would not be allowed to address the meeting.

"We have taken advice from the legal section and our understanding is that those four members are no longer board members of the SABC as from yesterday, so they have no speaking rights in the meeting."

He said Zuma had asked Parliament to start the process of filling the vacancies.

Board deputy chairwoman Felleng Sekha, David Niddrie, Barbara Masekela and Maghatho Mello reportedly resigned in frustration with the failure of the department of communications and the portfolio committee to act swiftly to resolve the problems at the SABC.

Juli Killian, a board member from Cope, said the president's decision not to allow the four to serve a notice period was suspect and signalled a decision to "get in easy-going people who know the rules".

The board warned in a submission to Parliament in August that the SABC was steering towards deep financial trouble unless it designed and implemented a comprehensive turnaround strategy.

They said it risked failing to make repayments on loans secured against a government guarantee of R1bn.

The SABC halved its losses over the past financial year, but has failed to meet performance targets.

Nicholson said it made a "modest" profit of R25m in the first six months of the current financial year and significantly improved its liquidity.
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