Muthambi’s new powers ‘turn SABC into a state broadcaster’

2015-03-18 10:06

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Communications Minister Faith Muthambi has wide-ranging powers over the SABC – from being able to solely appoint the broadcaster’s chief executive, chief operations officer and the chief financial officer to recommending the removal of a board member.

And the Democratic Alliance has warned that the SABC was becoming a state broadcaster if these new changes in the newly published memorandum of incorporation were anything to go by.

Parliament’s portfolio committee on communication saw the newly amended memorandum of incorporation for the first time in a meeting yesterday.

Muthambi revealed that the document was amended in September last year but most of the changes were brought about by her predecessor, Dina Pule.

The document gives the communications minister the following capacity:

» The power to recommend the removal of a board member.

» The power to waiver the requirement for the board to advertise and shortlist candidates who apply for the positions of chief executive, chief operating officer and chief financial officer.

» The board has to seek the approval of the minister on any rule change relating to the governance of the SABC.

» The minister has sole authority to decide whether the chief executive, chief operating officer and chief financial officer should be reappointed and the terms and conditions of these reappointments, therefore bypassing the board.

» The board can only discipline or suspend the chief executive, chief operating officer and chief financial officer with the approval from the minister.

» The chief operating officer shall act in the position of the chief executive with the approval of the minister in the event the position of the chief executive is vacant.

Muthambi said they amended the memorandum of incorporation in terms of the Companies Act, a document that can be amended “as from time to time”.

She said she was also entitled in terms of the memorandum of incorporation, the shareholder compact and the board charter to intervene in resolving a dispute over the SABC board members’ alleged conduct.

“I am raising it based on the fact that the SABC is a state-owned company and it is governed by the provisions of the Companies Act. The memorandum of incorporation is a shareholder’s document and therefore the shareholder is entitled to amend it during the shareholder’s meeting if the shareholder deems it necessary,” she said.

The memorandum was amended to give powers to the management team of the SABC to appoint and discipline staff, she added.

“This is done for operational efficiency. The other amendments were to correct grammatical errors that appeared in the original memorandum of incorporation that was registered by Dina Pule in 2013,” she said.

The DA said the changes to the memorandum were unprecedented and in contravention of the Broadcasting Act.

DA MP Gavin Davis said the memorandum had fundamentally changed the SABC from an independent broadcaster to a state broadcaster.

“The board now requires the approval of the minister on any rule change regarding the governance of the SABC.

“So the minister is now in charge,” he said.

“You say the SABC is a state-owned company; you are fundamentally wrong. The SABC is an independent public broadcaster and I feel that your interpretation of what the SABC is colours how you deal with the SABC,” he added.

Davis explained that the SABC was not like Eskom or Transnet, but an independent public broadcaster, and was governed by the Broadcasting Act.

He said what Muthambi had done with the memorandum was an attempt to turn the SABC from a public broadcaster into a state broadcaster.

Muthambi disagreed with Davis’ interpretation of the law, saying it was incorrect.

The committee resolved to seek a determination on whether the Broadcasting Act takes precedence over the Companies Act in this regard.

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