Withdraw draft Broadcasting Bill, says DA

2010-11-15 13:46

The Democratic Alliance (DA) today called for the draft Public Service Broadcasting Bill to be unconditionally withdrawn because it contained too many “problematic provisions”.

The DA had noted the communications department’s hosting of oral hearings on the bill, and welcomed that the department had afforded stakeholders an opportunity to clarify written submissions made on the bill, said DA spokesman Natasha Michael.

“However, the DA believes that this bill should be unconditionally withdrawn as it contains too many problematic provisions, including centralising the control of the SABC in the hands of the minister of communications, and the introduction of a 1% personal income tax, which the treasury has already indicated is completely unfeasible,” she said.

The bill sought to grant wideranging powers to the minister, in effect placing the control of the SABC with the minister as a member of government and the executive.

For example, section 37 of the bill allowed the minister to “instruct the board to take any action specified by the minister if the corporation is in financial difficulty, unable to perform its functions effectively or fails to comply with any law”.

Through issuing such directives to the board, the minister would in effect be usurping the board’s authority and independence, Michael said.

Also, in the addendum to the bill, the corporation’s charter contained a provision that the board might only appoint the group chief executive officer, chief financial officer and their equivalents after consultation with the minister.

“This would have the effect of giving the minister the prerogative to appoint the senior management of the SABC,” she said.

Furthermore, it was unclear why the department would still be pursuing imposing a 1% personal tax, after the minister of finance made it clear, publicly, that he had not been consulted over the proposal, and was in not in favour of it.

In response to a DA parliamentary question in December last year, finance minister Pravin Gordhan stated the department’s proposal “is not prudent” and “is not under consideration by the national treasury” because earmarked taxes were inefficient, limited fiscal space and made it difficult to hold departments accountable for their spending.

The SABC had a history of failing to hold its staff accountable for misspending, and imposing the tax would see the SABC granted an annual windfall with no conditions attached.

The bill, as it currently stood, was highly problematic.

As an alternative, the Broadcasting Act of 1999 should remain in force, with amendments that would ensure, among other things, that the board was adequately performance-managed to ensure the broadcaster was not further plagued by financial problems as a result of financial mismanagement and a lack of accountability.

The regulations governing the television licensing regime should be revised so as to ensure maximum licence revenue, and make it possible for more and more citizens to take ownership of their public broadcaster.

“If the new minister of communications, Roy Padayachie, is indeed committed to restoring good governance, financial prudence and public confidence in the SABC, it would behove him to withdraw this bill,” Michael said.

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