Memo gives Muthambi nearly complete control of SABC

2015-02-09 10:15

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Communications Minister Faith Muthambi’s battle with the divided SABC board has taken a dramatic turn with the emergence of a document allowing her almost complete control over its decisions.

On September 14 last year, Muthambi signed an amended version of the SABC’s Memorandum of Incorporation, which allows her the power to:

» Veto the board’s proposed candidates for the SABC’s three most senior executive positions (CEO, chief financial officer and chief operating officer) and not be challenged on that decision;

»?Thereby have the power to appoint the group CEO and approve the terms of their employment contract; and

» Approve all the board’s business and strategic plans.

The document, which several members of the SABC board told City Press they have never seen, even though it serves as a framework for their duties, has emerged publicly through a court challenge to the public broadcaster.

The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition and various partners have approached the North Gauteng High Court for a ruling that it is unlawful and unconstitutional for the minister to appoint the SABC’s top three senior executives.

Muthambi and controversial chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng are respondents in the matter.

SOS coordinator Sekoetlane Phamodi this week said: “The changes [to the Memorandum of Incorporation] are far-reaching and reduce the board’s power significantly. They set the SABC up for micromanagement by the minister, where there really should be a light touch approach?...?This is exactly why we are taking the minister to court. To not only address the appointments of executive directors, but also to establish, once and for all, the extent of government’s powers in relation to the national broadcaster.”

Muthambi’s spokesperson, Ayanda Holo, denies there is anything untoward about the amended Memorandum of Incorporation, telling City Press that the memorandum “can be changed or supplemented to suit the particular needs of the company with the proviso that [it is] consistent with the Companies Act. The Memorandum of Incorporation may include provisions dealing with matters which the act does not address?…?The minister had officially informed the SABC board that she was amending the Memorandum of Incorporation.”

Earlier last month, it was reported that the minister had written to certain members of the board, asking why she shouldn’t suspend them. The minister denied this.

This week, City Press contacted several board members. None wished to be named, but several said that the conflict with the minister began with their very first meeting.

“She said that we are divided and that she is going to disband this board and cut it down,” said one.

In her answering affidavit, Muthambi states that she wants to reduce the board from 15 to seven, from 12 nonexecutive directors and three executive directors to six nonexecutives and one executive.

“It has to do with getting rid of people who disagree with how they do things,” said a board member. “This is about those who opposed the appointment of Motsoeneng and who want to see action around the Public Protector’s report.”

The report found that Motsoeneng was irregularly appointed and lied about his qualifications. It also damned former communications minister Dina Pule for interfering with the SABC board regarding senior appointments.

DA communications spokesperson Gavin Davis said it was “not an exaggeration” to say “that this ‘hostile takeover’ poses the gravest threat to SABC independence since 1994”.

Davis said Muthambi “now has the power to unilaterally keep Motsoeneng on as acting CEO for the foreseeable future”.

Legal opinions gathered by SOS, the Freedom of Expression Institute and Media Monitoring Africa question the legality of the new Memorandum of Incorporation, stating that it goes against the laws laid out in the Broadcasting Act and in the Constitution.

The coalition does not believe that the law allows a minister to have the right to appoint a CEO, or dictate their employment terms.

But Holo said: “The minister disagrees that the Memorandum of Incorporation is illegal. Your belief is based on a lack of information or ignorance, as you have correctly pointed out that this matter is in court.

“The minister does not litigate through the media, save to say that the allegations are denied?…?The minister is in the process of overhauling the entire Broadcasting Act and will engage the stakeholders in this regard.”

Numerous well-placed insiders told City Press this week that they believe Muthambi intends to appoint Frans Matlala to the position of CEO.

“He was brought in by [disgraced former chair] Ellen Tshabalala as a consultant. He’s earning a lot of money as what seems to be Motsoeneng’s special adviser,” said one board member.

The ministry did not respond to questions about Matlala.

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