SABC: Public Protector steps in

2013-03-17 10:00

Outgoing SABC board chairman Ben Ngubane has spoken out about why he has left the SABC board for the first time.

“My resignation comes out of the realisation that we are actually going backwards not forward,” he told City Press.

“Some board members have made it untenable to continue.”

His comments come in the wake of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela stepping up her investigation into “systemic governance failure at the level of the board and various allegations regarding certain appointments, dismissals and salaries” at the public broadcaster.

On Wednesday this week Madonsela called the non-executive SABC board to a meeting in Pretoria, which carried on for the whole day.

Her office has, in the course of the past two years, received a vast number of complaints and reports from disaffected former employees of the SABC outlining improper appointments, unfair dismissals and ethical lapses in governance.

What is clear is that the investigation into the SABC was broadened this week.

This is according to three board members present as well as several former employees who were interviewed as witnesses by Public Protector investigators.

Board members were asked by Madonsela to submit letters to suggest where other matters for investigation may lie.

Although the entire board is implicated in matters of poor governance, City Press was told that chairperson Ngubane was singled out by the board in the meeting.

“The truth is that since we’ve been sitting as a board we’ve been trying to manage an explosive situation and essentially we’ve allowed Ngubane to impose his will,” said one of the board members in the meeting. Some board members have accused Ngubane of taking executive decisions when his role is non-executive and of “presenting his decisions to us as a fait accompli”.

When asked if the scope of the investigation had been extended to include Ngubane, Public Protector spokesperson Kgalalelo Masibi said that the scope remained the same.

“The allegations against specific individuals have always been part of the investigations,” she said.

Ngubane confirmed that he has been called to answer to the Public Protector.

“Yes, I am under investigation. I was there yesterday answering questions.”

He denied the board’s accusations. “I never took any decisions on my own.

Decisions were taken either on the governance committee which I chaired or with the board. “It’s just malice when they say these things. I’m being maligned.”

The core investigations, according to a dossier of SABC legal responses prepared by Mchunu Attorneys that was handed to board members in the meeting, are as follows:

* The appointment of Acting COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng, as well as questions around his qualifications;

* The rapid rise in the SABC of Sully Motsweni, who is accused in some complaints of being elevated by Motsoeneng;

* Systematic persecution of certain senior staff members, who have laid complaints claiming they were irregularly purged or made redundant;

* Some of the complaints call for criminal investigation around forgery and falsification of qualifications;

* Unilateral salary increases dished out at the SABC that, according to complaints, were made without following procedure; and

* Improper appointment of service providers that proved fruitless and wasteful.

According to board sources, admissions were made that proper governance procedures were not always followed.

Again Ngubane, as well as Motsoeneng, were fingered.

The Public Protector is reported to have told the gathering that “the investigation will be all-encompassing”.

Although the Public Protector’s report was expected to be revealed yesterday, Masibi says it can now be expected closer to the end of the month.

Ngubane’s resignation, as well as that of deputy chair Thami ka Plaatjie, are currently awaiting a response from President Jacob Zuma. Communications Minister Dina Pule’s spokesperson, Siya Qoza, told City Press Pule had met with Zuma this week and “has recommended the president considers accepting the resignations of both the chair and the deputy chair”.

Pule caused further consternation this week when, in a letter, she accused the board of acting unprocedurally around recent hirings and firings.

“The board must provide her with letters. Once that happens she will concur,” said Qoza about the board demoting Motsoeneng three weeks ago.

As a result Motsoeneng continues to serve as acting COO at the SABC while under investigation by the Public Protector.

If the president accepts the most recent board resignations he will then also name a board member as acting chair until such time as parliament selects new board members.

The president will then decide who the new chair and deputy will be.

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