Charges on the cards for failed SABC bosses

Cape Town - Following an inquiry into its many crises, the beleaguered national broadcaster may soon be facing the music. Members of Parliament will be calling for a forensic audit into the SABC’s finances; dereliction of duty charges against board members and executive directors who failed the broadcaster; as well as perjury charges against those officials who may have misled Parliament during its inquiry.

Having wrapped up interviews with witnesses on Friday, the pressure is now on MPs to draft a report of their findings and recommendations.

Speaking to City Press, committee chairperson Vincent Smith hinted that MPs could face pressure and manipulation to make certain findings.

Members of the ad hoc committee will meet to deliberate on and compile the report on Thursday and Friday. On January 24, a draft report will be sent for comment to the implicated officials, including the three most senior SABC executives – acting group CEO James Aguma, acting chief finance officer Audrey Raphela and acting chief operations officer Bessie Tugwana. They will have until February 9 to comment.

Smith told City Press: “I think it’s going to get worse now. The anxiety levels have heightened. I think what we did up to now was easy and it could have set expectations. Therefore, we’ve got to live up to those expectations.

“[The report is] going to be criticised either way.

"You are going to think that I am playing to the gallery if it hurts you; you are going to think I am being too soft … I think the pressure has been ratcheted up”, he said.

Areas need attention

Smith revealed that during the December holidays, the committee had been inundated with requests from people who wanted to testify before the inquiry.

Not wanting to turn the inquiry into a “whingeing session”, Smith turned them down.

“Ours is about information-gathering...nobody is going to be found guilty or innocent. We agreed that we were not calling any witnesses.”

Smith said whatever the recommendations of the inquiry, “they should be able to inform the skills set that we need for the new board, also to give some sort of mkhombhandlela [direction] to the interim board”.

He said the ad hoc committee would provide Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications – which will nominate candidates for the interim and new SABC boards – with a sense of which areas need attention.

“We will give the portfolio committee some sort of sense that you need strong financial skills; you need strong legal and strong corporate governance people. Hopefully, our recommendations will lift those things up,” he said.

Smith hinted that he expected some interference or manipulation in the ad hoc committee’s work.

“If things change drastically between the January 24 [draft] report and the February 9 [final] report, then you would not be amiss to say somebody put pressure on them to up the ante or to lower the ante and that is going to be interesting.

“The report of January 24 should be a report that we should be able to defend,” said Smith.

Remove academic qualifications

The DA, meanwhile, will demand that those who held senior positions at the SABC be held to account.

DA MP Phumzile van Damme said her party would ask for a forensic audit to investigate SABC finances going back to 2010 when the board led by Ben Ngubane was appointed.

Van Damme said they would also call for disciplinary hearings for executives for dereliction of duty.

The party wants the alleged “enforcers” and board members to also face the music.

“The Public Finance Management Act speaks about duties for board members, so board members who failed in those duties while being paid … from our side, this is what we will also be looking at,” Van Damme said on Saturday.

Meanwhile, former SABC board chairperson Ben Ngubane relied on the legal advice of an attorney who helped the SABC “deal” with the Public Protector’s report, titled When Governance Ethics Fail.

Ngubane repeatedly told MPs on Friday that he had not read the report written by Advocate Thuli Madonsela, which had found that he acted irregularly when he ordered that the qualification requirements for the position of chief operating officer be changed to remove the academic qualifications previously advertised. Ngubane said he learnt about the contents of Madonsela’s report in the media.

Interesting, though, was that on Friday, Ngubane brought with him to Parliament Titus Mchunu of Mchunu Attorneys, the law firm hired by the SABC in 2014 to advise the broadcaster on the same report.

Mchunu sat behind Ngubane and from time to time they exchanged notes during the parliamentary meeting.

Mchunu told City Press that he was assisting Ngubane during the inquiry process because the issues related to his tenure as chairperson of the board.

“I was helping him then with his responses to the Public Protector’s provisional report. I am also assisting him here,” said Mchunu.

Asked how he didn’t know much about Madonsela’s report when his lawyer was the same man who advised the SABC about it, Ngubane said: “He informed me now...we were discussing it and all that … He will probably take it on review for me,” he said in jest.

Ngubane said he merely engaged Mchunu’s services in preparation for his appearance before Parliament.

MPs were shocked when they learnt of Mchunu’s involvement.

“If indeed he was the same guy that was asked to dissect that report, and today (on Friday)he sits to assist Doctor Ngubane who says he didn’t even read the report. It’s strange that he would have had a legal adviser that would not have even briefed him on it,” said Smith.

“I find it shocking that he had the gall to bring Mchunu to the committee. It appears he may have misled the committee and I would be looking at his testimony to the committee,” said Van Damme.

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