Media agency likened to SABC; inquiry in sight

Cape Town – “We may well replace the letters MDDA with the letters SABC.”

These were the words of Donald Liphoko, acting CEO of the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), as he laid bare a tale of mismanagement at the entity’s board, with the board present at Tuesday’s meeting of the portfolio committee of communications.

This shortly after the board’s chairperson, Phelisa Nkomo, put much of the blame of the agency’s woes on Liphoko, who was seconded to act as the MDDA’s CEO from May 8 by Communications Mminister Ayanda Dlodlo.

“There was no extraction of value from the secondment,” said Nkomo. Two other board members were also present, Louise Vale and Musa Shisange.

In response Liphoko said the situation at the MDDA is “strikingly similar” to that which was at the SABC.

Intimidation tactics

He said the MDDA’s staff were intimidated. “Ask why is it that board members resigned.”

Currently there is only four non-executive MDDA board members, meaning its inquorate. According to Liphoko the three board members present are “institutionalising a culture of victimisation”.

He said most of the agency’s litigation is against employees, adding that bursaries are awarded as a way to reward employees or are withheld to punish them.

Six people had been the agency’s CEO since 2014. “They work no longer than four months,” Liphoko said.

'A wounded organisation'

He said he “inherited a wounded organisation” and his biggest gripe is with corporate governance issues.

Liphoko further revealed that the board prevented him from entering the premises to do his work. "The board chose to trample my rights by locking me out."

He said there is a breakdown of the relationship between the board and Deputy Minister of Communications Tandi Mahambehlala because of Nkomo’s leadership style.

He also said the board “wilfully misled” the committee.

Committee chairperson Humphrey Maxegwana asked the board members to stay calm while Liphoko was giving his presentation.

'Shocking'

“This is really, really shocking,” said ANC MP Lerumo Kalako after Liphoko’s testimony.

You can’t have a government entity “speaking about itself in different tongues”, said the ANC's Nokuzola Tolashe.

“You are making us suspicious that we're getting into another SABC situation.”

DA MP Phumzile van Damme thanked Liphoko for his candor. She said the situation is not quite as bad as the SABC yet, “but it's getting there”.

“Our duty as a committee is to arrest it,” she said.

Letters of complaints

DA MP Veronica van Dyk, who last week wrote to Maxegwana to request an urgent meeting on the matter, said she has been receiving letters from staff members with similar complaints. She referred to a letter dated August 15, where the staff asked for the committee’s protection as Nkomo wanted to meet staff without Liphoko present.

EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said the committee must reject the MDDA’s report, to which the committee agreed.

“You must never think we are fools. We are not fools,” he said, adding that no one, including Liphoko, should be absolved.

Ndlozi said the problems at the MDDA are former communications minister “honourable Faithful Muthambi’s problems”.

Inquiry mooted

At the start of the meeting, the committee heard Dlodlo’s apology that she could not attend the meeting due to illness, but expressed its displeasure at the absence of Mahambehlala. The committee received word that she is on study leave.

Mahambehlala's spokesperson Chrispin Phiri told News24 that she did offer an apology to the committee's secretariat. She had an event in another province that she could not postpone.

The committee resolved to meet next weekend to discuss the MDDA further in the presence of Dlodlo and Mahambehlala, and decide on a way forward, with the possibility of an inquiry into the MDDA mooted.

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