Muthambi, Parliament’s role sticking points for SABC inquiry

Cape Town - MPs conducting the SABC inquiry could not reach consensus on Thursday on the roles of Communications Minister Faith Muthambi and Parliament in the broadcaster’s recent decline.

The ad hoc committee looking into the SABC board was at risk of turning political as the day ended without consensus on its proposed recommendations.

ANC MP Juli Kilian pitched an 11th hour proposal to not make any recommendations at all in their first interim report, and rather wait for affected parties to give input.

Kilian and her colleagues felt the report could be subjected to litigation if recommendations were issued without the affected parties having been given a right of reply. She did not want the committee to be accused of unfair practices.

ANC MPs supported it, but opposition MPs did not take kindly to the gesture.

‘Cold feet?’

DA MP Phumzile van Damme accused the ANC MPs of “getting cold feet” at the last minute. The EFF’s Fana Mokoena said not including recommendations could sabotage all their good work.

ACDP MP Steve Swart agreed that the committee should continue. IFP MP Narend Singh said that was the assumption all along.

Kilian and ANC MPs Hlomane Chauke, Fezeka Loliwe, Jabu Mahlangu, and Makhosi Khoza said they intended cleaning up the SABC, and that opposition MPs were being "superstitious".

They would have to finish recommendations at some point anyway, as it was only a draft report, they argued.

Committee chairperson Vincent Smith proposed Parliament’s lawyers determine if there was a precedent for issuing a draft report either with or without recommendations. On Friday, the committee would decide, based on the legal information, how to proceed.

Muthambi

During their observations debate, opposition MPs said they felt strongly that Muthambi was central to the dysfunction of the SABC board.

The DA said Muthambi had violated the Broadcasting Act; the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament Act, and various other pieces of legislation when she “irregularly” amended the SABC’s memorandum of incorporation.

The EFF’s Mokoena said her amendment and involvement had influenced many board decisions and “disturbed” Parliament’s duties.

According to witness testimony Muthambi placed “undue pressure” on the board in July 2014 to illegally appoint Hlaudi Motsoeneng as permanent chief operating officer, he said.

Kilian was concerned that the board had not said if it was given the chance to scrutinize Muthambi’s amendment, and perhaps the amendment had been above board all along.

“The questions is: were they given an opportunity to object? From what we have heard, no. But we could be wrong,” she warned.

Board ‘not children’

ANC MP Jabu Mahlangu said the board was not made up of children.

“They had gone through a process of serious induction, and if the board failed to follow through with their duties because the shareholder was bullying them, or the chair was a super chair. Then they too had failed,” he said.

Mokoena said establishing Muthambi’s role did not negate the board’s failures.

DA MP Mike Waters said both Muthambi and the board were at fault and both had to account for their actions.

They agreed in the interim to describe Muthambi's actions as "possible", without being definitive. They would vote on the issue on Friday.

Parliament

Another sticking point for the committee, particularly the DA, was the proposed, unilateral blame Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications should take for its role in removing three SABC board members in 2015.

Van Damme said the opposition repeatedly raised issues about the SABC at the time.

“We as the DA have been to court for two years on matters of the SABC. My former colleague Gavin Davis banged his head against the wall, and was also blocked by the portfolio committee.”

She said she would prefer that the report say the “majority of members of Parliament” failed in their Constitutional duties.

Khoza said they could not dispute Van Damme's facts, but that the ad hoc committee would put that question to the portfolio committee.

She said the portfolio committee MPs could set the record straight, and their job as an ad hoc committee was only to make a judgment on Parliament as a whole.

‘We must step up to the plate’

Mokoena agreed with Khoza and said it was not the space to be making political statements.

ACDP MP Steve Swart said they needed to step up to the plate, and that Parliament should accept the blame as a whole.

“The SABC 8 said, you Parliament, let us down,” he said. He was referring to a group of SABC journalists who were fired, and later reinstated, for objecting to Motsoeneng’s policy of no longer airing footage of violent protests.

Waters said it was unreasonable to think MPs who were so frustrated in the portfolio committee would accept full responsibility for things they had objected to.

He said none of the MPs present would be arguing the point if the shoe was on the other foot. He said the DA had gone to court over the Motsoeneng saga, and "won four times" at financial cost to the party.

Smith said the committee would vote on the issue on Friday.


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