The recently appointed SABC board has taken members of Parliament through the actions it has taken in a bid to take the financially troubled public broadcaster out of the red.
The portfolio committee on communications was told of a downward graph on financial losses – R98 million in losses recorded by end September. An improvement on last year’s R436 million in losses.
While working hard to keep the SABC afloat, the new board has promised to crack the whip.
In the board’s firing line are former chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng and former chief financial officer James Aguma. Most of the identified problems at the SABC happened under the two men’s watch.
Presenting their progress report to the committee in Kempton Park on Friday, board member Khanyisile Kweyama said they would fight for the two men to lose their pensions to the SABC. This would help the broadcaster recover a “dubious” R11 million payout to Motsoeneng as well as recover money lost in some “fraud and corrupt” activities.
The board reported to the portfolio committee on communication that among the costly decisions they had reversed was the one regarding 90/10 local content.
Motsoeneng had, in his heyday, decided that SABC platforms would play only 10% of international music. While the controversial decision may have earned himself great respect among local musicians, Kweyama said this decision cost the public broadcaster’s television and radio stations R183 million and R29 million respectively.
She said this excluded the “R72 million for replacement of local content and losses due to unused foreign rights already contracted”.
The board said the Special Investigating Unit had already established an office at the broadcaster’s Auckland Park headquarters and had been given reports from internal investigations. The investigators were expected to pursue and criminally charge those implicated in the reports.
Kweyama said the SIU was set to “conduct a forensic investigation into fruitless and wasteful expenditure between April 1 2014 and March 31 2017.”
She said the subject of the investigation were the questionable contracts that were signed with some companies.
Kweyama added that it appeared as though Aguma had “colluded with bidders”.
In their effort to regain public confidence, Kweyama said the board had to reverse something that Motsoeneng had fiercely defended – the decision to not broadcast any violent material like protests and burning things on SABC platforms. She said employees had been promised protection against any intimidation or abuse of power.
The board also confirmed that it had launched a fight to get the SABC to benefit financially from MultiChoice for carrying their television channels.
Board chair Bongumusa Makhathini said they did “not want a contract where there is no mutual benefit” but said there were legalities around the issue that they were challenging through the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa.
Committee chairperson Humphrey Maxengwana commended both the new board and the interim one saying they had managed to stabilise things at SABC.
“I hope money gets recovered. We really think we’re going somewhere,” Maxengwana said.
While she acknowledged the mammoth task of saving the SABC – which she described as “monumental” – committee member Phumzile van Damme said not much had changed since they had been there and she felt like “lighting fire under their feet” in order to get them to move faster.