Resign or else: Showdown looms over remaining SABC board members

 Humphrey Maxegwana. Picture: Jan Gerber
Humphrey Maxegwana. Picture: Jan Gerber

Parliament may request President Jacob Zuma to dismiss the remaining members of the SABC board if they do not voluntarily resign or if they seek to prolong the inquiry into their fitness to hold office.

The inquiry into the fitness of the SABC board to hold office in terms of the Broadcasting Act is set down for three days starting on Wednesday.

Former board members will be among the witnesses the committee will call in to provide evidence in the inquiry.

Committee chairperson Humphrey Maxegwana told City Press that the committee wrote to the remaining four board members requesting them to resign in light of the resignations during a parliamentary meeting last week of Krish Naidoo and Vusi Mavuso, leaving the board without quorum.

But the board members wrote back saying they were still consulting their lawyers.

The last time the committee held an inquiry into an SABC board member – then board chairperson Ellen Tshabalala, she dragged the process for months, requesting postponement after postponement with her lawyers.

She eventually resigned in December 2014 after the committee found her guilty of misrepresenting her qualifications on her CV when she applied for a position on the board a year earlier.

“The appointing authority is the president. If he agrees with us that they must go, he can do it. But we are not there yet,” said Maxegwana when City Press asked whether the committee had a plan, in the event the four board members seek to drag the process with legal technicalities as it happened before.

Maxegwana said the committee hoped that the board members will cooperate and attend the inquiry.

“They have not indicated that they won’t come,” he said.

SABC board members are appointed by the president at the recommendation of the National Assembly following a recruitment process which includes a nomination process by the public and interviews by MPs.

On October 5, the SABC board appeared before the portfolio committee to account for the shenanigans at the public broadcaster including the reappointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as group executive for corporate affairs after the Supreme Court of Appeal denied Motsoeneng leave to appeal the decision of the high court that found his appointment as chief operations officer invalid and irrational.

MPs felt the board was failing in its duties and resolved to institute an inquiry into the fitness of the board to hold office.

The Broadcasting Act provides a procedure for the National Assembly to recommend that the board of the SABC be dissolved, but it can only make such a recommendation after due inquiry and upon specific grounds, including inability of the board to discharge its fiduciary duties, non-adherence to the Broadcasting Charter and not carrying out its duties as contemplated in the act.

When such a recommendation was made, the president as the appointing authority would dissolve the board.

The inquiry’s terms of reference include looking into the financial status and sustainability of the SABC; the response by the SABC to the Public Protector report: When Governance and Ethics Fail; recent court judgments and the ruling by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa that the SABC withdraw its decision to ban the coverage of violent protests.

The inquiry will also look into the current board’s inability to take legally binding decisions due to the lack of a quorum, since the act requires that nine members of the board, which include the chairperson or the deputy chairperson, will constitute a quorum at any meeting of the board.

Director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Phephelaphi Dube, said the continued defence of Motsoeneng despite the plethora of evidence against him on the part of the remaining board members, as well as on the part of the minister, point to a threat to the constitutional standard required in the operation of a public entity.

“The disrespect of parliamentary authority, even after the special meeting by the concerned individuals [committee] must be cautioned against.

“However, the unity displayed by the members of Parliament from different political parties serving on the committee is commendable. It serves, to some extent, as a reassurance that in a time where the future of our democracy is challenged daily, the rule of law and the Constitution cannot be,” said Dube.

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