The Minister can’t tell the SABC what to do

Issued by Phumzile Van Damme MP – DA Shadow Minister of Communications
02 Dec 2018 in News

Please find attached a soundbite in English by DA Shadow Minister of Communications, Phumzile Van Damme MP

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is in possession of a letter to the SABC board Chairperson, Bongumusa Makhathini, by the new Communications Minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, and its contents are cause for serious concern.

At first instance, while the Communications Minister does indeed have an oversight role over the SABC, she does not, however, have the power to give instructions to the board. The fact that she has decided to “desist from all engagements with the SABC board” because it refused to take her instruction to halt retrenchments is puerile and in violation of the SABC’s independence.

Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams must continue discharge of her oversight role as shareholder and cannot decide not to do so because the board will not take her instructions and “…is no longer acting in the interests of the company, shareholder, and Parliament…” as stated in her letter. If she is not up to the task, she is welcome to resign.

The current SABC board has done well to enforce its independence and stand up to political interference by former communications ministers and it is evident it is doing the same with the current one.

That being said, the SABC board reports to and is accountable to Parliament and has not covered itself in glory regarding its proposed plan to retrench 2200 staff.

The DA has consistently said that the board must conduct an independent skills and salary audit before considering retrenchments, a view that was shared by the rest of the Communications Portfolio Committee when the board appeared before it last week. The committee also requested that the board present a clear strategic plan that will see the board self-sustain by cutting costs and exploring new revenue streams and funding models. The board has thus far done neither.

The SABC has until January to present both the results of an independent skills and salary audit, as well as a clear strategic plan to Parliament or face the risk of being axed. In terms of Section 15A of the Broadcasting Act, Parliament can dissolve the SABC board for the inability to perform its duties “efficiently.”

The DA is not blind to the politics at play. The SABC board has been adamant about enforcing its independence and this is not a situation Luthuli House would be happy with going into an election.

It has in the past had the SABC under its control and made sure that the public broadcaster was its mouthpiece and portrayed the ANC in a positive light to the electorate. The dissolving of the current board would allow for Parliament to appoint an interim board which could quite likely be filled with ANC-friendly individuals who would be at Luthuli House’s beck and call.

The ball is ultimately in the SABC board’s court. It must in January not give the Communications Committee reason to dissolve it, by presenting the results of an independent skills and salary audit and a clear strategic plan.

The DA is serious about rebuilding the SABC, protecting its independence after years of financial mismanagement, corruption and political interference by the ANC. We are also serious about protecting SABC staff against unjust retrenchment, we will not allow SABC staff to lose their jobs without just cause. We wait for the SABC board and management to redeem itself, and we hope it will do so.