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Decoding Hlaudi: the Public Protector’s SABC report

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Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has slammed the SABC and, in particular, its acting Chief Operations Officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Her latest report “When Governance and Ethics Fail” describes a system gone wrong, from the ANC’s political deployees to the bosses that govern them. GREG NICOLSON decodes the report.

There are reams of reports claiming Motsoeneng is dodgy. What’s Madonsela got to add?

Motsoeneng, the SABC’s perennial acting COO who wants 70% of stories to be “positive” and takes the time to inspect the outfits of his male news presenters, now has the Public Protector’s rubber stamp of disapproval. He’s a fraud who shouldn’t have got his job, is guilty of misconduct, and manipulates the goings-on at the SABC to benefit himself, Madonsela found.

There’s no shortage of substantiated allegations. Motsoeneng committed fraud when he stated on application forms that he had a matric certificate, which he admitted to Madonsela that he does not. Worse, he showed no remorse, blaming everyone but himself. And his personal file conveniently disappeared when questions were raised. Motsoeneng also received three salary increases in a year, taking his earnings from R1.5 million to R2.4 million, after potentially abusing his power while advising the SABC board on his own remuneration. Madonsela also found that he purged the organisation of his detractors, without following the proper procedures, resulting in over a dozen challenges to suspensions or terminations. That little operation caused an “unprecedented salary bill escalation by R29 million” in settlements and legal fees.

So how did he get away with it?

Pretty easily, really. Madonsela describes an SABC board/s in constant disarray and that worked closely with Motsoeneng. Former chairman Ben Ngubane tailor-made the acting COO job requirements to accommodate Motsoeneng’s lack of a matric certificate. They signed off on his and close colleagues’ pay hikes. The current board defended Motsoeneng with passion and even more vigour then he himself. Quite simply, the report describes a board that either works according to Motsoeneng’s whims or is a lame duck without the required commitment to ensure oversight and accountability.

Okay, so who is to blame?

The case of Gugu Duda provides some help there. When she was appointed to the position of chief financial officer in 2012, she hadn’t applied for the position, which was advertised. Interviews had already been conducted and the board had recommended then Minister of Communications Dina Pule appoint Msulwa Daca. “[Acting Communications Director General Thabo Phiri] from the Department of Communications, and Motsoeneng, from the SABC, orchestrated the appointment of Duda long after the recruitment and selection process had been closed,” found Madonsela.

The board and Motsoeneng acted against the law and gave Duda the job.

“The appointment was grossly irregular and actions involved constitute improper conduct, maladministration and abuse of power,” said the Public Protector. There’s sufficient evidence, she said, to suggest “an invisible hand” from Pule and her reported romantic partner Phosane Mngqibisa, who is accused of benefiting financially from his connection to the former minister.

The board’s malleability and the close relationship between Motsoeneng and the ministry doesn’t auger well for the SABC, which is often accused being a plaything for the personal enrichment of ANC deployees and the political benefit of the party and President Jacob Zuma.

What does the report say about the state of the SABC?

It looks rotten to the core with maladministration, financial abuse, misconduct, abuse of power and irregular actions. “All the above findings are symptomatic of pathological corporate governance deficiencies at the SABC, including failure by the SABC board to provide strategic oversight to the national broadcaster,” found Madonsela. “The board was dysfunctional and on its watch, allowed Ngubane to effectively perform the function of an executive chairperson by authorising numerous salary increments for Motsoeneng,” she continues. “Mr Motsoeneng has been allowed by successive Boards to operate above the law, undermining the GCEO among others, and causing the staff, particularly in the human resources and financial departments to engage in unlawful conduct.”

What’s most worrying is the SABC’s approach to Madonsela’s investigation, which shows they fail to recognise the problems. (Responding to the report, spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said the SABC needs time to read it and consult the board.)

Can the national broadcaster be saved?

That’ll take leadership. Madonsela recommends Parliament’s Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ interests note Pule’s role. Communications Minister Yunus Carrim should discipline Phiri, hire “a suitably qualified permanent incumbent” COO and define that person’s role in relation to the group CEO, says Madonsela. She recommends Motsoeneng be disciplined by the SABC for his dishonesty and abuse of power and wants the money spent on the irregular salary hikes received by Motsoeneng and others be paid back.

The SABC, she says, must “ensure that in future there is strict and collective responsibility by the SABC board members through working as a collective and not against each other, in compliance with the relevant legislation, policies and prescripts that govern the national broadcaster”.

This week, Carrim will report to the Communications Portfolio Committee on the work of the task team looking at the problems at the SABC. It’s going to be a hard sell convincing anyone that things are going to improve. Madonsela’s report shows that it’s the system, not just one man, which has screwed the SABC. The subtext is that the ANC’s system of deployment, patronage and political allegiances do not ensure the national broadcaster can operate effectively or ensure oversight and accountability. That looks unlikely to change. DM

Read more:

  • Hlaudi weather: the problem with the SABC’s ‘good news’ journalism in Daily Maverick
  • SABC shambles: And then there were none in Daily Maverick

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