REPORT: Adoption of the Budget Vote on Communications
The Communications Portfolio committee was scheduled to name the shortlisted candidates for the vacant SABC board posts, but due to what was described as the busy schedules of members, the Committee elected to postpone this for the third time.
The meeting was focused on the adoption of the Budget Vote report, the report itself consisted of little more than a record of a previous session which took place on the 21 April 2015, in which the financial status of the entities that the Department of Communications was discussed along with a report back from GCIS, MDDA, SABC, FPB and ICASA on the state of these various entities.
Opposition MPs however strongly objected to the findings of the report, however the Chair and ANC MPs continued to insist that discussing the content of the report itself was not the point of the meeting and the correct procedure to propose changes to the report would have to wait for the ‘recommendations’ at the end of the report.
Queries and concerns raised by opposition MP Gavin Davis regarding the content of the draft report and the committee’s view of it were barred on account of his absence from the meetings in question.
As the meeting progressed, further objections were raised concerning the veracity of the statements made in the report, the meeting deteriorated into a heated exchange between the ANC caucus and the two present opposition MPs, with Davis making frequent pleas to ANC MPs to acknowledge the problems which exist in all of the state broadcasters. These were ignored and the situation escalated to the point where Davis walked out of the meeting.
The report’s recommendations only applied to the MDDA, with the rest of the entities that the Department of Communications takes responsibility for being left out, seemingly because the Department views these entities as extremely healthy.
But by far the biggest charade of the day, came when the report instead praised the SABC not only for the work of its management but for its– as yet, unverified– financial health. The reports findings were based on SABC COO, Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s, hostile presentation on 21 April, in which he clearly indicated that he would not release most of the details about the state of the SABC to the committee on account of it being “commercially sensitive.”
“We can’t share information in the portfolio committee because this information will be released to the public and run our business deals, 85% of funding for the SABC is commercial, we want 99% local content not 66% local content, we are not funded by government. We can’t give you the information because the money doesn’t come from government, so long as the information doesn’t go to our rivals or media. “
In the same meeting Moetsoeneng claimed to have made the SABC financially viable, despite the fact he produced no evidence to back this assertion up. On the contrary it emerged shortly after the meeting on 21 April that Moetsoeneng had, in fact, concealed a loss of some R500 million rand from Parliament, meaning that since he took over at the SABC R1.1 billion had been lost. None of this was noted in the report, instead the SABC’s financial management under Motsoeneng was praised.
Also missing from the report was the state of all of the entities under the Ministry of Communications, which have vacancies at the level of their boards and strategic executive and senior management positions.
The message from the Chair and the ANC MPs was that the only real changes to the document could be made in the recommendations section.
The sole recommendation put forward by ANC MP, Tsedi, was to propose to further increase the powers of the Minister of Communications to intervene in the various entities in order to improve the governance problems they were facing. This was opposed by Davis on the grounds that the Minister’s interventions were partly to blame for the dire state of the SABC and constituted political interference in the national public broadcaster.
In fact the section of the document had no recommendations at all about the SABC or ICASA and attempts by Van Dyk and Davis to address these were harshly rebuffed by ANC MPs. Both Davis and Van Dyk registered their objections to the adoption of the report.
The meeting raises a series of questions concerning the oversight function of Portfolio Committee and its willingness to ignore the serious problems in the reporting entities, and in the SABC in particular. Of note was the committee’s failure to address the allegations leveled against the SABC’s Motsoeneng about him having misled the Committee about the financial health of the SABC, concealing a loss of R500 million.
Of further concern is the hostility with which dissension about the nature and scope of the patent dysfunctionalities in the reporting entities’ governance, financial health and performance on mandate is handled by the majority party. Any and all debate or criticism was met with outright hostility and was actively discouraged through various bullying tactics and a majoritarian centralist approach to decision-making.