REPORT: Auditor General and Annual Performance Plan Reports
The meeting opened with a report presented by the auditor-general about the status of the MDDA, ICASA, GCIS, Brand SA and the FPIB. The MDDA status has not changed since a clean audit last year.
Two interim audits have been completed of the SABC with a full audit expected to commence on 5 May 2015.Two interim audits of ICASA have also been completed, with the final audit to be completed on 15 May 2015. In addition an interim audit of GCIS has been completed with a final audit to take place beginning on 15 May 2015.
The efficacy of the TV licensing collections division remains difficult to determine, despite the two interim audits undertaken in the SABC. Not much progress has been made beyond the measurement of the size and scope of the SABC’s full audit. No audits have been done thus far on property, plant and equipment while tax audits are still due to be performed.
It should be noted that none of the opposition MPs received the physical copies of GCIS’s presentation before the meeting, the report was only given to the opposition MPs after this was pointed out by DA MP, Veronica Van Dyk.
The GCIS’s goals presented in its strategic planning include extending its Imbizo programme, which essentially involves getting senior government figures to talk directly to people more. Bulk buying advertising for government to secure lower rates. Improving ways of interacting with the media, in order to portray government in its best possible light and migrating all their products into digital spaces, with a particular focus on mobile technologies.
The other major goal is to increase the percentage of their advertising budget spent on advertising in community media from 15% to 30% in order to grow the sector.
Department of Communications
The Department of Communications (DoC) presentation was marked by sentiments about good governance, expressing its wishes to see a more balanced media through a parliamentary inquiry and establishing good operational practices that will result in clean audits and overseeing the process of digital migration.
The goals of the DoC remain ambiguous and the DoC wasn’t subject to any critical questions besides DA MP, Veronica Van Dyk, who noted that the department was only performing at 54% of its potential ability, according to a study [SP1] conducted. There was still a little of clarity about the department, including empty positions, money not being spent and a lack of focus on building in-house skills before talking about expansive 5 year plans.
The Minister of Communications responded saying that study was taken on the previous Department of Communications and this was a new department and, hence, it deserves more leeway and previous statistics didn’t apply.
This is answer did not sit well with delegates, and in particular the question of why the DoC and so many of its entities can’t seem to fill positions remained unanswered. DoC officials replied saying that the department has advertised these positions, with no timeline or clarity on the process.
ICASA’s presentation outlined their various strategic goals namely:
- creating a conducive regulatory environment for investment
- promoting ICT growth;
- and encouraging social cohesion.
Two interim audits have been completed while the final audit will commence 15 May 2015.
The key idea of the ICASA presentation was that it is facing a funding crisis, with the current budget being inadequate to enable it to fulfil its mandate and there. There is currently no alternate ways of raising more revenue.
SABC COO, Hlaudi Motsoeneng delivered an emotional presentation. Bursting with unnamed enemies and delivered in a confrontational style the presentation was in many ways incoherent. At times Motsoeneng refused to answer questions and, in fact, questioned the entire purpose of presenting anything to the portfolio committee.
Motsoeneng began his presentation with a rather confusing attack on the SABC’s rivals, which in this case, was e.tv over the issue of encryption on set-top boxes (STBs). Motsoeneng expressed his concern with what he claimed is attempts by rivals to commercially benefit from government if it provided for de-encryption technology in the government manufactured STBs. This raised the notion that encryption is an attempt to prevent the public from accessing free content – which is a erroneous presentation of the debate.
He further claimed that handing over certain information about the SABC’s strategic and financial plans would not happen as the information might end up in the hands of its commercial rivals.
COPE MP, Willie Madisha, pointed out how difficult it is to discuss any of the matters raised by the SABC without any documentation, which subsequently merited an aggressive response from Motsoeneng.
Motsoeneng emphasized that the key matters outlined in the strategic plan had been approved by the previous communications portfolio committee and it was, therefore, pointless to revisit either the documentation or the subject.
“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,” said Motsoeneng.
He further stated that, “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.” The chairperson appeared to back this position, stating that the task of the portfolio was to discuss these issues without compromising the SABC.
Motsoeneng continued to promote his “good news” editorial approach in the SABC, insisting that “we must put out good stories, because if we go to other countries they also reflect their country, our own journalists report as if they are not South African, we must defend democracy as a public broadcaster.”
He repeatedly asserted that there was an apparent difference in the professionalism of SABC journalists when measured against those of the commercial media. Saying some SABC journalists verify the facts of their stories while the others did not bother.
Motsoeneng’s presentation of the SABC strategic plan focused on the SABC producing local content that reflects all South Africans and in local languages. It also maintained that his management of the SABC had suddenly become financially viable and was making money. As indicated, above, Motsoeneng remained insistent that, because government wasn’t responsible for the majority of the SABC’s funding, the public broadcaster did not have to account to the Portfolio Committee.
What was apparent throughout the session, in part because of the absence of many oppositions MPs, was that the committee members simply were not prepared to intervene substantially in the discussions, MPs either asked unchallenging questions, or seemed unprepared.
The times in which direct questions were asked of both ICASA and the SABC, they were often left unanswered. This is a common pattern in the Communications Portfolio Committee and the chair often intervenes either to relieve those presenting from having to answer questions or ignores the fact that questions are often not answered, which seriously undermines the oversight role of the Committee by allowing it to descend into abstract technocratic discourse where reporting institutions speak in vague and general terms, going into lengthy unrelated historical narratives in order to avoid answering questions that they don’t wish to.