SABC board can leave valued legacy: DA

Marian Shinn, the DA shadow minister of communications has offered 10 actions and issues that she believes are critical for the SABC‘s interim board to focus on to ensure that it leaves a legacy the next board will value and can build on.

In an open letter to the chairperson of the SABC Interim Board, Zandile Tshabalala, Shinn provided a few “short-term” actions that the interim board can take to ensure that its standing is not crippled further by those who seek to exploit the corporation’s power and resources for short-term personal gain.

Dear Ms Tshabalala

I wish you and your fellow board members well during your six-month tenure on the SABC board. It is an onerous responsibility, as many people before you have learned, and is conducted in the unforgiving glare of a nation that wants a public broadcaster it can trust, be proud of and that serves its needs. For close on seven years now, they have found the SABC wanting.

Because your board has little institutional memory of the details and tensions surrounding current SABC issues there are genuine concerns that Cabinet and SABC’s executive management will exploit this to get approval for items that were challenged – often for valid, corporate governance reasons – by the previous board.

Marian Shinn
DA Shadow Minister of Communications – Marian Shinn

Shinn’s 10 proposed actions were as follows:

  • Meet with the creative and production staff whose daily challenge is to produce and transmit the content that is beamed into the nation’s homes, and the advertising people who compete with broadcasters who offer more compelling programming.Understand their anger and frustrations at the perpetual difficulties the SABC executive management puts in their paths. Identify priority concerns to be addressed by management and set deadlines for their resolution.
  • The board must insist that the minister of communications urgently resolve the legal fracas around the departure of former COO Mvuso Mbebe so a permanent appointment can be legally advertised and filled.
  • The Minister must be given a deadline to approve or reject the previous board’s nominee for the vacant position of acting chief operating officer. Should she reject the name of Mr Mike Siluma the board must then choose another candidate to replace Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng who was legally removed from this post by the previous board. The board must not be persuaded to re-instate him.
  • Revoke the permission, given by the previous board chairperson, for final editorial control to be the preserve of the COO. The SABC’s editorial policy states that, should it be requested by a programme’s producer, final editorial decisions are the responsibility of the Group CEO.
  • Urgently appoint outside, independent, appropriately experienced human resource specialists to do a thorough skills audit at the SABC to identify weakness at all levels of the corporation, including the provincial operations. This must include drawing up and having signed performance contracts and deliverables for executive management that mirror those of the corporate world. Last October the corporation advertised for firms to tender for this audit but little has happened as the previous acting COO would rather ‘re-skill’ currently unproductive and unskilled employees for jobs yet to be defined as SABC migrates to digital broadcasting. The SABC employs too many people for its purposes and tough decisions must be made to prune staff numbers to comply with the National Treasury’s loan guarantee conditions. The board must decide whether the SABC is a job-creation factory, held to ransom by trades unions, or whether it is to honour the conditions imposed on it by National Treasury.
  • Insist that the suppliers for the Set-Top Box access control system – that was the subject of eTv’s successful court action last year against the Minister – be chosen in an open and transparent tender. The minister has made it clear to the previous board that she prefers the Sentech/Nagravision alliance for this R30-billion, multi-year contract. The board must insist on an intensive forensic audit of all bidders before the decision is made so South Africa’s get a clear picture of exactly who will financially benefit from the decision. The interim board must take care that it is not bulldozed into making decisions that could make it complicit in a tender process that has the potential to rival the arms deal in kickbacks for politically connected tenderpreneurs.
  •  The current disciplinary procedure against the former CFO Ms Gugu Dada must take its course.
  • The board must ensure that financial resources for programming must not be further eroded to create the impression that the SABC’s financial woes are over. The previous annual report showed that the books were being balanced because little was being spent on commissioning new content. Digital TV will only take off if there is quality content to view.
  • Proper consideration must be given to capital expenditure required for digital migration and negotiations with National Treasury for adequate funding must be done in earnest. No additional funding is being made available for digital funding until treasury is convinced that the SABC’s turnaround strategy has been successfully implemented and that there is committed buy-in, primarily by the Corporation’s executive management that the corrupt practices and attitude of entitlement that brought the SABC to its knees will not recur.
  • A programming summit – to ensure improved content of the existing channels to lure back views lost to other broadcasters and to persuade views to switch to digital television – must be held soonest.

Shinn said that, if successful, they will put the public broadcaster on the right track to recovery.

“Only once the foundations have some stability can the larger conversations take place about whether South Africa needs a public broadcaster, and if so, what shape it should take and what legislation needs to be in place to protect it from being abused by the governing party of the day,” the shadow minister said.

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SABC board can leave valued legacy: DA