SABC acting CEO James Aguma has admitted to Parliament that the public broadcaster has written off almost R18 billion in outstanding SABC TV licence fees – and the group isn’t really sure who in South Africa has a licence or not.
According to Media24, Aguma told the Parliamentary portfolio committee on communication that the SABC has been cleaning up its records and working on its database, but had to bring in consultants because the company did not have the requisite skills to accomplish that.
The consultants discovered that, of the R23.8 billion the TV licence database was worth, about 1 million accounts adding up to R4 billion were either people who shouldn’t have been added as licence holders or were deceased.
“That meant that even the notices that were being sent to people, were not accurate,” he said.
After cleaning up the database, the value dropped from R23.8 billion to R6.1 billion – a R17.7 billion write-off.
Before the clean-up, licence fees accounted for R12.2 billion, with penalties accounting for the other R11.6 billion. Some of these penalties had prescribed, belonged to the dead, or were owed by foreign nationals.
The acting CEO admitted that hundreds of thousands of accounts were found to be invalid – with the consultants informing the SABC that it would need to write-off a million accounts.
According to Aguma, the public backlash against payment notifications has been “aggressive”, with many licence holders or subscribers using expletives to tell the broadcaster where it ‘can see itself off’.
The executive said the SABC would work hard to turn the negative into a positive story, and with a fresh database would work on proper accounting practices.
The admissions from the public broadcaster confirm the long-held and long-complained about dead-ends many consumers have faced trying to cancel a TV licence in South Africa.