Inquiry into SABC Board Chairperson alleged misrepresentation of academic qualifications to Parliament

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Communications

14 October 2014
Chairperson: Ms J Moloi-Moropa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The inquiry was about the misrepresentation of academic qualifications from UNISA by SABC Board Chairperson, Ms Zandile Ellen Tshabalala, when she was nominated for the SABC Board. She was also being charged for lying to a commissioner of oaths. Her legal representative insisted that he was not ready to proceed with the hearing. Members argued that the insistence for more time to prepare was merely delaying tactics by the SABC board chairperson, turning the Committee into a merry-go-round and treating South Africa as a banana republic. Members argued that the inquiry was not a court case dealing with a complex matter that required her defence to prepare. The inquiry was merely dealing with the simple question of whether she has the qualification she claims she has or not. An EFF member said that the history of corruption in South Africa cannot be successfully fought if people take so long to answer a simple question. In the interests of fairness, the Chairperson ruled that the inquiry be postponed so that Parliament would not be viewed as having acted in a procedurally unfair manner.
 

Meeting report

Inquiry on SABC board Chairperson Misrepresentations of Qualifications
Mr W Madisha (COPE) asked if the Committee could be furnished with the advert of the SABC Board Chairperson which the Chairperson said it was unavailable at the moment, but in Parliament.

The Chairperson said that after allegations in the newspapers and a request from the DA about misrepresentation of academic qualifications, the Chairperson wrote to the SABC Board Chairperson on 30 July 2014 asking her to submit the qualifications by 12 August. Ms Zandile Tshabalala then requested an extension on 11 August from the Chairperson, which was granted to the 26 August, only for her not to respond to the request. Ms Tshabalala sent an affidavit to the Chairperson, stating that she has lost her bag with the qualifications in it in 2001-2002. The matter was taken to the Committee on 16 September and there was a decision recommending the House suspend her from SABC. The Committee agreed to hold an inquiry about her qualifications on 25 September and later postponed it to 14 October. This was to enable her time to prepare her defence so as to give her a fair hearing and to clarify any matter with the Committee. She had to inform the Committee timeously if there was legal representation.

Mr Ntuthuzelo Vanara, Parliament Senior Legal Officer, read the charges as follows

Charge 1
It is alleged that, as a member of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Board, you are guilty of conduct constituting misconduct in terms of section 15A (1)(a)(i) of the Broadcasting Act, 1999 (Act No. 4 of 1999) (“the Act”) in that, whilst a member of the SABC Interim Board and during the nomination process for members of the current SABC Board to the National Assembly and/or the Portfolio Committee on Communications, you committed misconduct by misrepresenting and/or lying about your academic qualifications in your Curriculum Vitae submitted to the National Assembly and/or the Portfolio Committee on Communications, by representing that you possess a Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) Degree and a Post Graduate Diploma in Labour Relations from the University of South Africa (UNISA), when you knew or ought reasonably to have known that you did not possess the claimed academic qualifications.

Charge 2
It is alleged that you are guilty of conduct constituting an offence in terms of section 9 of the Justices of the Peace and Commissioners of Oath Act, 1963 (Act No. 16 of 1963) in that, in an affidavit, affirmation or solemn or attested declaration made on 23 July 2013 and before a person competent to administer an oath or affirmation or take the declaration in question, you made a false statement knowing it to be false by claiming that you could not furnish copies of your academic qualifications as you lost them in a house burglary around 2001 – 2002.

The Chairperson notified Ms Tshabalala that she may request the Committee to allow legal representation and this should be notified to the Committee timeously. The Committee had not been informed about legal representation.

Ms Tshabalala said she informed Parliament and the Committee Secretary that she would have legal representation, but it was emailed a day before the hearing.

The Chairperson said the notice of legal representation did not arrive timeously and she appealed to the Members to allow her legal representation.

Legal representation was accepted by the Committee.

The Chairperson noted the witnesses which were were the Committee Secretary and a representative from UNISA. She asked how Ms Tshabalala wished to respond to the charges laid before her.

Mr Norman Arendse, the legal representative for Ms Tshabalala, said the legal team was not ready to proceed with the hearing because he was informed only the previous day about representing Ms Tshabalala. He also said documents were received from the Committee Secretary only five days before the disciplinary proceedings. Secondly, he was not advised that there would be witnesses as in common practice of fairness.

Mr M Ndlozi (EFF) said the Committee should not be schooled. The simple question was whether the legal was ready to proceed or not. “Don’t come and school us on what the process must be? We are not being taken seriously! The SABC board chair had been contacted over and over again. It was the error of Ms Tshabalala not to inform her legal representatives until late. He did not appreciate being patronised by being told what the process should be.

Mr M Kalako (ANC) said it was important for the legal team to first finish explaining the reasons it was not ready and then the Committee could decide whether to entertain this request.

The Chairperson urged the legal representative to get the point and emphasized that the hearing had been postponed once already. Therefore, the reason that the legal team had received notice from its client late was not the problem of the Committee.

Mr Arendse said he was not there to school anybody but to give representation for his client. He was there to ensure that his client gets a fair hearing. He had not been able to apply his mind properly and consider a position on the charges laid against his client. The second charge had been amended which entailed that he did not have time to request authenticity of the documents as the documents were presented only five days before the hearing. He was therefore not ready to proceed and requested the Committee consider postponing the hearing. The complainant was also sitting on this Committee which makes him both charger and prosecutor.

The Chairperson said the Committee was not going to entertain delaying tactics as there was a lot of work before the Committee. At the same time, the Committee needs to afford a fair hearing.

Mr Madisha said the legal opinion was not right. All the letters put before Ms Tshabalala had been done long ago and the responses from her indicate that this had been going on for some time. If the legal team needs time, the Committee must give them a chance, not until next week, not until tomorrow, not next year, but an hour and not beyond that.

Mr G Davis (DA) said the notice indicated one legal representative and not two who were present—there was an attorney and the lead defense counsel who was Mr Arendse. This was not a disciplinary hearing, but a parliamentary inquiry created by the Broadcasting Act. He was not a complainant in this case, but he reported the matter to Parliament as a Member. The legal representatives had prejudged whether their client was going to have a fair hearing, rather than having to appeal after the hearing if it was unfair.

Mr M Kekana (ANC) did not like the way the legal representative had spoken to the Committee. The legal team must be given a clear message that this was not a court, and the inquiry was not disciplining anyone. It appeared as if the legal representative had come to show the Committee the qualifications he has. This was an inquiry to check if his client had qualifications. This case had been dragging on for some time and he was tired of people who want to make this country a banana republic. The Committee needed qualifications. The inquiry needs qualifications. If there are no qualifications, then the Committee reaches a decision.

Mr Ndlozi said Ms Tshabalala did not take Parliament seriously. Tensions were building because the Committee did not want to be taken for a ride and tricked into delaying tactics. The Committee was not dealing with a super complex matter, but a simple matter to which it had dignified the whole day. The simple question was, “Do you or do you not have the qualifications you said you did?” Ms Tshabalala  should not waste the Committee's time. The inquiry would not have happened in the first place, had she provided her qualifications. A person who takes her job seriously as the head of a public institution should not subject Parliament to such a process. The Committee must unapologetically deny the request for any postponement and proceed with the inquiry. The country must be run honestly and efficiently.

Mr R Tseli (ANC) said the inquiry would not have been necessary if Ms Tshabalala had cooperated with the Committee. Whilst the Committee needs to afford a fair hearing, the matter did not start yesterday. The Committee was ready. It was problematic if the legal team has a problem with the presence of a UNISA representative because it was supposed to be in the best interests of the SABC board chair as she had indicated that UNISA was having a challenge in locating her academic record. The Committee had compromised in accepting the legal representative as the Committee had not been informed about this.

Mr S Mpethi (PAC) asked what the law states if somebody says he is not ready. He asked the Committee to caucus and agree how many minutes should be given to the legal team to prepare thoroughly for the Committee.

Mr Kalako was disappointed that the matter had dragged on for so long. He did not understand why Ms Tshabalala did not communicate with her defence team before she appeared before the Committee. The Committee wants to be fair, but the Committee programme was packed. The Committee does not want to flout rights enshrined in the Constitution. This Committee would not be within its rights and the law to deny the defence’s request for time to prepare. Members had to agree on the time permitted, to avoid creating an impression that the Committee had already concluded on the matter. The Committee needs to be on the side of the law and fairness. For the purposes of fairness and justice, the Committee must look into the request.

The Chairperson said it was an inquiry based on the Broadcasting Act 1999. The Committee had been the recommendation authority. If the appointment was problematic, this Committee was then held accountable. The Committee had sufficiently communicated with the board chairperson. It was now three months since the Committee was informed that the qualifications were lost. It was a simple matter of merely furnishing the Committee with a qualification. The Committee has written letters continually to the SABC Chair. At times the opposition was accusing that the Committee was delaying because it thought maybe she was trying to hide something. UNISA was called as a witness because the biggest challenge Ms Tshabalala cited was that UNISA had confused some documents. The Committee flew the UNISA representative at its own cost. The Committee cannot play around with the resources of Parliament. The Committee cannot afford to drag on the matter as it reflects that the Committee was not assisting the country to be run efficiently. Ms Tshabalala should have congratulated the Committee that it had brought UNISA here as a witness. This hotel venue was hired and the Committee had spent a lot of money. The Committee needs to summarise the matter as soon as possible,

Mr Madisha said the Chairperson’s summary was perfect and proposed that the Committee take into consideration issues raised by other Members. The defence must be given a chance not beyond thirty minutes. SABC belongs to the people of this country.

Mr Ndlozi said there should have been only one legal representative. An inquiry runs differently from a court case. The Committee wants to hear from the SABC board chair first, not from the legal representative. There was nothing new that had been said. If the SABC board chair and her legal team did not want to talk, they were free to go. A ten minute break was sufficient to prepare a defence and the Committee must be steadfast that it will not postpone for an hour.

Mr Davis said the Committee must not give credence to any of the delaying tactics of Ms Tshabalala and her legal team. The inquiry had already been postponed and there was no good reason to postpone the matter any further. He had a letter from UNISA which states that she does not have the qualifications she purports to have.

Mr Kekaka pointed out that this was not a hearing, but an inquiry which needed only a yes or no. Thirty minutes was sufficient for the SABC board chair to prepare for the 'yes or no' question.

Mr Kalako said the Committee was running in circles. He proposed that the Committee caucus.

Mr Tseli agreed that the Committee adjourn for 30 minutes. When the Committee reconvenes, it must not be tempted to pre-empt the presentation from UNISA.

Ms V van Dyk (DA) noted that the UNISA representative is also the head of UNISA legal services.

Mr Arendse said his client has rights enshrined in the Constitution that one needs to protect. His mandate was not to delay and filibuster the proceedings of the Committee. The suggestion of half an hour was not sufficient. He agreed that Parliament was spending a lot of money. If the Chairperson orders that the Committee proceed with the inquiry, he would be unable to proceed.

[The meeting went for an hour's break for Members to caucus and it then reconvened.]

The Chairperson said the Committee had a lot of work on its programme. All resources from parliament were to be used efficiently.

Mr Arendse said he had requested a postponement and he was not ready to continue should the Committee proceed. If the Committee should proceed, he and his client would ask to be excused.

The Chairperson said the reasoning that the legal team was briefed late by Ms Tshabalala was not acceptable. She asked Members if there was a day free for Members to continue with the hearing, given the defence team was not ready.

Mr Kekana said the nation must know that the Committee was talking about qualifications that were lost 13 years ago. Ms Tshabalala must merely answer the question and state when the qualifications will be available.

Mr Davis said it was not the Committee's problem that the defence was briefed late and the hearing was in fact postponed three weeks ago. It was not mandatory to have legal counsel and the Chairperson was able to answer the question on whether she has qualifications or not

Mr Ndlozi said Ms Tshabalala was turning the Committee into clowns; turning the institution of Parliament into a merry-go-round. She was being afforded a fair hearing and there was no way that Parliament and the Committee had undermined her rights. It took three months to arrive at a simple question of whether a person heading the public broadcaster, had a qualification or not. She must just give one answer—whether she has the qualification or not. The confidence that she also speaks about in the Committee that must be restored at SABC must be given also today. He detested all delaying tactics. The politics of corruption in South Africa cannot be resolved when it takes so long to answer simple questions. If the Committee was to postpone, she was supposed to provide the qualifications so that the Committee does not have to reconvene again. Parliament was wasting money and it appeared Ms Tshabalala seems to lack any sensitivity at all.

Mr Tseli said the Committee had deliberated so much. The Committee had even gone beyond its mandate to bring UNISA here. If the Committee was to compromise, it should not extend beyond a week.

Mr Madisha said it was extremely unfortunate what Ms Tshabalala and her legal team were doing to both parliament and government. 53 million in this country were looking at how the Committee was going to resolve this matter. The charges laid against Ms Tshabalala were put more than a month ago and she has never indicated that she did not understand matters or that she needed a legal opinion. This issue had been widely reported in the newspapers. The defence was telling the Committee to go to hell by saying it would walk out should the inquiry continue.

The Chairperson said it was unparliamentarily to say the defence was telling the Committee to go to hell.

Mr Arendse said he respected the timetable of the Committee and understood that it was packed. He suggested that the hearing be done on 27/28 October.

The Chairperson said she understood the Members' concern. She ruled that the hearing be postponed to 16 October 2014. Parliament will incur all the expenditure as she wanted the hearing to be done in a fair manner.

Mr Arendse said he will not be able to make it on 16 October 2016 and his client would have to look for an  alternative counsel.

Mr Davis said the Democratic Alliance rejects the postponement as there are not any good grounds on which to base it. He was amazed that the Committee had allowed this to happen as Ms Tshabalala and her legal team had had ample time to prepare their case.

Committee business
The Chairperson noted that the hotel venue for this meeting was problematic as there was insufficient space and people were literally being squashed.

Mr M Ndlozi (EFF) said the Committee should have insisted that this inquiry be done in Parliament given that it was a matter of public interest. The manner in which the venues in Parliament were distributed need to take into consideration the weight of the matter to be discussed by the Committee

The Chairperson said she had tried her best but to no avail. She urged Mr Ndlozi to raise the issue with the Chief Whips.

The Committee adopted its programme until the last week of November 2014.

Mr G Davis (DA) noted that two ICASA councillors had left ICASA and the interviews for the councillors need to be put on the programme.

The Chairperson said she had noted it and it was a matter under consideration.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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