In a physical meeting at Parliament, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) was compelled to adjourn its engagement with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) due to the absence of the broadcaster’s board as an accounting authority. The former board's term of office had ended on October 15, and the new board had not yet been chosen. The Committee was informed that no one had been appointed to the board, leaving a void in the public broadcaster's system of accountability.
The Committee was aware that the State Security Agency's vetting procedure had delayed the parliamentary process for appointing a new board, which meant that the SABC was not solely to blame for its absence. The Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) may be designated as the accounting authority in the absence of the board, according to legal provisions, but this has not been done.
After a brief recess, the Chairperson announced his decision was to call the meeting off, as it would be irregular to proceed in the absence of an accounting authority, both in presence and existence. He set the meeting to resume in the first term of 2023.
The Chairperson welcomed the Members and noted an apology from the Minister.
Finalisation of SABC board
Mr Philly Mapulane, Deputy Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT), advised the meeting that the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) did not have a board, and the process of its formation was the responsibility of the Portfolio Committee. Thus, the finalisation of the board was not up to the Department.
Mr S Somyo (ANC) agreed with the DM’s statement, but said that for the governance and full functioning of SABC, it was most important to have a structure or authority in place to assume accountability for the SABC. Without one, there was a vacuum within the SABC organisation which did not work in its favour. Therefore, because there was no board in place, the Ministry would become accountable in this instance.
Mr B Hadebe (ANC) built on Mr Somyo’s points, and asked if anyone had been appointed to answer questions about accountability and irregular expenditure. He added that new boards should be appointed while the existing board was in power to avoid having no board at all.
Mr A Lees (DA) expressed his disapproval at Members not being issued with hard copies of the SABC’s annual report, as they had had to make an effort to print them out, which was an inconvenience. Secondly, he asserted that it was very irregular for there to not be a whole board in place, as usually there was a rotation of boards that ensured that as people were going out, others were coming in to hand over responsibilities. He asked if there was no rotation of the SABC’s board.
The Chairperson echoed Mr Hadebe's comments. He asked if everyone from the initially appointed board had left at the same time, as the absence of a board negatively affected compliance. Regarding compliance, he added that in the case of ESKOM, there were about 100 people who should have been vetted, but had not been.
Deputy Minister Mapulane agreed with Mr Somyo, and said that the appointment of the board was beyond the SABC’s scope. He also asserted that they were under the impression that the process of appointing a board would be finalised soon, as they do not want the chief executive officer (CEO) to become the board, because that was who the CEO should answer to.
He responded that they had alerted the relevant structures that the board’s term was ending, and that was all they could do. Unfortunately, it had happened that everyone on the previous board had left at the same time, as their terms had ended at the same time.
Mr Hadebe requested for there to be an investigation into when the vetting had been requested so that they could do their follow-ups with facts, and in good time.
The Chairperson said that the Portfolio Committee should answer questions about vetting.
Mr Somyo agreed with the Chairperson, and claimed that this was not the Department’s fault, as it should be receiving a completed form.
The Chairperson called for a response from the Deputy Minister.
Deputy Minister Mapulane promised to ensure that the CEO was designated as the accounting authority. He then asked for the meeting to continue with the set agenda, as the acting CEO and executives were present to answer questions.
Mr Somyo sympathised with the Deputy Minister's stance, and conceded that the situation was not of the Department's making. However, he requested that the Members be granted a ten-minute break to discuss and reflect on the issues and questions they wanted to raise with the board, as most of them were about issues that were the result of management failures on the part of the board.
Mr Hadebe seconded Mr Somyo’s request.
Mr Lees said that in the few past meetings in which he had participated, due to the absence of the board, it would have been suggested that the meeting be postponed until an accountable entity was present.
The Chairperson requested a roll call of who was present from the Department to determine if the meeting could proceed. After this had been done, he allowed the requested ten-minute break.
The Chairperson said he understood that the appointment of a board was a parliamentary responsibility. However, the Department should have ensured that they at least had an interim board in place, or appointed the CEO as an accounting authority. However, he appreciated the presence of the Deputy Minister as a political figure to provide political responses.
He decided to call the meeting off, as it would be irregular to proceed in the absence of an accounting authority, both in presence and existence. He set the meeting to resume in the first term of 2023, and stated that other issues would be discussed with the Portfolio Committee and State Security Agency (SSA).
Mr Hadebe expanded on what the Chairperson had said, and commented that the management should have known coming to this meeting that they did not have authority. They could have protected themselves by letting the Members know of their circumstances beforehand, as they had now wasted time and money. He said the Department’s “laissez faire” attitude in these circumstances was the same as those that had contributed to irregular expenditure of about R2 billion, dating from 2018.
Deputy Minister Mapulane accepted the Committee's decision, and gave an assurance that pressure would be placed on Treasury to ensure that the process of designation of authority was finalised, to ensure that the Department could participate in the next meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
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