Postponed: Sentech’s Financial Sustainability and Challenges in Supporting Community Radio and Broadcasting Stations
NCOP Public Enterprises and Communication
22 March 2023
Chairperson: Mr Z Mkiva (ANC, Eastern Cape)
The Select Committee convened virtually to be briefed by Sentech on the entity’s financial sustainability and challenges in supporting community radio and broadcasting stations. The Committee was to also consider the previous meeting’s minutes.
The Chairperson extended the apologies of the Minister who was not able to attend because of a conflicting Cabinet meeting and because he was still undergoing a handover after the Cabinet reshuffle.
The Committee was concerned with the scheduled conflict between Cabinet meetings and the Select Committee meetings, both scheduled for Wednesdays. They proposed that future meetings be rescheduled to a different day or time so that the Ministers could attend and participate in the meetings.
The Committee was in conflict about whether or not to proceed with the planned presentation because of the Minister and Deputy Minister’s absence. The Committee had previously, in 2022, come to a resolution that they would not consider presentations without the presence of the Minister or Deputy Minister. The Committee had a lengthy discussion debating the way forward.
The Committee stated it had issues with the previous Minister not attending Select Committee meetings. Members felt that if this became the norm for the new Minister, it would negatively impact the Committee's performance.
The Committee concluded that they would not hear the presentation in the Minister and Deputy Minister’s absence and would postpone the presentation until the Ministers were available to participate effectively.
Opening Remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson welcomed the Committee Members and others attending the meeting and extended his wishes that everyone had a good Human Rights Day the previous day. He stated that the President was addressing a gathering celebrating 25 years of the Constitution.
The Chairperson noted that the President had reshuffled his Cabinet two weeks prior, which directly impacted the Committee. He said that this was because the line function departments that were accountable to the Committee were affected by the changes made by the President. He noted that one of the previous week’s meetings was postponed because the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) was meant to attend. But because of the changes to Cabinet, a handover had not been done between the two Ministers. There was a new Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) who, at the time of this meeting, had to attend a Cabinet meeting, where the handover between the incoming and outgoing Minister was meant to happen. This meant that not everything would be covered in the meeting.
The Chairperson shared the Minister and Deputy Minister’s apology that they could not attend the meeting. He noted that a decision had to be made on whether this meeting would still take place or be postponed until the Minister or Deputy Minister were available. He stated that he did communicate with Mr Mondli Gungubele, Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, and said that it was important that the Minister made an effort to attend meetings. He noted that the invitation to the meeting was sent to the previous Minister and that by Friday, 17 February 2023, Minister Gungubele had not been aware of the meeting. He said that this was a matter of an inefficient handover.
The Chairperson appealed to the Committee to give the Minister some grace during this transition period. The handover was important, and a lot of information needed to be exchanged. He expressed that he was not speaking on behalf of the Minister, but wanted to communicate that this matter had to be considered because it ultimately affected the public. He emphasised that the Committee did not serve the Department but served Parliament in its work for the public. The Chairperson said that he would insist that the Ministers attend meetings but that their absence was understood because of the Cabinet reshuffle and handover.
The Chairperson said that the purpose of the meeting was to be briefed by Sentech on its financial sustainability and challenges in supporting community radio and broadcasting stations, and the consideration and adoption of the minutes of the previous meeting.
The Chairperson invited Members of the Committee to comment on his opening statement about the Minister’s absence.
Ms T Modise (ANC, North West) accepted the Minister and Deputy Minister’s apology. She noted that it had only been two weeks since the Cabinet reshuffle and that the handover was still being done. She expressed that she hoped that this meant that, when the Minister was able to attend, he would be well-informed on the matters of the Committee and be able to participate and answer questions. She said that, without an effective handover, the Minister would not be able to effectively participate in the Committee meeting.
Ms W Ngwenya (ANC, Gauteng) accepted the input made by the Chairperson. She asked the Chairperson to check if there was no other suitable time for them to hold their meetings, because meeting on Wednesdays was disturbing their processes, as it was on the same day that Ministers had their Cabinet meetings. She said it was necessary for the Minister or Deputy Minister to be at the meeting to answer some questions or concerns. She stated that the Committee meeting programme clashed with the Minister’s schedule and Cabinet meetings, and asked how the Committee could accommodate the schedule of the Ministers.
The Chairperson acknowledged the clashing schedules and stated that the Committee might need to reconsider meeting dates to avoid clashing with the Minister’s schedule. He stated that the current schedule would set either the Committee or the Minister up for failure. He said that it was important to consider alternatives that accommodated everyone.
Mr A De Bruyn (FF+, Free State) asked for clarity on if the Committee would continue with the meeting and if questions would be reserved for the next meeting when the Minister would be available.
The Chairperson responded that questions of a political nature could be reserved for the next meeting, but that Sentech would be able to respond to questions of clarity on Sentech’s technical work. He stated that the meeting would not be unproductive because Sentech should be able to answer most questions.
The Chairperson invited Sentech to proceed with the presentation. He noted that the Committee only received the presentation the previous day, and emphasised that it was important that the Committee gets the presentations in a timely manner. This delay was because Sentech was waiting on the contribution of the Minister.
Ms M Mokause (EFF, Northern Cape) stated that it had been a while since the Committee had had this type of discussion. She said there were always issues with politicians not attending Committee meetings for various reasons. By not speaking up against Ministers not attending the meeting, it would become the norm like it was with the previous Minister. She said there could be no meeting where a department had to present and the political head was not. She stated that allowing departments to go to the Select Committee without their political heads was incorrect. She noted that the new Minister was waiting for the handover, and asked how long the process would take. She expressed that the Minister was needed in the meeting to guide the Department. Respect had to be shown to the Committee, because the Minister served the Committee. The handover should have happened already and should not be used as an excuse. This undermined the Committee. She proposed that the Department be sent away and that the Minister must join the meeting after the Cabinet meeting and handover. Because the meeting was virtual, it was possible to postpone it for a few hours.
The Chairperson stated that he understood Ms Mokause’s point of view. He expressed that he was worried that if the meeting was postponed, the Committee would not have enough time to revisit the agenda. The Committee serves the public, and postponing it until the Minister was available could be problematic because the Chairperson did not know when the Minister would be available. He confirmed that the Minister reported to the Committee. For the Committee to progress on their agenda, the Minister could be excused because he was attending a Cabinet meeting. In future, he would ensure that the Minister attended all necessary meetings and would be open to rescheduling future Committee meetings. He appealed that the meeting be continued.
Mr M Nhanha (DA, Eastern Cape) indicated that he received a Whatsapp message on 14 March 2023 from Ms A. Zindlani, Select Committee secretary, which said, “Due to the Cabinet reshuffle which has affected the Ministry of COGTA, we are unable to proceed with the meeting that was scheduled for Wednesday, 15 March 2023. There has not been a handover between the outgoing and incoming Ministers, which has a bearing on the Committee’s programme. The message further said, “Regret to inform you that we have to postpone the Select Committee meeting.” He expressed that the previous week, COGTA faced this same problem. He would not accept being treated like a child. He asked how long the handover would take. If the Chairperson was arguing that the Minister was not attending because of the handover, it implies that the Minister has not assumed his roles and responsibilities yet – which was not true.
Mr Nhanha said that numerous discussions had occurred about this matter. A decision was taken last year that the Committee would not hear presentations by the Department or entities without the political leadership. He said there should be no question of postponing the meeting because the decision had already been made. Because there was no executive on the meeting platform, Sentech and the Department could leave and the meeting could be reconvened when the Minister was available. He expressed that he did not appreciate the Chairperson and others trying to “swindle” the Committee and protect the Minister. He noted that this problem happened with the previous Minister and the Minister of Public Enterprises. This would not be allowed to happen again. He expressed his support for Ms Mokause.
The Chairperson expressed that he shared Mr Nhanha’s views and only had a different opinion about rescheduling the meeting. He said rescheduling the item would not put the Committee in good light. He said that there was no reason to “swindle” the Members. The Committee had a responsibility to ensure the productivity of the Department. It was the first Cabinet meeting since the reshuffle. He also expressed that sending back Sentech to reconvene later that evening was not in the Committee’s power or authority. Postponing the meeting might mean that it would not be revisited again. The Committee had one year and three months left in office, and they had already lost an opportunity with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) when they were unable to receive the exit report.
The Chairperson expressed that history tends to repeat itself and that he was trying to avoid missing valuable presentations. He would communicate with Minister and Deputy Minister on the matter. The Committee did not represent the Minister; the Committee represented their provinces and constituents and noted that this was his reason for wanting to continue with the meeting. By postponing the presentation, service delivery was also being postponed. He asked that Committee Members not suggest that others are trying to protect irresponsibility. He said everyone respected each other, despite coming from different political parties. He emphasised that the Committee should not be reduced to nothingness.
The Chairperson said that he would do his best to communicate the concerns of the Committee with the Minister. He indicated that he had already reached out to him. The Minister’s reasons for not attending were that he was informed about the meeting at the last minute and had a Cabinet meeting scheduled. The Chairperson reiterated that the Select Committee meetings clashed with Cabinet meetings.
Ms Nonkqubela Jordan-Dyani, Acting Director-General, DCDT, stated that she was present.
The Chairperson asked that Ms Jordan-Dyani wait until the discussion was over and said he would invite her to speak at that point.
Ms Modise recounted that last year, the Committee decided that if the political heads did not attend the meeting, the meeting would not continue. She said that this meeting was a different case because the Minister did not yet fully occupy the office. She said she did not normally accept when Ministers did not attend meetings but asked the rest of the Committee to continue with the meeting and use the opportunity to get the necessary information from Sentech.
Ms Mokause stated that she understood what the Chairperson was saying and acknowledged that he would communicate with the Ministers about their attendance at meetings. She stated that the attitude of non-attendance was a problem in the Select Committee and the Committee on Public Enterprises. She added that the decision had been made previously that the Department could not give a presentation if the political head was absent. She recounted that the previous Minister did not attend meetings, and expressed she was concerned that the new Minister would also not attend meetings. She proposed that the Committee stick to their decision of not allowing the presentation.
Ms Mokause said that the Committee could not carry the pressure and consequences of the Cabinet reshuffle. She reiterated Mr Nhanha’s point about not being treated like children. She stated that the Committee could not be told they would miss the opportunity to engage on the agenda item. If engagement did not happen, the blame should fall on the Minister and Department, not the Committee. Unlike the Minister and Department, she said the Committee was present and available. The Department went to many meetings without the Minister, and senior officials should advise the Ministers to attend. She stated that she would not listen to the Department without the presence of the political head. She stated that if the Committee missed the opportunity for the presentation, it should be communicated that it was the irresponsibility of the Minister.
Ms Mokause addressed Ms Modise and said she should not bully the Committee into agreeing with the Minister’s attitude. She said that she would not agree with Ministers not attending. She reiterated her proposal that the Department must be sent away and should come back with a political head.
Mr Nhanha noted that the Cabinet reshuffle was two weeks ago and asked how long a handover takes. He asked if the Chairperson suggested the Minister had not yet reported for duty. He was sure that the answer was no. He asked if the Committee was turning its back on the resolution made last year, not to hear presentations without the Ministers. He asked the Chairperson to clarify those two matters, not treat Members as kids. He expressed concern that a handover had not occurred two weeks after the reshuffle. This inefficiency explained why government was in such a mess.
The Chairperson said the handover was delayed because there was no Cabinet meeting the previous week. He said that the Ministers assumed their full duties after their appointment and had been taken through an orientation. He reiterated that the Select Committee and Cabinet meetings both took place on Wednesdays. He expressed that the handover happened at different levels.
The Chairperson asked that the Committee Members not make him a spokesperson of the executive. He said that he understood the issues because of previous interactions with government.
The Chairperson said the previous resolution was taken in a specific context with the Minister. He said that Committee Members insisted that the departmental officials, who were present and responsible for implementing government plans, would not be allowed to do the presentation. This was like throwing the baby out with the bathwater because important and urgent issues were to be discussed. He asked that the Committee not use certain language when addressing the Department and Sentech officials because they had not done anything wrong and were present. He said these entities were employed by the state and served the country irrespective of the political head. He asked if the language used could be constructive and respectful of the officials. He made an example saying that Mr Nhanha would be a Minister one day and would not like to stifle the relationship with the officials by behaving in a condescending way.
Mr Nhanha said that he had not mentioned the officials and that his input was directed towards the Minister. He said that it was Ms Mokause that said the Department should be sent away.
The Chairperson apologised and stated that he was only making an example and did not mean to offend Mr Nhanha.
The Chairperson said that if Members insisted that the presentation should not be done, he could not dictate what should be done. He stated that he only appealed that the Committee understand the context and why the Minister was unable to attend. He reiterated that the bureaucrats and officials were present and ready to do the presentation, even though the Ministers were not. The Ministers should be present to provide input and context but the officials would make the main presentation. He said that he was not trying to protect the Minister. He did not want the Committee to behave too harshly and appear unreasonable to the public.
Ms Mokause said that she would not deny anything she had said during the discussion. She emphasised that the Committee had already decided on the matter – that no departmental presentations would be considered if the political heads were not in attendance. She stated that she had said that the Department should be sent away and should return with the Minister.
Ms Mokause said she did not understand why the Chairperson and other Committee Members were trying to protect the Ministers and Department. She said that they had no business protecting the Minister or Department. She stood by her proposal of postponing the meeting. She said that the Committee should not be subjected to mediocrity and laziness. She expressed her frustration that the handover might take more than two weeks. She said that different platforms of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) spoke about the programming of Committees. She asked why the Select Committee’s meetings were still on Wednesday even though the matter had been raised previously. She stated that the Minister had to be present for the presentation; it would be his fault if it was not delivered. She said the Minister should keep his house in order, attend meetings, listen to the Department and respond to the Committee.
The Chairperson stated that he would ask all Members who had not spoken to provide their opinion on what should be done in terms of postponing the meeting before he made a decision.
Ms Ngwenya said that when she raised the issue at the beginning of the meeting, it addressed the scheduling issue of having Select Committee meetings on the same day as Cabinet meetings. She stated that she did not bring it up to stop the presentation and hoped they could have continued with the agenda. The changes in Cabinet and the challenges with the previous Minister affected the work of the Committee. She was happy that the Chairperson would raise the scheduling issue with the Minister, but said the Committee should continue the day’s work.
Ms L Bebee (ANC, Kwa-Zulu Natal) pointed out that the Committee had been discussing this issue for some time. She requested that, in future, the issue should be discussed before the meeting because of all the different opinions. She agreed with Ms Ngwenya and said she would have liked to continue with the presentation. She said that she made this decision because of time, and that the Committee prolonged the issue. It would impact the public if the Committee did not proceed with the work. She asked if the presentation could be done so that the Committee could at least hear the key points from Sentech and others. Where the Minister was expected to contribute, that can be postponed.
Mr De Bruyn agreed with Mr Mokause and Mr Nhanha, and said that the Committee should make a stance and request that the Ministers be present at meetings.
Ms Modise asked if the meeting could continue with the presentation. She recalled that, even if the Ministers were not present, and the head of department was in the meeting, the meeting could continue. She stated that the ADG was in the meeting and requested that the meeting continue.
Mr M Magwala (EFF, Western Cape) supported Ms Mokause and Mr Nhanha. He said that the Committee should not set a precedent of overriding previous decisions taken by the Committee. The vote should not be forced because the Committee had previously decided that the meetings would not happen without the Ministers. He did not understand why the handover took so long but said it was important for the Ministers to attend the meetings. It was concerning if the Committee was not being taken seriously by the previous and new Ministers. He asked why the Committee had to continue the work if the Ministers did not take it seriously.
The Chairperson thanked the Members for their inputs. He stated that Select Committee meetings on a Wednesday were problematic because the Committee had to compete with Cabinet meetings. He recognised that the Minister and Deputy Minister were unable to attend because of the Cabinet meeting, and the Cabinet reshuffle and handover. He avoided taking the matter to a vote because he agreed there was no need to vote, but he wanted all Committee Members to share their opinion.
The Chairperson apologised to the officials that were present and ready to make the presentation. He ruled that the presentation would not be made. Another meeting would be scheduled for the presentation when the Minister or Deputy Minister would be present. He thanked the presenters and dismissed them from the meeting platform. He thanked the ADG for her attendance and stated that the Select Committee secretariat would be in contact. He stated that the meeting would proceed with the rest of the agenda.
The Chairperson said that the Committee should be firm in their resolution so there were no contrasting interpretations. He said that he agreed with Ms Bebee that these matters should be discussed before the meeting so that it would not derail the meeting. Both arguments were valuable and understandable. He reiterated that it was important for Ministers to attend and engage with the agenda of the meeting. He stated that it was widely agreed that this should be the case, but there were differing stances on the resolution. He asked if any of the Members had anything to add.
Ms Mokause said that she did not agree with the interpretation that if the Director-General was at the meeting, the Committee should consider hearing the presentation. She stated that this had never been the resolution. The Committee had decided that if the political heads were not available, the Committee would not consider the presentation.
Ms Mokause was concerned that the Committee was creating a picture that opposition parties did not want to be a part of a meeting if the political heads were absent. Members were creating that image for the Department. She said this was wrong because the resolution was taken as a collective and not as individual political parties. She stated that the resolution could not be changed when senior officials were present and that it was wrong that some Committee Members tried to shy away from the resolution that was taken by the collective. She stated that the way she was treated in the committees chaired by Ms Modise was wrong and that Ms Modise allowed meetings to continue without political heads. She emphasised that she was not trying to gain credit for herself, but wanted the Committee and the Chairperson to be respected in their resolutions and decisions.
Ms Mokause proposed that the Chairperson speaks to the programming department so that the Wednesday meetings could be rescheduled because they were not conducive to the Committee’s productivity. She suggested that meetings for the Select Committee could occur during the evenings if the mornings were reserved for Cabinet meetings. She stated that the work of the Committee had to continue, without disruptions and absenteeism by Ministers.
The Chairperson acknowledged Ms Mokause’s proposals and said he would look into them.
The Chairperson thanked all the Committee Members for their input. He confirmed that if the Minister or Deputy Minister were unable to attend future meetings, the meetings would be rescheduled.
The Chairperson stated that he was uncomfortable discussing the matter in front of Sentech and Department officials. He stated that it did not reflect well on the Committee’s ethical and professional conduct and that things would not be conducted that way in future.
Consideration and adoption of committee minutes
The Chairperson moved on to consider the minutes of the meeting dated 22 February.
Mr Nhanha asked that the spelling of his name be corrected.
The minutes of the meeting were adopted with amendments.
Closing Remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson reiterated that he would reach out to the Ministry about the scheduling issue. He added that this might mean that the time of the meeting might have to be changed.
The Chairperson thanked the Members, noting that this was a difficult but necessary discussion to avoid the same situation in the future.
The meeting was adjourned.
No related documents
Mkiva, Mr Z
Bebee, Ms LC
De Bruyn, Mr MA
Magwala, Mr M J
Modise, Ms TC
Mokause, Ms MO
Ngwenya, Ms W
Nhanha, Mr M
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