By: Jocelyn Newmarch, Business Day, Johannesburg, 4 January 2009
THE SABC’s new group CEO, Solly Mokoetle, starts his first day on the job today amid fears that his tenure at the broadcaster could once again see a damaging battle between board and executive management.
A power struggle between previous group CEO Dali Mpofu and then board chairwoman Kanyi Mkonza paralysed the organisation for almost a year.
The board eventually disbanded after resignations, and it was replaced by an interim board led by businesswoman Irene Charnley.
The interim board appointed Mokoetle CEO as one of its last acts before the new board takes over on January 10.
Weekend reports suggested tension among designated board members about his appointment. Members anonymously criticised the interim board’s decision to appoint him, and suggested that Mokoetle, the SABC’s former chief operating officer, was tainted by a 2005 audit report.
These board members argued the appointment was supposed to have been left to the new board, which is expected to work with the CEO.
Mokoetle said yesterday he was cleared of all wrongdoing, and the Labour Court threw out the Gobodo audit report.
Charnley said the interim board followed due process when appointing Mokoetle, and did so transparently. She said the previous board short-listed three candidates, including Mokoetle, for the position, and the interim board opened the process, and advertised the position.
“We followed everything according to the articles of association,” Charnley said.
She said the interim board obtained a legal opinion on whether the board-designate should be included in the decision, but as it had not been appointed it could not be involved. “If we had had to involve them, someone would now be challenging it,” Charnley said.
She said Mokoetle did an excellent job during his previous tenure at the SABC.
In an interview with Business Day yesterday, Mokoetle said his main priority now was to stabilise the SABC and establish good relations with the board.
David Niddrie, a member of the board-designate, said yesterday that the board would apply its mind on the CEO issue only after it had met.
He dismissed suggestions that board members might take legal action against Mokoetle. “We weren’t put in place to continue the soap opera,” he said.
Kate Skinner, spokeswoman for the Save Our SABC campaign, said Mokoetle and the new board faced an “enormous task” in attempting to turn the organisation around.
“Let’s not get diverted, let’s look at the real issues,” she said, questioning why a 2005 report should be leaked at this stage.
A source close to the process suggested that the leak could have come from an unsuccessful candidate for Mokoetle’s job, or from a disgruntled member of management who would prefer to undermine Mokoetle from the beginning, in order to safeguard their own jobs.
The audit report, compiled by Gobodo Forensic and Investigative Accounting, was not released publicly , but was quoted extensively in a Sunday Times report yesterday.
Skinner said it appeared that the report contained “wild accusations” and “defamatory comments” but without any evidence to back up its accusations.
She said that at the time of its commissioning, legal action would have been taken if there had been evidence supporting its findings.
The Gobodo report, according to the Sunday Times, accused Mokoetle of corporate governance failures relating to content commissioning.