Monday, August 2, 2010

SOS News SABC board 'gatvol'

SABC bosses face rebellion

Siyabonga Mkhwanazi, Sibusiso Ngalwa and Moshoeshoe Monare, Business Report, Johannesburg, 1 August 2010

SABC board chairman Ben Ngubane and his group CEO Solly Mokoetle, who are said to be enjoying support from President Jacob Zuma, are fighting an incessant rear-guard battle against the board on many fronts - including that the board wants Mokoetle to quit or they will.

The Sunday Independent has learnt that Ngubane and Mokoetle could also be held personally liable for the botched appointment of head of news Phil Molefe, with Mokoetle facing an added battle to justify paying all employees R1 000 "World Cup" bonuses after the broadcaster splurged millions on much-criticised tickets on the |tournament.

In addition, the embattled Mokoetle, who is considered arrogant because he has a direct line to Zuma and Ngubane, is believed to have unexpectedly announced performance results at the end of the first trading quarter - an unusual step by the broadcaster - as a strategy to counter a growing clamour within the board to show him the door for the Molefe gaffe and for the fact that he is generally seen as poorly qualified for the job and imposed by the previous interim board.

Ngubane and Mokoetle controversially appointed Molefe as head of news in May, sparking a rebellion among board members who forced the appointment process to be reviewed.
The internal rebellion is in addition to criticism from outside the SABC on how it continues to be mismanaged.

The Sunday Independent can also reveal that the board has proposed to ask the candidates who were meant to compete with Molefe for the job to reapply and be interviewed by the board itself.

This was confirmed by Ngubane yesterday, who lamented that the information was leaked before a decision could be taken. "This thing was discussed at a special meeting of the board on Friday. That is how we are going to proceed - We are going to do that (ask candidates to reapply). But this is such an improper way of putting this out. We are calling a full board meeting for next week to deal with this issue.

"We are informing the candidates and now we are going to read about it in the press (first)," said Ngubane.

However, some on the board want to ensure that the process is "not contaminated", and want to deal with the legal conundrum created by Molefe's contract.

Molefe "has legitimate expectations" after he signed a contract approved by Ngubane and Mokoetle against the wishes of other board members.

It is understood that other board members may consider holding Ngubane and Mokoetle personally liable in the event that Molefe is not appointed, because they maintain that Molefe's current contract is illegitimate.

Ngubane and Mokoetle could be excluded from the process because "they are conflicted".

One of the candidates, Karima Brown, has taken up the position of deputy editor of the New Age newspaper, to be launched in September.

Another candidate, Jimi Matthews, said yesterday: "I have not been asked to re-apply - Look, I really don't want to comment on this."

Meanwhile, some members of the board told The Sunday Independent that the decision by Mokoetle to give R1 000 to all employees of the cash-strapped SABC for delivering "the successful coverage" of the World Cup was not in line with efforts to reduce costs and break even in the shortest time possible. They lay the financial fiasco on Mokoetle's door, with others saying they want Mokoetle to go or else they will quit.

The bonuses were also given to employees who did not directly contribute towards the coverage of the tournament.

Mokoetle declined to comment and referred queries to SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago.

Kganyago on Friday confirmed |that bonuses had been paid to staff members. "If there are issues to be raised, there is a board meeting to raise those issues. The unfortunate part is that a decision has been made and it has been implemented. Anyone who wants to know (about the bonuses) can talk to the CEO," said Kganyago.

He said it was difficult to say how much in total had been paid out to staff members as some people were not full-time employees of the SABC.

The board member said almost all board members were shocked to hear about the R1 000 bonus to every staff member "while the SABC is battling to stay afloat".

Staff members at the public broadcaster confirmed this week that they were each given a R1 000 bonus, saying the explanation was that the SABC made money out of the World Cup.

With a staff complement of about 4 500, the SABC may have spent an estimated R4.5 million if indeed all of them received the bonus.

Board members said Mokoetle did not have the authority to approve such bonuses.

The Sunday Independent spoke to three board members independent of each other on this issue.

The SABC was recently given a government loan guarantee of R1.4 billion to recover from its financial crisis.

It has since borrowed R1bn from Nedbank, but is awaiting National Treasury to approve the remaining R473m guarantee.

National Treasury has withheld the authorisation of the second tranche of the money because the SABC has failed to meet certain conditions, including submitting its turnaround plan.

A senior ANC MP close to the SABC governance also said he had received several complaints from board members and SABC employees regarding Mokoetle's "poor leadership" style.

The MP said members of the board had expressed their intention to get rid of the CEO.

A board member had also met with unionists at Auckland Park two weeks ago, and briefed them about their unhappiness with Mokoetle, said a source.

"They are done with Solly. They are gatvol with him - the board wants him out of the SABC," said one unionist who attended the meeting.

The atmosphere was tense at the last board meeting last Friday, with one board member telling The Sunday Independent that Mokoetle "is arrogant because he has a direct line" to Zuma and Ngubane.

"(Zuma and Ngubane) will have to choose between us and this CEO. We will walk out of there, we are not like the previous board," he said.