Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition

Acting Chair of the Portfolio Committee on Communications
Mr. Sikhumbuzo Eric Kholwane

9 November 2010

Dear Mr Kholwane

Request for an extension for the nominations to the SABC Board until after Parliament's hearing into governance crises at the SABC

The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition notes that Parliament's scheduled hearing for 10 November 2010 focusing on the SABC's governance crises and turnaround strategy has been postponed. However, SOS believes that this hearing is critical to dealing with the crises at the SABC. We submitted a letter to Parliament on 4 November outlining the various governance crises we felt Parliament needed to attend to. We are now worried to hear that this hearing has been postponed. We hear that the date has been set for the 26th of November.

SOS believes that this makes it very difficult for civil society to put forward people with integrity, experience and expertise to sit on the SABC Board. We believe that this situation would be substantially eased if the nomination period could be extended to after the Parliamentary hearing. As communicated in our letter on 4 November, we would like Parliament to deal with the following issues:

  • The resignation of four SABC Board members. SOS notes that the public has yet to find out what their reasons are. SABC Board members are tasked with the critical role of oversight of the SABC in the public interest. We are deeply concerned that the conditions within the SABC have deteriorated to the point that members have felt that they have no option but to resign. We feel that the general public have the right to know what these reasons are and that their letters should be tabled for discussion at the Committee. Further, we believe that exit interviews should be conducted with all four board members to ensure that lessons are learnt for the future. We believe that the major principles discussed in these letters should be made public.
  • The ongoing corporate governance breaches at the SABC. SOS has noted several serious corporate governance breaches that have taken place at the SABC since the beginning of 2010. SOS has noted that to date the Portfolio Committee has not called the Chair - or members of the Board - to task in this regard. These include breaches of corporate governance around:
    • the critical appointment of the Head of News,
    • a decision to employ an external candidate to the Acting CEO position despite the fact that the SABC's Articles of Association disallow this (the decision was later reversed),
    • the Chair of the Board's refusal to sign the delegation of authority document as regards the appointment of Acting CEO, Robin Nicholson, creating a legal crisis where the SABC was effectively operating without a CEO; and
    • the Chair's unilateral decision to announce on SABC TV and radio that there were problems with the appointment of an Acting CEO and that he hoped to bring back suspended CEO, Solly Mokoetle.
  • SOS respectfully believes that the Committee should deal with these corporate governance breaches through:
    • Thoroughly airing the issues that lead to these corporate governance breaches, calling members associated with these breaches to book and getting a public commitment from all Board members that in future they will scrupulously adhere to good corporate practices and protocols.
    • SOS believes that the role of the Chair in initiating many of these corporate governance breaches is so serious, that he should be called on to resign – or should be removed by the Appointing body including Parliament and the President.
  • The problematic role of Parliament in stemming the crises. SOS notes that in May 2010 Board members publically stood up and announced that a serious corporate governance breach had taken place at the SABC as regards the Chair’s unilateral appointment of the Head of News. Further, Board members announced that there had been an irretrievable breakdown of trust between themselves and the Chair. Since that date there have been many unsuccessful attempts by Parliament to address the issues. Hearings have been delayed, called behind closed doors etc. SOS would like Parliament to examine its own role in not stemming the deepening crises at the SABC. Again today we are waiting for Parliament to hold its hearing.
  • Finally, problems with gaps in the Broadcasting Act, 1999 that continue to cause crises around the appointment of executive members to the SABC Board. SOS raised this issue in 2008 during the Broadcasting Amendment bill process. SOS suggested that a clause should be added stating that accounting lines need to be clarified to ensure that executive management is appointed solely by the Board. SOS urges Parliament to swiftly deal with this issue so that crises around appointments can finally be laid to rest.

SOS believes that if these issues are comprehensively addressed during Parliament's hearing, it will make the nomination process substantially easier. It will encourage people to put themselves forward for nomination. This hearing is critical. We believe that the deadlines for nominations need to be extended. Please do get back to us at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely

SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition