The SABC has been in the news regularly over the last while, mostly for all the wrong reasons. It has frequently been accused of being partisan to the ANC and President Jacob Zuma. There have been numerous reports of the SABC Board’s state of disarray. Misconduct at the highest level of the Ministry responsible for the SABC made spectacular headlines when the former Minister of Communications, Dina Pule, was fired and made to apologise before members of the National Assembly for her conduct, which included trying to hide the fact that her boyfriend benefited to the tune of R6 million from a telecommunications indaba contract.

On Monday 17 February governance and ethical failures of staggering proportions were exposed when the Public Protector, Adv. Thuli Madonsela, released her report on the SABC, aptly entitled “When Governance and Ethics Fail”. The report follows on an investigation into allegations of maladministration, systemic governance deficiencies, abuse of power and irregular appointments by the SABC.

The findings of the report are damning, to say the least.

  • Hlaudi Motsoeneng, acting Chief Operations Officer (COO), was found to have committed fraud when he stated on his application form that he had a matric certificate, which he admitted to Madonsela that he does not. This fraud was repeated when Motsoeneng was appointed to several posts despite not having the requisite qualifications. Exacerbating this is the fact that Motsoeneng's human resources file disappeared at the SABC while he denied falsifying his qualifications.
  • Complicit in this irregular appointment was the then SABC Board chairman, Dr Ben Ngubane, who ordered that the qualifications requirements for the post of COO be ‘tailor-made’ to suit Motsoeneng's lack of qualifications. The report found this to constitute improper conduct, maladministration and abuse or unjustifiable exercise of power.
  • The appointment of Motsoeneng as the Acting COO was also irregular on the grounds that he was allowed to fulfil the acting position for a period of more than three months without the necessary Board resolution and in contravention of the organisation’s requirements in this regard.
  • The report held that Motsoeneng’s salary progression was irregular in that he enriched himself with three salary increases in a single year, taking his annual package from R1.5 million to R2.4 million. The approval of these increases by the Group CEO and the Chairperson of the Board at the time, Ben Ngubane, was also found to be irregular.
  • Maladministration and improper conduct were found to have taken place in the HR Department, which included that they failed to keep proper records regarding Motsoeneng’s documentation. The HR Department was also named for failing to exercise the necessary prudence to avoid the misrepresentation of Motsoeneng’s qualifications and for not acting decisively when the misrepresentation was discovered.
  • The allegation of irregularities in the appointment of Sully Motweni to various positions (General Manager: Compliance and Operation and Stakeholder Relations and Provinces, to Head: Compliance and Operation and then to Acting Group Executive: Risk and Governance) and subsequent salary increments (R960 500 to R1.5 million per annum) were substantiated.
  • The report confirmed that the appointment of Gugu Duda as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) was grossly irregular and the actions involved constituted improper conduct, maladministration and abuse of power. Themba Phiri, the Acting Deputy Director General of the Department of Communications, and Motsoeneng were found to have arranged the appointment of Duda long after the recruitment and selection process had been closed. The conduct of the Board was also found to be unlawful.
  • Motsoeneng was found to have purged senior officials without following the proper procedures, resulting in unnecessary and avoidable financial losses in CCMA, court and other settlements as well as significant legal fees. This was considered fruitless and wasteful expenditure and amounted to financial mismanagement, improper conduct and maladministration. These costs were recognised as contributing to the SABC’s unprecedented salary bill increase of R29 million.
  • The findings confirmed that a further contribution to the salary bill increase came from irregularly increased salaries of various staff members, including a shop steward, by Motsoeneng.
  • Regarding the alleged systemic corporate governance failures at the SABC, Madonsela notes that the Board was dysfunctional and that all the findings are “symptomatic of pathological corporate governance deficiencies at the SABC, including failure by the SABC Board to provide strategic oversight to the National Broadcaster as provided for in the SABC Board Charter and King III Report.” She added that successive Boards had allowed Motsoeneng to operate above the law, causing the human resources and financial departments in particular to engage in unlawful conduct.

The remedial actions identified by Public Protector relative to Communications Minister, Yunus Carrim, are that he discipline Phiri, hire a suitably qualified permanent incumbent COO within 90 days, define that person’s role in relation to the Group CEO to ensure that overlaps in authority are identified and eliminated and finalise all pending disciplinary proceedings against Duda, the suspended CFO, within 60 days.

As regards the Board, Madonsela’s remedial actions include that:

  • The money spent on the irregular salary hikes received by Motsoeneng and others is paid back;
  • Appropriate disciplinary action is taken against Motsoeneng for his dishonesty and abuse of power and against Lulama Mokhobo, the outgoing Group CEO, for her improper conduct in the approval of Motsoeneng’s salary increment;
  • A public apology is made to Phumelele Ntombela-Nzimande, Charlotte Mampane and all former employees who had suffered prejudice due to the SABC management and Board’s maladministration that involved acting outside the law and contrary to corporate policies and principles of corporate governance; and
  • All HR processes pertaining to the creation of new posts, appointments and salary scales and progressions are reviewed.

As to what has happened since the release of the report: The SABC spokesperson, Kaizer Kganyago, said the public broadcaster would consider Madonsela's findings. Siyabulela Qoza, spokesperson the Communications Ministry, responded that "We'll consider it and, if necessary, refer it to our lawyers as soon as we get it." And the SABC’s Board Chairperson, Ellen Zandile Tshabalala, stated that “The members of the Board are right behind him [Motsoeneng] … I would absolutely want him to stay in his post.” But what will happen next, that is apart from denials and subterfuge from those named in the report? Will anything change? Ethical leaders at Board level and in executive management who follow the principles of sound corporate governance and consistently act in the best interests of the organisation and its employees and stakeholders can turn this situation around. It won’t be easy given the current climate and culture, but it can be done. And wouldn’t it be great if we could view our public broadcaster with the same esteem and pride we hold for our Public Protector.

© Cynthia Schoeman, Ethics Monitoring & Management Services (Pty) Ltd, 2014