Still no SABC board five months on

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Today marks exactly five months since the previous SABC Board’s term ended on the 15th of October 2022. The public broadcaster has since been without a Board.

The names of twelve recommended candidates and an additional three names were approved in the National Assembly in December last year and sent to President Cyril Ramaphosa to appoint twelve candidates.

Ramaphosa has sent a letter back to the Assembly to seek proper legal clarity on the additional names that were approved by the House.

The sub-committee of Parliament’s Communications Committee is now tasked to resolve the impasse. It met on Tuesday evening to consider Ramaphosa’s letter and to seek legal advice. The meeting which ended after midnight was tense as members could not agree on how to resolve the impasse before going back to the National Assembly.

The Democratic Alliance (DA), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) suggested that the committee should stick with the twelve recommended names and remove the additional three names that were approved by the Assembly. This followed Parliamentary legal advice on how to respond to the letter of Ramaphosa and to resolve the matter. But the ANC had a different view.

Parliament’s Senior Legal Adviser Advocate Frank Jenkins told the sub-committee that there were reasonable legal expectations that the twelve recommended SABC board candidates should be appointed.

” Chair I have a concern that these members have already been  through a process where the House has adopted the report of the committee, so there are certain legal expectations on some of these members chair,  of course  not on the reserve pool because they were never meant to  be appointed immediately in any event, but there are certain questions that can be raised, and I have not studied the detail of the law here,  but the National Assembly has adopted a resolution at least with these twelve members, unless there is a reason in law why one of these members cannot be appointed,” says Jenkins.

The legal opinion given by Jenkins was accepted by EFF member of the committee Vuyani Pambo who suggested that the committee should submit the twelve recommended names:

” There is absolutely no reason why we are here. (The) Legal practitioner is absolutely correct. We have adopted these names and we know which names we wanted to be appointed. The twelve names are very clear to us. The three other names which have now caused the confusion, which is induced confusion by the President, even the letter that the President wrote, and the letters that have been exchanged between the Minister and the Speaker there is absolutely no confusion on who are the twelve names that must be appointed,” reiterates Pambo.

The DA also agreed with the legal advice, saying the three additional names should be dropped.

” We have all already agreed on this board. And that pool was not there to simply chop and change to give alternatives. That was if something drastic happens. And one of the twelve we had chosen and ranked could not take up their position. And if we wait another five months, maybe they all have different jobs and we’ll have to start the process from scratch. But right now, we have a board. Let us go ahead with the board and stop this shilly-shallying and questioning the decision we have taken over months. It cannot be. We must just proceed and send the list without the three attached to the President. That’s what we have determined. That’s what we have voted on”, DA member of the committee Dianne Kohler-Barnard emphasised.

However, the ANC wants a second opinion by seeking independent legal advice outside Parliament.

ANC member of the committee Lesiba Molala explains why, ” The legal advise, because people are  emphasising on the legal advise. But they are not saying the very same legal advise, advised the Speaker, that there is nothing wrong with the additional names. And now the same legal advise  says  remove the three names and remain with the twelve. Now which means I would support honourable (Sheila) Xego that on the basis of this contradictions, maybe another opinion.”

Another ANC member Nomsa Khubeka said the sub-committee cannot just ignore the three additional names that were added to the pool of twelve recommended candidates to serve on the SABC Board.

Khubeka  says the committee was not specific enough on the priority names.

” At the end of the day, the decision that the committee have taken, it’s all about 15 names. Now we need to resolve just to check, because if it was twelve names which means we were not going to have this meeting, because it will be exactly the twelve. So, it’s this committee also who made the decision of 15. So, we need to try and seek a solution in order that we must find one another. And at the end of the day if maybe the committee decided to be very clear and specific, maybe in the order of priority maybe it was not going to be a problem. So unfortunately, you never said in this order of priority. There is no one who wants to change, it’s our decision and indeed once we temper with that three, we are amending.”

In response, IFP member of the committee Zandile Majozi disagreed with Khubeka that the list of the fifteen names did not specify which ones have to be prioritised.

“This meeting is now beginning to be very stressful. The reason why is am saying this we had put all the names according to priority. It’s not true that we have not done that. We have put all these names according to priority and we had lists from each and every party. And if those three names where the top names that were performed the way the other twelve had, they were going to be on top.”

“The three names were only suggested on exception that if something were to happen. Right now, nothing has happened. The President only wanted the clarity and we are giving this clarity that these are the twelve priority names”, Majozi insisted.

Towards the end of the meeting, the argument was whether independent legal advice should be sought or not. Majozi and Pambo objected. Committee Chairperson Boyce Maneli concluded on the way forward. These included whether external legal advice will be sought or not:

” Officially we adjourn, we will be communicating in terms of at the next meeting, including the status of whether we are getting the legal opinion or not. And I’m saying even if we don’t get it for whatever reasons, we will still have to convene, give you that report and be able to take matter forward. But by the end of the week, we should be able to advise the National Assembly on what is the new resolution of the committee”, Maneli explains.

Maneli also told members that the sub-committee has to meet again on Friday.

On Tuesday morning, Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Mondli Gungubele told the committee that the matter around the Board should be resolved as soon as possible.

There were concerns that the SABC is facing financial risks for operating without a Board.

The SABC Group Executive were sent back twice by the public money watchdog, Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), in November last year and at the beginning of March, for appearing to brief the committee without an accounting authority.

The video below is reporting more on the story: