A former SABC board member has told Parliament’s ad hoc committee that Communications Minister Faith Muthambi recommended in 2014 that acting COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s post be made permanent.
Ronnie Lubisi testified that Muthambi, at her first meeting with the board, urged them to appoint Motsoeneng permanently, shortly after her appointment in July 2014.
She said he had been “acting for too long”.
This despite a damning Public Protector report that found Motsoeneng had lied about his qualifications.
Lubisi was the first witness on Thursday to appear before the ad hoc committee looking into the fitness of the SABC board.
He said he was kicked off the SABC board for raising his discomfort over the board’s treatment of the Public Protector report, When Governance and Ethics Fail .
He testified under oath that he was incorrectly cited for having a “conflict of interest” after raising concerns with the way in which the board was ignoring the Public Protector’s 2014 report.
“My issue was that we were [still] busy dealing with the Public Protector’s report, which they did not want to implement,” Lubisi told the committee.
The Public Protector’s report had recommended Motsoeneng be placed on disciplinary review for fraud.
Lubisi was chairperson of the SABC’s internal audit committee. In that capacity, he raised concerns at the meeting that the Public Protector’s report needed to be dealt with before appointing Motsoeneng permanently.
“They attacked me as the chairperson of the audit committee, and claimed the audit committee had an agenda,” he continued.
“It was put as if I’m the only member of the audit committee.”
He said former CEO Ellen Tshabalala and Motsoeneng had said at the meeting that Lubisi and one other board member, Professor Bongani Khumalo, were “causing problems” for the board.
They had also arrived late with Muthambi, and appeared to have “discussed the issue before the time”.
He said he wrote to the board afterwards to ask what he was doing wrong, and asked them to make submissions on his alleged “agenda”. None of the board members responded, so he assumed there was no problem.
“After that meeting, nothing happened. The chairperson, Ms Tshabalala, was taken out and Mr Maguvhe was appointed as acting chairperson.”
Motsoeneng was appointed permanently as COO at a special board meeting that month.
Lubisi and two other board members had voted against it, saying the SABC’s recruitment policies were not followed.
He said the minister was in the building while the board was voting on his appointment.
‘Conflict of interest’ charges
Lubisi then described how, in February 2015, he received two separate letters from Maguvhe, recommending he be removed as chairperson of the audit committee due to a “conflict of interest”.
Two other board members also received letters.
The allegation was that Lubisi was serving as an auditor for two separate companies, a security company named Mafoko and another named Harambe, and that the broadcaster was entering into pending deals with them.
Lubisi, therefore, could not serve on both.
“The committee resolved that they should inform me that I was an auditor in those companies. They also sent me a copy of the conflict of interest policy and the code of ethics.
“But I did not audit those two companies. I didn’t know them.
“In those two I was listed there, but I’ve never audited them.”
Dismissed from the board
Lubisi said he followed up with the two companies involved to get written proof that he had never worked with either of them, which he received in writing.
He also asked company secretary Theresa Geldenhuys to set up a meeting with the board, but she seemingly was not informed about what the meeting was about.
He had until the March 9 to respond to Maguvhe’s letter.
“On 10 March, the governance and nominations committee said that, due to the fact that I didn’t respond, we recommend now to the board that I be removed as the chairperson of the audit committee,” he said.
He then sent the evidence from the two companies to the board in writing, and asked them to make submissions, but none responded.
He said he also wrote to Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications, but they had “left him hanging”.
“We then received a notice of a special board meeting. There were three of us recommended to be taken out as board members.”
The board voted, and their removal was approved that month. The other two members were late SABC journalist Hope Zinde, and Rachel Kalinda.
Lubisi is currently engaged in litigation against the broadcaster.
Update: Hlaudi was the ‘go-to’ to man at the SABC – former CEO
Hlaudi Motsoeneng was the centre of power at the SABC during group CEO Lulama Mokhobo’s tenure, she told MPs on Thursday.
Two camps emerged in the SABC board which undermined her tenure, which started in January 2012, she testified under oath before Parliament’s ad hoc committee investigating the current board’s fitness.
“The boards under which I served had a very significant leaning towards Mr Motsoeneng. I ceased to be a normal link as CEO,” she said.
There were many instances where Motsoeneng had meetings with the then board chairperson Ben Ngubane, without her knowledge.
“Many times there were things that were planned that I was not made aware of. I was generally quite ‘juniorized’ in my position. It seemed Mr Motsoeneng was the ‘go-to’ man.”
She chose to push on to fulfil her mandate of ensuring the broadcaster became financially sustainable. The SABC reported a profit two years running in her two years at the broadcaster.
“The profit was substantial and it all had to do with very prudent financial management.”
Her job was made difficult by a “fractious relationship” with certain board members. She said a 2013 governance report revealed there were two centres of power at the broadcaster.
This was partly because she refused to sign off on certain contracts that did not make sense to her. One of them involved collecting VAT revenue from SARS. She was unhappy about it and said no.
Ngubane as chairperson was close to Motsoeneng and four other board members, she said.
She said board members Vuyo Mavuso, Bongani Khumalo and one other leaned towards her understanding of running the organisation. The others largely supported Motsoeneng, she said.
She described former Communications Minister Yunus Carrim’s relationship with former CEO Ellen Tshabalala as “uncomfortable”.
She described how Motsoeneng’s salary was reviewed in 2013.
“He claimed he had been given accolade after accolade from the board, and ‘glorious’ recommendations.”
The assumption at the time was that the chairperson of the board could, on behalf of the board, make certain decisions, including about Motsoeneng’s salary.
She said the argument was that Motsoeneng was “too talented” to deny him a position based simply on his lack of qualifications.
MPs questioned why she signed off on Motsoeneng’s second salary increase in the space of four months.
“The reports that I got from the SABC when I joined the organization spoke of an ‘extraordinary’ person that deserved the increase.
“I couldn’t question the veracity at the time. So when the request came to me, I did not have a leg to stand on from the perspective of saying no.”
She said that for an executive of his standing, the board felt he needed pay that was commensurate with his work.
‘I was so maligned’
Before her departure, she said there were talks of her being suspended and investigations being conducted against her over being a shareholder at broadcaster eNCA and her children working at eNCA.
“I had been so maligned that staying on at the SABC just didn’t make sense to me anymore. I’m a human being. The writing was on the wall and why stay on when I was not wanted,” she said in response to a question on why she did not challenge her alleged “constructive dismissal”.
She decided to leave the SABC in February 2014, after the first “centre of power” started turning on her.
MPs asked her if her leaving had anything to do with the Public Protector’s report, which was released two weeks after she left. It contained that action be taken against her for signing off on Motsoeneng’s second salary increase.
She said her leaving was already agreed to in November 2013, and had nothing to do with the report.
She took pride in helping to turn the broadcaster’s financials around with a small team.
They had made a combined profit of over R200m in her two years, and had cash reserves of R1bn.
At the end of the meeting, she declined to comment on a question on where Motsoeneng got his real power from.
She said she did not want to be open to slander, and was being threatened.
She did not want to name those who were threatening her. She agreed to discuss the threats with chairperson Vincent Smith in camera.