There is corruption at the highest level of the SABC – confirmed by public protector Thuli Madonsela yesterday when she released a report detailing maladministration and abuse of power and public money in the corridors of the state broadcaster.
The document, titled When Governance and Ethics Fail, fingers the SABC's chief operations officer (COO), Hlaudi Motsoeneng, for a number of irregularities. Former communications minister Dina Pule also makes an appearance in the saga.
Madonsela's report began with the allegations under investigation. They included:
* The irregular appointment of Motsoeneng to the position of acting COO by the SABC despite not having a matric certificate and the required qualifications;
* Gross fraudulent misrepresentation of facts by allegedly declaring himself to be in possession of a matric certificate obtained at Metsimantsho High in the Free State;
* The purging of staff by Motsoeneng and the former acting group chief executive officer, Robin Nicholson; and,
* The subsequent unprecedented escalation of the SABC's salary bill, attributed primarily to Motsoeneng's purging of senior executive staff members, irregular employee appointments and irregular salary increases, including Motsoeneng's own three salary increases which pushed his annual remuneration package from R1.5-million to R2.4-million in a single year – a brazen 63% increase.
A whistleblower who contacted the public protector towards the end of the investigation added a further accusation – that the chief financial officer (CFO) was also irregularly appointed, on instructions from then communications minister Pule and with help from Motsoeneng.
There was also an "ancillary matter", revealed the report, of "whether it could be reasonably concluded that he [Motsoeneng] had something to do with the disappearance of his human resources file and the changed qualification requirements for the COO post when it was advertised while he held the post on an acting capacity".
The earlier allegations were lodged with Madonsela in April 2012 by disgruntled SABC employees, including former COO Charlotte Mampane and former senior executive Phumelele Ntombela-Nzimande, among others. Mampane resigned in November 2010 and Ntombela-Nzimande – the wife of Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande – was axed in February 2011.
The SABC and the Department of Communications have said that they will study the report and take appropriate action.
Improper conduct and maladministration
Allegedly well-connected politically, Motsoeneng was recruited by the SABC in Bloemfontein in 1995 as a stringer – a freelancer who submits reporting or photographic work to a news organisation on an ongoing basis – and joined the ranks of permanent staff soon after. He worked himself up to news head at Lesedi FM, was dismissed from the post in 2008, and re-instated for the first time in 2009.
His rise to the top after that was impressive – he was appointed COO in early 2012, fired on 25 February 2013, and re-instated just three days later after the person replacing him promptly resigned. Madonsela's investigation centred on eight questions:
- Whether the alleged appointment and salary progression of Motsoeneng as COO were irregular and accordingly constituted improper conduct and maladministration;
- Whether Motsoeneng fraudulently misrepresented his qualifications, including his matric, to the SABC when he applied for employment;
- Whether the alleged appointment and salary progression of Sully Motsweni were irregular and accordingly constituted improper conduct and maladministration;
- Whether the alleged appointment of Gugu Duda as CFO was irregular and accordingly constituted improper conduct and maladministration;
- Whether Motsoeneng purged senior officials at the SABC, resulting in unnecessary financial losses in Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), court and other settlements and, accordingly, financial mismanagement, and if this constituted improper conduct and maladministration;
- Whether Motsoeneng irregularly increased the salaries of various staff members, including a shop steward, resulting in a salary bill increase of more than R29-million, and if this amounted to financial mismanagement and accordingly improper conduct and maladministration;
- Whether there were systemic corporate governance failures at the SABC and the causes thereof; and,
- Whether the department and former minister of communications unduly interfered in the affairs of the SABC, giving unlawful orders to the SABC board and staff, and if the said acts constituted improper conduct and maladministration.
A long history of unscrupulous behaviour
Madonsela's findings indicated that the allegation of Motsoeneng's irregular appointment as acting COO was substantiated. She also revealed that former SABC chairperson Ben Ngubane "acted irregularly when he ordered that the qualification requirements for the appointment to the position of COO be altered to remove academic qualifications as previously advertised, which was clearly aimed at tailor-making the advert to suit Mr Motsoeneng's circumstances, and this constitutes improper conduct, maladministration and abuse or unjustifiable exercise of power".
With regard to Motsoeneng's quick-fire salary increases, Madonsela found that these, too, were irregular as he received three salary appraisals in a single year. This, she said, was in violation of SABC regulations and therefore constituted improper conduct and maladministration, as was the failure of the SABC's human resources department to keep proper records regarding Motsoeneng's documentation.
Madonsela found that the matter of the missing matric certificate was substantiated, by Motsoeneng himself in a recorded interview with her. He blamed it on an employee who told him to "fill in anything" to get the job. But this didn't wash with Madonsela. She said: "His blaming of Mrs Swanepoel and the SABC management that stating that they knew he had not passed matric is disconcerting. If anything, this defence exacerbates his situation as it shows lack of remorse and ethical conduct."
She added that all his promotions, as well as his initial employment in 2005, would never have happened had he been honest about his qualifications and that, by failing to act decisively when the lie was discovered, the SABC's management and human resources department were guilty of maladministration.
Madonsela also concluded that the disappearance of his personnel file was circumstantial, as there was no definite evidence to show that "he did in fact cause the disappearance of his employment records, particularly his application forms and CV, could not be found".
Pule pops up again
The public protector confirmed the allegations relating to the irregular appointments, in which Motsoeneng had a heavy hand, of Motsweni and Duda. In the latter case, Duda didn't apply for the job as CFO, but was appointed after a board recommendation for another candidate, who had gone through the interview process, was overridden by Pule.
After this, "Mr Phiri, from the Department of Communications, and Mr Motsoeneng, from the SABC, orchestrated the appointment of Ms Duda long after the recruitment and selection process had been closed", said Madonsela. "The appointment was grossly irregular and actions involved constitute improper conduct, maladministration and abuse of power."
She made it clear that, although there was no direct evidence that Pule had ordered Duda's appointment, there was enough evidence to suggest that she had influenced the board in a less overt way. "In any event, if we accept that Ms Pule was not involved as per her denial, it is unclear why she would have speedily approved the appointment as she did, when the irregularities were obvious."
In this regard, Pule was once again guilty of improper conduct and maladministration, said Madonsela.
The allegation that Motsoeneng was instrumental in the termination of 14 senior employees – who either participated in the disciplinary hearing in Bloemfontein which led to his dismissal as Ledesi FM news head, or had other grievances with him – was justified. The employees included original complainants Mampane and Ntombela-Nzimande. All 14 successfully fought their dismissals at the CCMA or Labour Court, ultimately costing the SABC millions in legal fees, settlements, and salaries during suspension. This was wasteful and fruitless expenditure, said Madonsela.
Finally, she found that Motsoeneng did irregularly increase the salaries of certain employees, that there was a systemic failure of corporate governance at the highest levels of the SABC, and that Pule and her staff did act improperly in the affairs of the SABC in terms of this investigation.
Sort it out once and for all
In her recommendations, Madonsela called on the current minister of communications, Yunus Carrim, to take disciplinary steps against the guilty parties in his department, and to appoint a COO at the state broadcaster worthy of the name within 90 days.
She further called on the SABC board to take steps to recover the money lost through irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and to take disciplinary action against Motsoeneng as well as outgoing group chief executive officer Lulama Mokhobo for her improper conduct in approving Motsoeneng's outrageous salary increases.
"I must indicate that in this regard I found it rather discouraging that the current SABC board appears to have blindly sprung to Mr Motsoeneng's defense [sic] on matters that precede it and which, in my considered view, require a board that is serious about ethical governance to raise questions with him," said Madonsela.
She asked the board to review recruitment and salary processes and regulations, and recommended that it apologise publicly to the employees who had been wrongfully dismissed "due to the SABC management and board's maladministration involving failure to handle the administration of its affairs in accordance with the laws, corporate policies and principles of corporate governance".