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Johannesburg - Controversial SABC chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng wants to grow the public broadcaster to a R10 billion organisation “in the next three to five years” but warns that leadership is not about being shy to make decisions and “there is no guarantee that all decisions made will be right”.
A document obtained by The Sunday Independent, titled “Future Leadership of the SABC”, shows that Motsoeneng intends to continue making the SABC “the biggest and most successful public broadcaster of choice”.
The “SABC is currently a R6bn organisation, and it has been for some few years”, reads the document presented by Motsoeneng on February 18, the day after Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released her damning report on him.
In the document, Motsoeneng describes leadership as “about having two hearts – bad and good” and risk taking but warns that “there is no guarantee that all decisions made will be right”.
According to Motsoeneng, there are people who are afraid to make simple decisions that fall within their powers and authority because they may be proven wrong.
“I know my strength – I am a strong broadcaster, a trained journalist, a business professional,” Motsoeneng writes, adding that he believes in identifying talent within the SABC at all times “though sometimes I get into trouble”.
He says plans are afoot to get the organisation to reach the R10bn destination but adds that “specifics are embargoed”.
Motsoeneng also boldly promises that the SABC will not receive a disclaimer from the auditor-general next year as he headhunted James Aguma, a former senior manager at the A-G’s office. Aguma is now acting SABC chief financial officer.
In 2012/13, the SABC received a disclaimer – the worst possible audit opinion.
But Motsoeneng’s plans are threatened by the DA’s court case and Madonsela’s fresh probe, which could derail his vision for the SABC.
This week the DA filed papers at the Western Cape High Court to force Communications Minister Faith Muthambi and the SABC board to rescind Motsoeneng’s appointment, suspend him and institute the disciplinary action against him recommended earlier this year by Madonsela, who has launched a new investigation into the hiring of Motsoeneng, who had been acting chief operations officer since November 2011.
The DA wants Muthambi, SABC chairperson Zandile Tshabalala and five other board members who voted in favour of Motsoeneng’s appointment to take personal responsibility for their blatantly unlawful actions and not make taxpayers pay for their legal fees.
The DA also wants the court to force Muthambi and the SABC board to appoint a suitably qualified permanent chief operations officer within 60 days of such a court order.
The board did not advertise Motsoeneng’s position, shortlist candidates and conduct interviews as required by the SABC’s articles of association, according to the DA’s court papers.
The articles of association also say an executive director, of which Motsoeneng is one of three who sit on the board, shall be appointed by the board after due process, interviews conducted and a shortlist of preferred candidates compiled.
None of this was done during Motsoeneng’s appointment.
It describes Motsoeneng as an “admitted liar and fraudster”.
According to court papers, the DA wants punitive costs awards against Muthambi, Tshabalala and the board members who voted in favour of Motsoeneng’s appointment in their personal capacities.
“If they oppose this application, which they are likely to do, they will incur further costs.
These officials have done enough damage to the public interest by appointing Motsoeneng.
They must take personal responsibility for their blatantly unlawful actions,” says DA federal chairman James Selfe in his founding affidavit.
The DA believes that an order for Muthambi, Tshabalala and the board members to pay its legal costs in their personal capacities will also send a message to other officials that they cannot abuse their positions safe in the knowledge that there will be no financial consequences if they are taken to court.
The board members who, with Tshabalala, voted for Motsoeneng’s appointment are deputy chairperson Professor Mbulaheni Obert Maghuve, Nomvuyo Mhlakaza, Ndivhoniswani Tshidzumba, Leah Khumalo and Hope Zinde.
“Future officials considering appointing obviously unsuitable candidates to important public posts without following the prescribed procedure will think twice. They will know that they risk paying the costs of litigation from their own pockets,” reads Selfe’s affidavit.
Motsoeneng’s lawyer Zola Majavu said his client would oppose the DA’s application and instructed him to prepare his defence.
“We will file papers next week,” said Majavu, adding that the DA had yet to formally serve court papers on his client.
Asked if the SABC would oppose the DA’s application, spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said the public broadcaster’s lawyers would decide after receiving the official opposition’s court papers.
“They haven’t indicated anything to me yet,” he said.
Government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said Muthambi would not be commenting on the case but would respond in court.
The DA also accuses Muthambi and the SABC board of not affording Madonsela the dignity of a response, and not making any attempt to explain why they elected to reject her conclusions.
“This behaviour is unacceptable and warrants a declaration from this court that the board and the minister acted in contravention of section 181(3). Indeed, it may well amount to the crime of insulting the public protector,” the DA says.
In terms of the Public Protector Act, it is a criminal offence to insult the public protector or her deputy and do anything that would constitute contempt of court during proceedings in a court of law.
Majavu said his client had not received anything from either the SABC or the minister and that no one had approached Motsoeneng on Madonsela’s findings, which would be the basis of his (Motsoeneng’s) action.
Madonsela recommended remedial action by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests, then-communications minister Yunus Carrim and the SABC board.
In the DA’s case against ex-national director of public prosecutions Menzi Simelane, a similar defence was attempted with then-justice minister Jeff Radebe arguing that allegations of dishonesty against Simelane could be ignored based on the reasons provided in a legal opinion presented by his attorneys to the Public Service Commission when investigating his conduct.
Retired Constitutional Court Justice Zak Yacoob decided that the defence advanced by Simelane’s attorneys were “technical and legalistic in nature” and did not address the substance of the complaints against him.
In his document, Motsoeneng says to show his leadership in talent identification he appointed a task team to implement the A-G’s recommendations and it did “such a wonderful task” that disgraced ex-communications minister Dina Pule and the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on communications commended the team for a job well done.
But in its court papers, the DA says Motsoeneng was responsible for the purging of senior staff, unilaterally increased salaries of Sully Motsweni, Thobekile Khumalo, a shop steward and certain freelancers which led to the avoidable loss of millions of rands towards salaries and settlements for irregular terminations of contracts and unprecedented salary bill escalation by R29 million.
These are among the findings of Madonsela’s first probe.
The DA says Muthambi and the SABC board must have been aware that they were acting unlawfully, yet they proceeded in any event, and by doing so, they abused the positions of power and the trust they have been given by the people of South Africa.
The matter is set down for August 18. - The Sunday Independent