MPs to grill minister over Hlaudi

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iol news pic Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Comms Minister

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Communications Minister Faith Muthambi and SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

Cape Town - Embattled Communications Minister Faith Muthambi faces a barrage of questions and criticism in Parliament on Tuesday over her permanent appointment of SABC chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

Motsoeneng’s appointment, which flew in the face of a damning public protector report that condemned him for acts including lying about his qualifications, purging senior SABC staff and abuse of power by raising his salary to R2.4 million within a year, has been condemned across the political spectrum.

It has also stoked tensions within the ANC’s alliance, with the SACP saying the appointment implied a “complicit attitude towards, and failure by (the SABC’s board) members to exercise their fiduciary duties and responsibilities”.

On Tuesday evening, Muthambi has to face down the parliamentary opposition during her department’s budget vote, with the SABC’s worsening crisis likely to dominate debate. The minister and the corporation’s board are also facing a growing legal headache.

On Monday, The DA said it was preparing legal papers to take Muthambi to court by the weekend for “irrationally” endorsing Motsoeneng’s appointment by the SABC board – despite a damning public protector report into his conduct.

The DA’s legal action follows the EFF’s undertaking last week to seek legal redress.

And Save our SABC, a civil society coalition for quality public broadcasting in the public interest, confirmed on Monday it was consulting lawyers over possible court action.

Meanwhile, the public protector has launched an inquiry into this latest twist of Motsoeneng’s appointment, after having extended the deadline for remedial action to mid-August amid a finding that someone else should be appointed chief operations officer.

Amid the political fallout, Muthambi, in a GCIS statement on Monday, again cited an independent lawyer’s report clearing Motsoeneng of wrongdoing – weekend newspapers quoted the law firm saying its report was silent on appointment matters – as paving the way for his permanent appointment to the post he held for several years in an acting capacity.

Constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos rejected any contention that the opinion of a private lawyer could ever trump the findings of a constitutional institution like the public protector. Only a court can review the public protector findings.

“The minister is talking legal nonsense,” he said, adding the situation was so “bizarre” he would be surprised if court action against the appointment did not succeed, even if the courts set the standard of proving irrationality very high.

While Muthambi is under pressure, in Parliament there appeared to be moves to give her at least some breathing space.

Rejecting claims the communications committee on Friday had agreed to call Muthambi to appear before it to explain the chief operations officer appointment, committee chairwoman Joyce Moloi-Moropa on Monday said that the MPs had been focused on annual performance plans and budget votes.

“The minister assured the committee during our last meeting that the SABC will meet their deadline (August 17) to provide responses to the public protector report.

“We therefore believe that by the time we meet again with the department, all issues raised in the report would have been responded to and we will take it from there as part of committee oversight mandate,” she said.

SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said it was the DA’s right to go to court, adding: “We don’t know why they are going to court.”

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