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SABC acting CEO passes the R5.1bln irregular expenditure buck

Politics
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File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng
Parliament - Frustrated legislators on Tuesday tried hard to solicit some answers from acting South African Broadcasting Corporation chief executive, James Aguma, on who was responsible for the broadcaster's cumulative irregular expenditure of over R5 billion, but the MPs were left hanging. 

Aguma presented the broadcaster's 2016/17 annual report to Parliament's portfolio committee on communications, painting a rosy picture of its progress regarding audience figures for radio and television, its progress on financial management, blaming a R411 million loss on expenditure on unforeseen events of national interest, less than three percent funding from government, and currency fluctuations, among others. 

MPs, however, were not looking at the presentation through rose-tinted glasses. 

The African National Congress' Mondli Gungubele was one of them. "The challenge we have is that we are at the risk of singing praises with you about things that are only known to yourself, but we cannot independently account for the basis of those praises." 

MPs were more interested in the billions in irregular expenditure (spending done without following procurement laws and regulations) uncovered at the public broadcaster over the past few years. 

"R5.1 bln is an extremely large and extremely concerning amount of money and imagine what could have been done with that money...who is responsible for that? Who is willing to stand up and say it's my my fault, I take full and unequivocal responsibility for this money being wasted?" asked Democratic Alliance MP Natasha Mazzone. 

"The buck must stop somewhere...and I think its time to ask where the buck stops." 

The ANC's Nokuzola Tolashe also implored Aguma for answers, adding that she was not happy with how the SABC was handling fraud and corruption at the broadcaster. 

"Who is now liable for decisions that were taken in between the theatre were are in and the legitimate process that will come in later." 

"Your definition on the SABC fraud and corruption prevention strategy is quite empty in so far as I'm concerned looking at the issues of supply chain management." 

Aguma said when he arrived at the SABC in 2013, he found a financial management system in the SABC in shambles, with "bizarre" supply chain management procedures. 

"We found a lot of people in supply chain management did not actually have a grasp what the categories of expenditure was," he said. 

In addition to this original tax clearance certificates, as required by the law, were not provided by suppliers of goods and services. 

Trying to track down the culprits, said Aguma was made cumbersome by the difficulty in finding a paper trail for the irregular expenditure. 

"The discipline of retaining documents was not something that was taken seriously." 

Aguma said the money was not necessarily wasted, but "certain processes were not followed", adding that they were not taking the matter lightly. 

"It's a very serious matter we know we have to hold people accountable," he said. 

"The liability lies with whoever caused it...and we are going to attach names to that..and those people will be brought to account." Aguma said an external team had been appointed to uncover the details behind the irregular expenditure and who was responsible. 

Portfolio committee chairperson Humphrey Maxegwana accused SABC leadership of being arrogant, referring to a meeting between the public broadcasters executives and MPs in August last year, which was attended by controversial executive Hlaudi Motsoeneng. 

"SABC leadership told us that because you are giving us less than three percent [in funding], there is no reason to account to you...and the statement was wrong because SABC belongs to us, it's not about the 3 percent or less, it's about the mandate given to SABC by South Africans and I think that's where SABC misses the point," he said, chiding SABC executives for showing disrespect towards MPs during the August meeting. 

"SABC accused members (MPs) of not being honourable in the meeting that I was chairing...and I think some of that arrogance is displayed in how they operate in terms of the supply chain management and everything else." 

Aguma was also asked to confirm the status of Motsoeneng, who a court last year ruled cannot hold any position at the SABC since the Public Protector found that he had lied about having matric. 

He replied with a one-liner: "The former COO [chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng] is not at the premises of the SABC because the court judgment said so and he's exercising his rights." 

African News Agency
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