'I was told to sign off Hlaudi's R500k pay increase'
News / 9 December 2016, 6:58pm / Chantall Presence
Parliament – Controversial South African Broadcasting Corporation executive Hlaudi Motsoeneng had initiated a meeting with one of the Gupta brothers to "pursue a business partnership" with the public broadcaster, MPs heard on Friday.
The "detailed, shocking presentation", as one MP described it, came from former long-time SABC senior staffer Phil Molefe during day three of a parliamentary inquiry into the affairs of the broadcaster. Molefe, who served in many positions in the SABC from 1994 to 2013, testified mostly about his stint as acting group chief executive (CEO) between July 2011 to January 2012 "Several meetings were held, mainly with a Mr Tony Gupta, and the discussions were around signing of a memorandum of understanding between the SABC and The New Age [TNA] media group…," Molefe said.
The meetings discussed the airing of TNA breakfast briefings on the SABC, SABC subscriptions to TNA, and the Gupta-owned media group also "proposed to have a stake in the then proposed SABC news channel," Molefe, said.
"I did not agree to these proposals. These proposals in my view were quite drastic and [came] with significant financial implications. "In the end the decision I took did not go down well with the Gupta brothers," he testified.
Molefe said Motsoeneng then approached him again, asking to take a "softer" stance where the Gupta brothers were concerned. "I refused, pointing out I would not make irregular and unjustifiable decisions," he said. Shortly after this he failed to get the position as permanent CEO, something he believed was directly linked to him refusing Motsoeneng's requests and demands several times.
Molefe's evidence also told MPs the story of how Motsoeneng went from a junior position as a producer at a radio current affairs show in the Free State to the office of the then CEO in 2010. "That appointment, also in my view, was irregular because he was literally airlifted from the Free State, straight parachuted into the office of the group CEO and given the title of general manager in the office of the group CEO and that position did not exist at the time." In 2011, Motsoeneng was again promoted to to goup executive: stakeholder relations and provinces. Molefe said the wife of Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, Phumelele Ntombela-Nzimande, whom he described as "very capable" and "excellent" was pushed aside to make room for Motsoeneng. "She was literally removed from her position to make way for Hlaudi Motsoeneng."
When Molefe arrived at his first board meeting as acting CEO in 2011, Motsoeneng was present, even though only the 12 non-executive directors and three executive directors (CEO, CFO and COO) were legally allowed to be there.
Molefe said when he inquired as to Motsoeneng's presence, then board chairman Ben Ngubane said it was on his prerogative. Motsoeneng's presence at board meetings became the norm.
It was when Molefe went on an overseas business trip to Ghana that Motsoeneng was appointed to act in his place. Within a day of that temporary appointment, he was appointed acting chief operating officer.
Motsoeneng, in late November 2011, had asked Molefe for a R500 000 increase which was denied. Shortly after his refusal, he was summoned to Ngubane's office, given a document okaying the increase and told to sign so the board could approve the pay hike.
Molefe said he dug his heels in as Ngubane tried hard to persuade him. At one stage, according to Molefe, Motsoeneng told Ngubane: "Chair, I told you this is not our man, so I am going to Pretoria tonight."
MPs inquired what Molefe understood Motsoeneng to mean when he said he was going to Pretoria.
"My understand was going to Pretoria was going to the high authority although I did not in any specific terms have an idea what that authority in real terms represented," Molefe said.
Asked whether allegations that Motsoeneng had the political backing of President Jacob Zuma, Molefe said: "Yes, it was raised...it first emerged when the minister [Dina Pule] herself said this is the President's choice in the public space," he said.
"Also in the corridors, it is something that is widely spoken about that there must be a force somewhere, we don't know where, that protects him."
Molefe urged MPs to try and find out, via cellphone records, where Motsoeneng was on the night he said he was going to Pretoria.
"If someone had said I'm going to Pretoria tonight, you can establish the presence of the person with military precision and surely some places there are no shebeens around there to establish that," he said to laughter from MPs.
Earlier on Friday, former board member Krish Naidoo, who announced his resignation during a sitting of a parliamentary committee in October, also took the stand. As far as Naidoo, a lawyer, was concerned Motsoeneng was "squatting" at the SABC because the courts had ruled that his appointment was unlawful.
A decision by the board to move Motsoeneng from COO to group executive for corporate affairs was illegal, he said.
Asked about the 2014 meeting in which Motsoeneng was permanently appointed despite the Public Protector having made a ruling earlier that year that his appointment in the acting position was unlawful because he had lied about his matric qualifications and because his salary increased irregularly from R1.5-million to R2.4-million in one year, Naidoo said the matter had to be put to a vote in an "unusual" meeting of the board.
The board recommended Motsoeneng's appointment after the matter was put to a vote. Six board members were in favour of his appointment, while five voted against. "What made it even more unusual was that apparently the minister [Faith Muthambi] was on the premises of the SABC."
Naidoo said the vote had been concluded at 11pm, and was endorsed by the minister just hours later.
Asked whether Muthambi had applied her mind, Naidoo said: "By 8am the next morning she made a public announcement that Mr Motsoengeng was the COO of the SABC, so she probably considered it in her dreams."
The inquiry continues on Monday with the testimony of former executives and four of the SABC journalists who were sacked and later reinstated due to them voicing opposition to censorship at the broadcaster.