Acting SABC chief executive James Aguma  File picture: Itumeleng English/ANA Pictures
Parliament – South African Broadcasting Corporation (CFO) chief financial officer James Aguma landed in hot water with MPs on Wednesday as the parliamentarians described his absence in Parliament as an attempt at dodging accountability for several dodgy contracts worth billions the broadcaster entered into with contractors.

Briefing Parliament's standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo said Aguma, who is acting as the broadcaster's chief executive, had booked off sick this week and had been temporarily replaced by Tselidso Ralithabo.

The minister hinted Aguma was being an obstructionist. MPs were left flabbergasted, with some calling for Aguma to face disciplinary action after they were also told that he had given the board an affidavit, through former controversial chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng's lawyer, indicating he had given the excitable former COO permission for a press conference in April.

During the press conference, Motsoeneng criticised the new board and also took aim at MPs. Aguma had told the portfolio committee on communications in April he had no prior knowledge of the press conference.

MPs called him a liar and asked Dlodlo whether he would be suspended. "I'm not going to call for the suspension of anyone in a public forum," Dlodlo replied.

During the briefing, board members were asked to give MPs an update on irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure of over R5 billion.

It came to light that the SABC would be forking out R25 million to auditing firm SekelaXabiso (SkX) to detect all spending outside the prescripts of the country's finance laws, while the broadcaster had its own internal audit team.

Acting CFO Audrey Raphela told MPs that there was a lack of skills within the broadcaster to detect irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure – something MPs were not buying. "We are totally devastated to hear the amount is R25m... this is a total duplication of the role of AG [auditor general]," said Democratic Alliance MP David Ross.

He added the actions of those who signed off on the SkX deal were criminal "to the extent that is unimaginable".

African National Congress (ANC) MP Vincent Smith, who had led a parliamentary inquiry into the SABC which made several negative findings against Dlodlo's predecessor Faith Muthambi and former board members and managers, warned executives present during Wednesday's meeting that they risked falling foul of the Public Finance Management Act because they failed to prevent an illegal contract from being signed.

"If you continue to pay them, I will call for your dismissal. We must begin to get rid of delinquent directors. You will be the first example of delinquent directors," said Smith.

"This contract is illegal, doesn't hold water and we will take you to task if you spend another cent on it." Smith's comments found favour with ANC MPs Mnyamezeli Booi and Nthabiseng Khounou.

"I agree with my colleagues. Heads have to roll," said Khounou. Booi called for decisive action against those who approved irregular expenditure, including Aguma. "Aguma has run away from this meeting... because he knows it's R25m today...," he said.

"We got nothing personal about Mr Aguma, but if you don't do your work, we have no option but to make you go out."

The interim board of the SABC informed MPs the contract with SkX would form part of an investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), who are looking at several other allegedly dodgy contracts, including those with LornaVision and Vision View.

The interim board's auditing committee chair, Krish Naidoo, said several meeting had been held with the SIU. The unit had agreed to the investigations and expected a presidential proclamation on the SkX deal by next month.

"They gave a two-month timeline to that. Hopefully by August we would get a report from SIU on this particular contract."

MPs were also eager to hear about the "bail-out" government would have to provide the SABC as its cash flow woes continue. Interim board deputy chairman, Mathatha Tsedu, told MPs the proposal submitted to Dlodlo did not ask for a cash injection.

"We have not asked for a bail-out. We asked for a guarantee. If we go to the bank on our own, the bank doesn't trust us anymore," said Tsedu.

Asked to put a figure to the guarantee, he said he was not at liberty to disclose the information as it was still awaiting approval from the minister