No more big spenders, says SABC

By Edwin Naidu Time of article published Aug 10, 2009

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Thelma Melk, the SABC secretary who travelled first-class to Los Angeles on a R175 000 ticket when the corporation was deep in debt, has been forced to put the brakes on the free-spending culture which flourished under the previous board.

The SABC sustained severe losses estimated at R1-billion in the past financial year.

The interim board has demanded senior executives do what they are paid to do and have deliverables on which they can be assessed. As company secretary, Melk is chiefly responsible for ensuring good corporate governance.

On Monday, Melk wrote to SABC senior executives informing them of the interim board's decision to immediately clamp down on spending.

In an e-mail, she told executives that all staff would have to travel economy class on domestic and international flights requiring less than six hours travel and hire cars in the B class, and that no more than two people per division would represent the organisation at events unless approved by the group chief executive.

She said staff members who travelled domestically must stay in bed-and-breakfast establishments at the cheapest rate instead of five-star hotels.

Furthermore, staff could not attend conferences or seminars and they must use video-conference calls to reduce travel costs.

Melk said staff were not allowed to charter aircraft or helicopter flights without the chairman's prior approval. Entertainment and marketing is now not allowed unless it is linked to revenue generation.

Cost-cutting measures have gone further, with newspaper subscriptions to be rationalised and limited to the floor, as opposed to individuals, no television sets in offices unless for operational reasons, and also the cancellation of DStv subscriptions for managers.

Melk said cellphone and data cards would have strictly enforced limits, petrol cards for managers would be withdrawn and replaced with a fuel allowance, and the habit of staff selling leave would be stopped with immediate effect.

She stated the board would also be subject to the same measures and has taken further action by not taking home equipment they are entitled to in terms of policy, nor has the board taken the DStv subscription or television licence subsidies it is entitled to.

Management at the SABC is impressed with the performance of the interim board, particularly its setting an example of not taking "freebies" allowed to it.

Independent television producers said on Thursday they were concerned the corporation was going to slash its spending on local production by R500-million.

"Our industry is facing a bigger crisis than we ever imagined," said the Television Industry Emergency Coalition in a statement.

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