Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, who heads the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA).

Johannesburg - The cash-strapped SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is unable to fully function without a government bailout and can only pay staff salaries, board chairman Bongumusa Makhathini told the state capture commission on Monday.

Makhathini said the public broadcaster was unable to turn things around without support from government. The 11 conditions for the bailout set by National Treasury had been met, but not a cent was forthcoming from the State, he said.

"Over 45 per cent of SABC expenditure goes to salaries, which is out of the norm. In the last financial year, we saved a billion rand in costs, due to our turnaround strategy. Twenty-three months later, we haven't received any funding. 

"The outcome of the turnaround strategy enabled us to save at least a billion, and we've been able to attract top talent to come work for the SABC because people are encouraged that things are being turned around....and the fact that we delivered the [May 8] elections that were rated the best coverage shows we are turning around the SABC," said Makhathini.

The public broadcaster awaits a R3,2 billion cash injection from government.

Commission chairman, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo asked Makhathini how such a big public institution operated without money.

"It has been almost two years [since] you presented a turnaround strategy as you said. Has anyone ever told you what the issue was? Or maybe there is a problem with your strategy and you need to change it?"

Makhathini said nothing new or helpful was forthcoming.

"It is very hard. If you check former [interim] board member Mathatha Tsedu's resignation letter, the lack of funding was the main issue...it is very hard, chairperson. The minister [of communications] offered the services of GTAC [Government Technical Advisory Centre, or GTAC, an agency of the national Treasury] to help. They are due to present their strategy next week, but they haven't come up with anything new. 

"They've actually endorsed our strategy. The reason we are able to operate is because of our strategy, advertisers who are with us despite the difficult position and workers who continue to come in and deliver despite the tough environment."

Makhathini added that the SABC was at the centre of broadcasting in the country, and businesses were affected negatively because they were not receiving payments for services rendered.

"Reasonably and logically, one would expect if we, say for example, met only 50 per cent of conditions [set by Treasury], we should be given 50 per cent of that [bailout] money, but we haven't received a cent. People's lives are at risk as businesses are shutting down; SABC employees are in and out of hospital because we cannot maintain building safety standards...it  tells a lot. The only thing we are able to pay is our staff and nothing else. SABC plays an important role in the entire broadcast industry. If the SABC goes down, the repercussions are dire."

Zondo said he couldn't understand why a decision on whether the SABC should get a bailout or not was not being made by those in charge.

"I don't know why people appointed wouldn't decide on this. An important public institution waits for a long time with no decision while small businesses are affected in a big way, is such a concern. Why would one be put in leadership but can't make decisions?" asked Zondo.

Earlier, Makhathini testified that the board, which took over in October 2017, worked tirelessly on implementing investigative reports, including that of the public protector and parliament's committee, which investigated the problems plaguing the broadcaster.  

Previous boards had allowed impunity and poor governance to continue, leaving the SABC in a worse situation, said Makhathini.

"The reality is that the situation the SABC finds itself in today is as a result of all these lapses that happened during previous years. There was a failure by previous boards and management to do what was responsible and in line with the mandate of SABC in terms of adhering to policies and prudence in a manner in which resources were used...it was all compromised. What we had to do was implement corrective measures."

"There appears to be flouting of government rules, laws and codes, including a disregard of court and Icasa outcomes and that from the public protector. This collective conduct rendered SABC potentially financially unsustainable due to mismanagement, editorial interference and purging of highly qualified and experienced senior staff members in violation of recruitment procedures. Purged staff have been replaced without due consideration for or compliance with SABC recruitment and human resources policies."

African News Agency (ANA)