NEWS

Minister told SABC board to appoint Motsoeneng permanently as COO, MPs hear

09/12/2016 06:32 SAST | Updated 09/12/2016 06:33 SAST

A former SABC board member has told Parliament's ad hoc committee that Communications Minister Faith Muthambi recommended in 2014 that acting COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng's post be made permanent.

Ronnie Lubisi testified that Muthambi, at her first meeting with the board, urged them to appoint Motsoeneng permanently, shortly after her appointment in July 2014.

She said he had been "acting for too long".

This despite a damning public protector report that found Motsoeneng had lied about his qualifications.

Lubisi was the first witness on Thursday to appear before the ad hoc committee looking into the fitness of the SABC board.

He said he was kicked off the SABC board for raising his discomfort over the board's treatment of the Public Protector report, When Governance and Ethics Fail.

He testified under oath that he was incorrectly cited for having a "conflict of interest" after raising concerns with the way in which the board was ignoring the public protector's 2014 report.

"My issue was that we were [still] busy dealing with the public protector's report, which they did not want to implement," Lubisi told the committee.

The Public Protector's report had recommended Motsoeneng be placed on disciplinary review for fraud.

Lubisi was chairperson of the SABC's internal audit committee. In that capacity, he raised concerns at the meeting that the Public Protector's report needed to be dealt with before appointing Motsoeneng permanently.

'Causing problems'

"They attacked me as the chairperson of the audit committee, and claimed the audit committee had an agenda," he continued.

"It was put as if I'm the only member of the audit committee."

He said former CEO Ellen Tshabalala and Motsoeneng had said at the meeting that Lubisi and one other board member, Professor Bongani Khumalo, were "causing problems" for the board.

They had also arrived late with Muthambi, and appeared to have "discussed the issue before the time".

He said he wrote to the board afterwards to ask what he was doing wrong, and asked them to make submissions on his alleged "agenda". None of the board members responded, so he assumed there was no problem.

"After that meeting, nothing happened. The chairperson, Ms Tshabalala, was taken out and Mr Maguvhe was appointed as acting chairperson."

Motsoeneng was appointed permanently as COO at a special board meeting that month.

Lubisi and two other board members had voted against it, saying the SABC's recruitment policies were not followed.

He said the minister was in the building while the board was voting on his appointment.

'Conflict of interest' charges

Lubisi then described how, in February 2015, he received two separate letters from Maguvhe, recommending he be removed as chairperson of the audit committee due to a "conflict of interest".

Two other board members also received letters.

The allegation was that Lubisi was serving as an auditor for two separate companies, a security company named Mafoko and another named Harambe, and that the broadcaster was entering into pending deals with them.

Lubisi, therefore, could not serve on both.

"The committee resolved that they should inform me that I was an auditor in those companies. They also sent me a copy of the conflict of interest policy and the code of ethics.

"But I did not audit those two companies. I didn't know them.

"In those two I was listed there, but I've never audited them."

Dismissed from the board

Lubisi said he followed up with the two companies involved to get written proof that he had never worked with either of them, which he received in writing.

He also asked company secretary Theresa Geldenhuys to set up a meeting with the board, but she seemingly was not informed about what the meeting was about.

He had until the March 9 to respond to Maguvhe's letter.

"On 10 March, the governance and nominations committee said that, due to the fact that I didn't respond, we recommend now to the board that I be removed as the chairperson of the audit committee," he said.

He then sent the evidence from the two companies to the board in writing, and asked them to make submissions, but none responded.

He said he also wrote to Parliament's portfolio committee on communications, but they had "left him hanging".

"We then received a notice of a special board meeting. There were three of us recommended to be taken out as board members."

The board voted, and their removal was approved that month. The other two members were late SABC journalist Hope Zinde, and Rachel Kalinda.

Lubisi is currently engaged in litigation against the broadcaster.