SABC: Portfolio Committee in dereliction of duty - Gavin Davis

DA wants urgent meeting to deal with public broadcaster board vacancies

Portfolio Committee in dereliction of duty over SABC Board Vacancies

The DA has today written to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Communications, Joyce Moloi-Moropa, urging her to schedule a special meeting to deal with the long-standing vacancies on the SABC Board.

It is our contention that, by failing to recommend candidates for appointment to the SABC Board, the Portfolio Committee – under the leadership of Chairperson Moloi-Moropa – is in dereliction of its constitutional duty.

It is important to note that:

- The vacancies in question were triggered by the resignations of Thembinkosi Bonakele, Ellen Tshabalala and Bongani Khumalo;

- Adv. Bonakele resigned over a year ago, in July 2014;

- Ms. Tshabalala and Prof. Khumalo resigned in December 2014 and January 2015 respectively;

- The Portfolio Committee has dragged its feet for nine months on the filling of these vacancies;

- DA representatives on the Portfolio Committee have raised the issue on at least five occasions in recent months; and

- The SABC Board is currently without a quorum as a result of the vacancies, and therefore cannot take legally binding decisions.

The full text of the letter follows below, with links to all supporting documentation: 

15 September 2015

Hon. Joyce Moloi-Moropa MP

Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee of Communications

By email: [email protected]; [email protected] 

Dear Hon. Moloi-Moropa

SABC Board Vacancies

I was dismayed to learn that the Portfolio Committee meeting scheduled for this morning has been postponed.

The parliamentary term has all but come to an end and we are still no closer to filling the SABC Board posts vacated by Thembinkosi Bonakele (resigned in July 2014), Ellen Tshabalala (resigned 17 December 2014) and Bongani Khumalo (resigned 11 January 2015). 

Frankly, our failure to recommend three candidates for appointment to the SABC Board is a dereliction of our duty to the South African public. It is immensely frustrating, not to mention deeply embarrassing, that our Portfolio Committee appears unable to fulfill one of its basic functions.

Over the last three months, I have requested that we deal with the filling of these vacancies on at least five occasions. I would like to set out, for the record, a chronological account of the Committee’s interactions on this matter in the hope that this will galvanise us into action.

On 17 December 2014, the President requested the National Assembly to recommend a suitable candidate to replace Ms. Tshabalala, and the matter was referred to the Portfolio Committee. I have attached the relevant ATC report (no.1 of 23 January) for your convenience.

On 10 March 2015, I wrote the attached letter requesting that we inject more urgency into the process to shortlist candidates to replace Ms. Tshabalala. On 24 March 2015, the Portfolio Committee agreed on the five candidates to be shortlisted. I have attached the relevant Committee minutes for your convenience.

On 26 March 2015 the Portfolio Committee received notice that the interviews of the five shortlisted candidates would take place on 2 April, according to the attached interview schedule. The interviews never took place.

On 27 March 2015, the President requested the National Assembly to recommend two suitable candidates to replace Adv. Bonakele and Prof. Khumalo, and the matter was referred to the Portfolio Committee. I have attached the relevant ATC report (no.36 of 1 April 2015) for your convenience.

On 2 June 2015, the Portfolio Committee met to discuss the shortlisting of candidates for the posts vacated by Adv. Bonakele and Prof. Khumalo. It was agreed that the response to the Portfolio Committee’s advertisement had been poor in terms of both quality and quantity, and that the post should be re-advertised. I have attached minutes of that meeting compiled by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG).

At that meeting, I suggested that the response to the advertisement had been poor because of a perception that SABC Board Members had no security of tenure (as a result of the removal of Hope Zinde, Rachel Kalidass and Ronnie Lubisi from the Board). In the light of this, I suggested that the Portfolio Committee first act on Parliament’s legal opinion that had found these removals to be unlawful so that we could send out a clear signal to prospective Board Members that they would not be arbitrarily and unlawfully removed. The Portfolio Committee, led by the Acting Chairperson, the Hon. Dikeledi Tsotetsi, rejected this proposal.

In that meeting, I also proposed that the Portfolio Committee continue with the process of filling the position vacated by Ellen Tshabalala, since it was just a question of interviewing the five candidates that we had already shortlisted. This proposal was also rejected.

At the first Portfolio Committee Meeting of this term, on 4 August 2015, I proposed that the Committee expedite the filling of the posts vacated by Ms. Tshabalala, Adv. Bonakele and Prof. Bonakele. You replied that you needed to consult first and that you would brief the Committee at the next meeting. I have attached minutes of that meeting compiled by the PMG.

On 18 August 2015, I wrote to you to formally request that we place the filling of the three SABC Board vacancies (the positions vacated by Ms. Tshabalala, Adv. Bonakele and Professor Bonakele) on the Portfolio Committee agenda. You responded on the 19 August as follows: “On the SABC Board matter, I am unable to respond at this point as I am still consulting and have not finalised as yet.” I have attached the correspondence for the sake of convenience.

On 1 September, as the attached PMG minutes show, I again raised the matter of the SABC Board vacancies at our Portfolio Committee meeting. You replied that you were still in the process of consulting the Chair of Chairs, the Hon. Cedric Frolick, on the matter and would report back to the Committee once you had received guidance. 

When we met last week on Tuesday 8 September, I again requested an update on the matter of the three vacancies. Again, as the attached minutes show, you reported that you were in the process of consulting the Chair of Chairs on the matter. 

It has been over a year since Thembinkosi Bonakele resigned from the SABC Board, nine months since Ellen Tshabalala resigned and eight months since the resignation of Bongani Khumalo. We should all be embarrassed at the foot-dragging that has characterised our attempts to fill these vacancies.

Furthermore, in failing to make any progress on filling these vacancies, our Portfolio Committee – under your leadership – is in serious breach of its constitutional obligations. Let me remind you that the SABC Board is currently operating with just six Board Members out of a possible twelve, which is three short of the quorum required for the Board to take legally binding decisions.

I urge you to schedule an urgent special Portfolio Committee meeting to discuss the filling of the three SABC Board vacancies before the parliamentary term ends next week on 28 September. If we do not, I fear that the public’s trust in our ability to fulfill our duties will be irreparably damaged.

Kind regards

Gavin Davis MP

Issued by Gavin Davis, DA Shadow Minister of Communications, 15 September 2015