The SOS Coalition’s alarmed by suggestion that an interim SABC Board may be appointed. The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Board‘s term ends in 6 days on the 15 of October. The SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition is extremely concerned at reports that Parliament is considering appointing an interim Board.
Present circumstances do not warrant an appointment of an interim Board.
THE LEGAL CASE AGAINST THE APPOINTMENT OF AN INTERIM BOARD
The appointment of an interim Board is an unusual circumstance and the rationales for it and the processes for appointing are set out in law in section 15A(3) of the Broadcasting Act, 1999.
The only circumstance in which an interim board can be appointed by Parliament is set out in section 15A(3) read with section 15A(1)(b) and 15A(2) of the Broadcasting Act, namely, :
So, given that the existing Board is in place and operational, the Board has not been dissolved and not a single board member has been found to have been guilty of misconduct or unable to perform his or her functions, there is no basis for the appointment of an Interim Board. The Act does not make any allowance for the appointment of an interim Board because parliament has failed to do its job in time.
Not only has the existing Board not been dissolved, no enquiry into the Board’s dissolution has even been mooted by Parliament, much less been finalised or even undertaken.
Further, the current SABC Board is the first in decades to finish its term. Previous boards ended in mayhem featuring mass resignations, or dissolution by Parliament, after such an enquiry, dissolution recommendation resolution etc.
The bottom line is that the Portfolio Committee on Communications (PCC) has been aware, for years now, that the term of office for the current Board ends on 15 October 2022, and it, of course, should have commenced the process well in advance.
The public has been involved in the latest Board appointment process through making nominations, and making submissions on the shortlisted candidates, and Parliament has completed all of the interviews. There is no reason why Parliament cannot simply finish the job and make recommendations to the President who in turn should make his choice of Board members from list of recommended candidates.
It is entirely unlawful for Parliament to now try to circumvent the legislated process set out for board appointments in section 13 of the Broadcasting Act.
oard appointments in section 13 of the Broadcasting Act.
The actual reason for the proposed appointment has nothing to do with the dissolution of the existing Board, it is the fact that the State Security Agency (SSA) is apparently unable to vet candidates timeously. In addition to the unlawfulness of an interim board at this point, it also doesn’t help to avoid the reality that those members would also have to be subjected to SSA clearance. We are strongly opposed to the idea of an interim Board. Rather, what should be driving discussions is strategic engagements with SSA, alerting it to the importance and urgency of this vetting and requesting that it be prioritised.
Even so, this is not a reason to delay the Board appointments in accordance with the requirements of the Broadcasting Act. Doubtless, if any appointed Board member is found to pose a threat to national security risk thereafter, Parliament can take the necessary steps to remove said Board member in accordance with the provisions of section 15(1) of the Broadcasting Act.
The SSA vetting delay seems all the more unlikely given recent events with the Eskom board where reshuffling discussions started about two weeks ago, and a week after PCC had wrapped up its Board interviews, the members underwent vetting and were successfully appointed. If it could be done in a hurry with Eskom, why can the same not occur with the SABC Board? Failure to justify or explain gives credence to rumours of politically orchestrated delay tactics with the aim of manipulating the names for the SABC Board that are to be recommended to National Assembly.
It is indisputable that the many hurdles must be laid at the door of the PCC. SOS has repeatedly raised concerns about the role oversight structures played in the demise of the SABC. The PCC’s failure to run a smooth appointment process and appoint a suitable Board within the prescribed timeframe, is yet another example.
SOS wrote to the Committee on 23 June 2022, enquiring about the public call for nominations that had not yet commenced and voicing out concerns about a rushed and compromised process, and possibility of missing the deadline. Public nominations only closed in August, hence we blame the Committee for waiting to be reminded of its duties and, even then, being tardy in carrying them out.
The future of the SABC and its sustainability is, therefore, a core focus of our work and we will continue to fight for the SABC and to call on oversight structures to play a key supporting role to enable the SABC to fulfil its legislative and constitutional mandate. The SABC continues to face challenges, particularly given its recent poor financial performance, the loss of R201 million in 2021/2022 financial year. It needs the continued stability of a properly constituted Board.
The SOS Coalition calls for a timeous appointment of an SABC Board, made up of members of the best possible calibre and skillset, that will work towards the continued stabilisation of the SABC by continuing the turn-around initiated by the current Board and ensuring that its role as a public institution supporting democracy is protected.
SOS recommends that the Committee proceeds to submit the recommended names to the National Assembly and on to the Presidency based on the interviews and public submissions. Should the vetting information indicate unsuitability of some candidates and necessitate their emoval, only those affected candidates will be replaced – but the SABC will have a Board to carry forward the baton of good governance.
SOS further calls on the Committee to take very seriously the important role it plays in supporting the SABC and undertake to improve its internal process and structures to better oversee and meet the needs of our national public broadcaster.
For more information, please contact:
Uyanda Siyotula (National Coordinator)