Communications Minister Faith Muthambi has a lot to answer for after she failed to rein in a rebellious SABC board, but the DA is accusing the ANC of closing ranks around her so she avoids sanction.
Parliament’s ad hoc committee, convened to probe the now dissolved SABC board’s fitness to oversee the functioning of the national broadcaster, on Friday appeared to agree unanimously that Muthambi had a part to play in the deterioration.
Even though the DA staged an earlier walkout of the committee’s hearing, ANC members and smaller opposition party MPs agreed that Muthambi had failed to act to bring the board in line.
The DA’s walkout was prompted by the committee’s decision to adopt its draft report without recommendations.
The recommendations in Thursday’s draft report included that Muthambi be fired and investigated by the public protector for violating parliament’s ethics code. In addition, criminal charges had to be brought against her.
The committee was scathing of her failure to hold the SABC accountable, but didn’t recommend to the National Assembly that she be sanctioned.
MPs argued that she failed to properly account to parliament regarding her role in allowing the SABC to continue on a downward spiral.
Despite court rulings that Hlaudi Motsoeneng must be removed from his position, Muthambi allegedly aided and abetted his return to an executive position only days after he was removed as acting chief operating officer.
Committee member Fana Mokoena, representing the Economic Freedom Fighters, on Friday argued that Muthambi shirked her legal responsibility to hold the SABC accountable for a R100 million procurement-related loss.
ANC MP Juli Kilian said the board’s actions were a “blatant contempt for parliamentary process”.
“The board treated parliament with disrespect and no … serious action was taken by the minister.”
It’s been suggested that sanctions, possibly even criminal charges, be laid against those who contradicted themselves in their testimony.
Democratic Alliance MPs Phumzile van Damme and Mike Waters left the committee before the report was adopted in protest because the party insisted that the report only be signed off with the recommendations included.
Parliamentary legal advisers have said that without input from affected parties who had testified, there may be a legal challenge and the recommendations may suggest bias.
It was agreed by the remaining committee members that those who testified or were mentioned during the hearings, as well as the public, be given until February 17 to respond to the observations. The committee may, however, start deliberating on input from February 14.
After February 22, the committee has to conclude its work and submit its report, including the recommendations, to the National Assembly by February 28.
“We have done the best that we can. We now have to defend our position to parliament,” said chairperson Vincent Smith.
Van Damme said that, at the last minute, the ANC and some other opposition parties had derailed the process by adopting a report that didn’t hold anyone accountable.
The DA has repeatedly charged that the minister, the board and the portfolio on committee on communications, which it claimed did not execute its oversight role to hold the SABC to account, had failed.
Van Damme said the “U-turn by the ANC” happened after the DA began pushing for tough recommendations.
On Thursday, she suggested that, at the 11th hour, the majority party in parliament had bent to pressure from its principals at Luthuli House.