'Suspended' Hlaudi Motsoeneng gets top job at SABC - for nine days

16 November 2014 - 11:45 By Stephan Hofstatter, Mzilikazi Wa Afrika and Piet Rampedi
POWER PLAY: The drama continues at the SABC, where Hlaudi Motsoeneng, top left, has been handed the reins by board chairwoman Ellen Tshabalala, top right - even though both face the chop. Tshabalala's letter, above, empowers Motsoeneng to run the corporation for nine days as acting group CEO
POWER PLAY: The drama continues at the SABC, where Hlaudi Motsoeneng, top left, has been handed the reins by board chairwoman Ellen Tshabalala, top right - even though both face the chop. Tshabalala's letter, above, empowers Motsoeneng to run the corporation for nine days as acting group CEO

Hlaudi Motsoeneng, President Jacob Zuma's man at the SABC, has been handed the reins of the public broadcaster, for nine days - and immediately set about interviewing candidates for key jobs.

Despite a court order and public protector finding stating that Motsoeneng should be suspended for allegedly lying on his CV and unlawfully hiking his own salary, the Sunday Times can reveal that SABC chairwoman Ellen Tshabalala appointed him acting group CEO on Thursday.

Tshabalala also faces the chop after losing a court bid on Wednesday to halt a parliamentary inquiry into whether she lied about her qualifications.

The move comes just in time for the controversial chief operating officer to make three key appointments - to head up news, sport, and stakeholder relations and provinces - for which he interviewed candidates on Thursday and Friday.

He has also been accused of trying to get the SABC's IT and infrastructure division to deviate from normal procurement processes, and is alleged to have recently asked its staff for a list of upcoming contracts.

The job of group executive of stakeholder relations and provinces is expected to go to SABC compliance head Sully Motsweni, a key Motsoeneng ally who is named in the public protector's report for receiving an irregular salary increase from him.

Acting head of sport Bessie Tugwana is tipped for the permanent post and a junior producer on one of the current affairs shows is expected to take over as head of news.

In her letter this week, Tshabalala grants Motsoeneng the authority "to undertake the duties and function of the group chief executive officer" with immediate effect. This is the latest move by Tshabalala and Motsoeneng - both known to be close to Zuma - to consolidate their grip on the SABC.

Based on interviews with current and former SABC board members, executives and managers, Sunday Times reporters have established that:

Tshabalala allegedly interfered in the appointment of a recruitment company to hire a permanent CEO, in a bid to ensure that Frans Matlala, a consultant she brought to the SABC and who was paid more than R300000 a month, will get the top job; and

The SABC has secretly signed a new memorandum of incorporation with the Department of Communications, believed to give Motsoeneng and Tshabalala more power in making key appointments.

Delivered nothing

According to his contract - seen by Sunday Times reporters - Matlala was hired as an "executive director" tasked with setting up a strategic programme management office.

His duties included managing the SABC's "operation clean audit", updating its assets register and speeding up its digital television programme.

His contract stipulated a fee of R2000 an hour, which amounted to more than R300000 a month. In November 2013 he was paid R348000, documents show.

But several senior executives, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Matlala had done little to justify his fees.

"He hasn't been in the office for months and has delivered nothing. Absolutely nothing," said one.

"He went on a lot of trips to Cape Town at Ellen's insistence but he never delivered anything," said another, who said Tshabalala referred to Matlala as "my friend and comrade".

"We did not need Matlala," the executive said. "There are enough people at the SABC perfectly capable of doing his job."

Matlala referred queries to the SABC, which declined to comment on his fee and performance.

Tshabalala is accused of meddling in the process of recruiting a permanent CEO by ensuring the recruitment company handling the job was changed at the eleventh hour. Her alleged interference was raised at a board meeting, according to three senior SABC sources, including one who was at the meeting.

Tshabalala also sat on the panel that interviewed Matlala for the job of permanent CEO. According to the SABC sources, he scored highest on the list of three candidates sent to Communications Minister Faith Muthambi last month.

They are being vetted by the State Security Agency before Muthambi makes the decision.

A 'blatant lie'

Tshabalala confirmed she had recommended to the SABC board that Matlala be hired as a consultant, but denied calling him "my friend and comrade".

"That's a blatant lie. I've got a business relationship with him," she said.

She conceded that a recruitment company hired to handle the CEO appointment had been replaced by the board because it "didn't deliver". But allegations that she had instructed staff on which company should replace it was also "a blatant lie. I was not involved."

Tshabalala sai d it was only the print media that was critical of the SABC. "The public is quite happy with our services."

Motsoeneng stressed that he was appealing the court ruling and public protector's findings.

He denied that being appointed acting CEO would give him any additional power to influence key appointments. He said he merely sat on a panel with human resources head Jabulani Mabaso and acting chief financial officer James Aguma.

"I can't hand-pick people - the panel will choose the best candidate," he said. But he conceded that he and Tshabalala would have the power to veto any recommendation with which they disagreed.

He denied trying to improperly influence IT and infrastructure tenders by asking officials to deviate from normal procurement processes. "I have never asked for a list of contracts. The BAC [bid adjudication committee] are the ones that deal with deviations. I am there to lead the organisation. If you must deviate, then deviate. You need to come up with a policy that is flexible so we can move with speed," he said. "With deviations you still follow due process - it's just a quicker process. I want all of the SABC to have urgency to deliver. Maybe that is making some people panic."