The Broadcasting Act provides for Presidential appointment to the Board on the advice of the National Assembly (NA). The NA has conducted its work diligently, in a commendable manner, exemplifying the values of openness and transparency as enshrined in the Constitution. The President is required to make an appointment after 21 days of receiving a Parliamentary recommendation. Reports have attributed this delay to the President applying his mind before making the appointments. Whist this is important, it is worth noting that the provisions of the Act do not require the President to apply his mind. They merely bestow upon him a ceremonial responsibility to act on the due diligence of Parliament. In any case, the President has had almost a month during which he could have applied his mind and acted. He has not. It is also worth noting that when given recommendations for the Interim Board, he made his appointment before the 21-day period lapsed. Moreover, at this point, five of the recommended names are those of the Interim Board members. This leaves only seven new individuals to verify. Surely 21 days is sufficient to conduct checks on such a number.
The Presidency has cited a second round of security checks as another reason for the delay. It is common knowledge that the NA must conduct these checks prior to recommendation. Another round of verification may be considered unnecessary and lends credibility to a claim of delay tactics on the part of the Presidency.
This failure is in direct contravention of the President’s constitutional duties. Section 84 empowers him to make appointments as required by legislation and the Constitution. In this case – both are applicable. The delay has effectively stalled progress at the Broadcaster. In the absence of a Board, leadership falls to the three acting senior executives. In such uncertain times, where these executives themselves are in acting roles, the need to appoint the Board cannot be overly stressed. It seems extremely short-sighted and counterproductive to throw the SABC into uncertainty so soon after the chaos that has plagued it so far. Without a quorate Board, the SABC cannot function.
To add to this disconcerting situation, the President called a meeting with staffers from the SABC, including the acting head of news and the national news editor, on Monday, 2 October. The timing of this meeting is suspicious, especially considering the innumerable reports of capture at multiple State-Owned Entities (SOEs), including – until recently – the SABC.
It is important for institutions such as the Public Broadcaster to not only function without undue influence, but to also appear to do so. Regardless of the purpose of the meeting, its occurrence and the timing has the potential to, and has raised suspicions of, re-capture. Any suggestion of interference at this point diminishes faith in the SABC. And rightly so. It is odd that the President cannot appoint Board members – a fairly procedural task – but can make the time to meet with SABC staff.
The President must appoint a Board for the SABC, or risk dismantling the hard work put in by the Interim Board. The Broadcaster already has its fair share of obstacles to overcome without adding good governance to the list.
By Rebecca Sibanda: Legal Assistant, Centre for Constitutional Rights