Removal of SABC board members unlawful

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Communications Minister Faith Muthambi interacts with National Youth Development Agency beneficiaries in Nelspruit as part of the Ministerial Imbizo Outreach Programme on 5 September 2014.

 PARLIAMENT – A legal opinion presented to Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications on Tuesday faults Communications Minister Faith Muthambi for allowing the SABC board to remove three of its members in recent months.

Parliamentary legal advisor Nathi Mjenxane told the committee that any process which circumvented the Broadcasting Act, according to which only the president had the power to remove board members, was unlawful.

“Any removal of a SABC board member that is not effected in line with the provisions of the Broadcasting Act as stated above is invalid and therefore unlawful.”

In March, the minister told MPs Muthambi with regard to the removal of Hope Zinde, that the board had the power to remove a member provided it followed the proper procedure. Shortly afterwards, two more board members, Rachel Kalidass and Ronnie Lubisi, were sacked in similar fashion.

But Mjenxane tacitly vindicated the stance of opposition parties that Muthambi had overstepped her powers and held that by law members may be removed by the “appointing body” and only after the board had conducted a due inquiry and found either misconduct or an inability to perform the required functions.

“The SABC board has no legal competency to arbitrarily remove a member of the board,” he said. Mjenxane further stated that the enquiry may not be conducted by the board itself — as Muthambi suggested the board had rightfully done in the case of Zinde.

The minister had justified her position by suggesting that the Companies Act allowed her to write a memorandum of incorporation in terms of which her powers and that of the board are considerably expanded.

On this score too, the legal opinion disagreed with the minister.

Mjenxane told the committee that in case of a contradiction between the two laws, the Broadcasting Act would apply as it was more specific to the subject of the SABC.

The five-page legal opinion was requested by the committee immediately after Muthambi appeared before it on March 17, and was completed in April and handed to chairwoman Joyce Moloi-Morapa, who first sent it to Speaker Baleka Mbete before submitting it to the committee.

On Tuesday, the opposition and ANC MPs were at odds on how to handle its implications.

Democratic Alliance MP Gavin Davis suggested that the committee write to the three board members in question to advise them that they were free to resume their duties. But this was rejected by the chairwoman and the ruling party, who decided that Muthambi should be called to discuss the legal opinion.

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