President Cyril Ramaphosa and finance minister Tito Mboweni at the budget speech. Picture: ALON SKUY
President Cyril Ramaphosa and finance minister Tito Mboweni at the budget speech. Picture: ALON SKUY

On Wednesday, finance minister Tito Mboweni suggested that the cash strapped SABC should seriously consider restructuring its operations, including merging radio stations and selling off some of its assets.

During a media briefing in parliament before delivering his budget speech, Mboweni revealed that the broke public broadcaster has requested R6.8bn from government.  

Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane is still engaged in talks with SABC executives, said Mboweni. The broadcaster had previously requested a R3bn government guarantee to stay afloat. “But if you grant the request, the money will have to come from somewhere, from another budget allocation … whatever we give them we should agree on a chief restructuring officer [to be deployed] to Auckland Park [SABC headquarters].”

The minister said deploying a chief restructuring officer was akin to placing the institution under curatorship. “My advice to the SABC is to stay far away from National Treasury. But we will find a way to help them,” said Mboweni.

He pointed out that the SABC has too many radio stations, some of which duplicate each other, saying, “We need to have a conversation about why they have so many duplications.” 

The SABC, which is in dire financial straits, sank into a deeper crisis late in 2018 when four directors resigned, leaving the board without the quorum required to make decisions. The board is meant to have 12 members and needs nine, including the CEO, CFO and COO, to form a quorum.

The resignation of the four directors — veteran journalists Mathatha Tsedu and John Matisonn, business leader Khanyisile Kweyama and attorney Krish Naidoo — came as the SABC was planning to  retrench about 2,200 permanent and freelance staff — nearly 40% of its staff complement — in an attempt to salvage its finances.

They quit after a scathing letter by communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams in which she accused the non-executive directors of not acting in the best interest of the public broadcaster as they pressed on with retrenchments.

The board already had four vacancies following the resignations earlier in 2018 of Rachel Kalidass, Febe Potgieter-Gqubule and Victor Rambau; Nomvuyiso Batyi was nominated by the portfolio committee but withdrew.

The SABC has since halted the retrenchments pending a skills audit. However, it continues to struggle to pay its creditors and warned in November 2018 that it would not be able to pay some salaries unless it secured a government guarantee. Parliament hopes to finalise the shortlisting process for the vacant board positions before the end of March.

The SABC spends more than R3bn a year on the salaries for its 3,000 permanent employees. It expects a net loss of R805m in the 2018/2019 financial year, if cost-cutting measures are not implemented.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za