SABC gets state lifeline, but long-term picture is bleak
It didn't meet all requirements for a government guarantee, will have to do some work before it gets the entire R6.8bn
The government has thrown the SABC a lifeline after it warned it would not be able to pay staff salaries at the end of this month, parliament heard on Tuesday.
But it looks like the broadcaster will have to go back to the drawing board if it is to receive the total R6.8bn it wants from the state.
Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams announced towards the end of a two-hour meeting with parliament’s portfolio committee that the national treasury will give the broadcaster interim relief by the end of this month. The money, which the SABC had requested to cover its pressing debt, will cover the March salary bill.
“CEO, you can freely say, this money would be able to pay for salaries. If we give you the money, you can freely pay the workers. That’s the one thing that is not nice for people to be working every day and not knowing whether they will get their money,” said Ndabeni, addressing SABC group chief executive Madoda Mxakwe.
In the long term the picture remains bleak.
Ndabeni told journalists after the committee meeting that the SABC had not met all the requirements to receive a government guarantee and that her department would help them in developing a turnaround strategy so that they could meet the requirements for the entire funding. As the financial situation became dire, the SABC requested the treasury for relief to cover urgent debt.
“All we said was that the SABC is unable to function from this date because of A, B, C, D. These things that are in the immediate … we said identify those things and that’s what treasury will be funding for now,” said Ndabeni.
She said salaries were not among those “immediate things” because the SABC said if the department took care of the other things it requested, it would then be able to pay salaries. “We did not request money from treasury to pay salaries,” she said.
Ndabeni revealed that the treasury was not happy with the SABC’s application for government assistance, saying the application did not comply with the requirements for public money to be given to the broadcaster. “If treasury says you have submitted a turnaround strategy but the corporate plan is an old one and it’s not responsive to what we must do, then it’s like you don’t have a turnaround strategy, which is why we made a commitment as the department to say we will get people to assist them in the development of a turnaround strategy so that they can meet the requirements to get the entire funding,” she said.
The SABC management presented a turnaround strategy to the parliamentary committee in September 2018. At the time, the plan was lauded by MPs across the board as substantial and realistic.
An SABC document presented to the parliamentary committee earlier revealed that if the broadcaster did not receive financial assistance from the government, it would not be able to guarantee payment of staff salaries at the end of March, that there was a high and real possibility of a “black-on-air” scenario, and the SABC would be factually insolvent from the end of March.
Until now the broadcaster’s management had had to prioritise salaries over its other commitments. Chief financial officer Yolandi van Biljon said they had to prioritise obligations like payroll, signal and distribution costs over maintenance expenditure and content acquisition.
“We continue to manage it on a day-to-day basis; the payroll remains our priority. Other things are delayed or postponed or we engage with service providers to manage the situation,” she added.