None of the graft claims against SABC board and management should be swept under the carpet, writes Business Day in an editorial. Only a full judicial inquiry will be able to sort out the slew of allegations.

Business Day writes in an editorial:

THE government is “deeply concerned” about the current state of the SABC, says President Jacob Zuma . And so it should be — the public broadcaster has been hopelessly mismanaged, is wallowing in debt amounting to hundreds of millions of rands, and remains paralysed by political manoeuvring.

Zuma’s promise that the government will “act quickly when called upon to do so” is only mildly reassuring. Dissolving the SABC board and allowing Parliament to select an interim executive may prevent the institution’s imminent collapse, but it will not ensure that the errors of judgment which brought us to this sorry impasse are not repeated in future.

The ultimate cause of the SABC’s slide into ignominy was political interference in an institution that is supposed to be independent, so while more government intervention is a tempting quick fix, it is not the long-term solution. Parliament is, by definition, a political institution and should therefore not determine the fate of this or any other SABC board. For it to enjoy the confidence of the public and its employees, the process of selecting a new board must be apolitical, with an emphasis on individuals with appropriate skills and understanding of the medium.

Meanwhile, the shenanigans that have taken place at the SABC over the past few years in particular cannot simply be swept under the carpet in the hope of moving on under the direction of a new and improved board. Serious allegations of fraud, corruption and nepotism have been made against past and present managers and these must be properly investigated, as should the question of why the existing board appears to have failed to carry out its fiduciary duties. It is clear that there are political empires within the SABC that will not be broken down merely by shuffling the loungers on the top deck.

Initiated by an interim board recommended by Parliament, such a probe would smack of a witch hunt by the newly dominant faction of the ruling party. If Zuma is genuinely interested in an SABC that serves the interests of all South Africans, rather than being a mere mouthpiece of the government, a full judicial inquiry is now unavoidable.

* This editorial appeared in Business Day on 30 June 2009.