Digital TV switchover agency scrutinised by SA Parliament

Rebecca Hawkes ©RapidTVNews | 16-10-2011

The South African government agency facing allegations of fraud and mismanagement over its part in the country's transition to digital terrestrial television (DTV) has been told by Parliament to stop playing politics and wasting taxpayers' money, ahead of a meeting with MPs on Thursday (20 October).
The board members of the Universal Services and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Communication in Cape Town on Friday (14 October) but were unable to explain their failure to manage the agency, according to The Times of South Africa.
USAASA chief executive Phineas Moleele was suspended by the board last week, charged with failure to cooperate with an investigation into its alleged fraudulent activities.
His suspension follows that of chief financial officer Andrew Hlubi, business development officer Molefi Mollo, and supply chain manager Archie Mbatha, after allegations arose last month about the misappropriation of R29 million within UCASSA.
An internal audit allegedly uncovered payments worth millions of rand to companies which had not completed projects, nor been contracted to do so.
It has since emerged that the signature of a board member, Vusi Ngcobo, was forged to approve a tender of R12 million, according to The Sunday Times of South Africa.
On Friday, ANC MP Stella Ndabeni said the USAASA had failed to deliver on its mandate to oversee the country's smooth migration from analogue to DTV because of factional battles within its board.
"We are tired of stories. We don't want stories. We don't want to know about your factions. All we sent you to do in USAASA is governance," Ndabeni is reported as saying by The Sunday Times. "If you think you can play politics, you must come and join us. We are not going to entertain politics from non-politicians ... that we are not going to appreciate. Go and play politics outside.
"You have delayed us, you have wasted taxpayers' money, you slept over here, you flew all the way [from Johannesburg], you spend money and yet you were not prepared."
Chairman of the USAASA board Louis Moahlodi told the committee he knew nothing of most of the questions asked of him, having missed a number of key board meetings. The tension between him and the other members was reportedly evident during the Portfolio Committee hearing.
The suspended officials have reportedly challenged the USAASA board to prove the allegations against them.
"We have received suspension letters that do not state the charges or the wrongdoing on our part. We want to see the audit report that has the allegations against us, because we were never interviewed at the time the investigation was done," Mollo is quoted as saying in The Sunday Times.
Moahlodi has been instructed to prepare for another meeting with the committee on Thursday.