The SABC has lifted the lid on its TV licence collection shambles, telling parliament that it "cleaned up the database", wrote off a staggering R17.7 billion in TV licence fees and that South Africans are sending the SABC expletives telling the broadcaster to "Go …"
The SABC's acting CEO James Aguma revealed that the SABC has written off over R17.7 billion in outstanding SABC TV licence fees.
This staggering write-off comes after the SABC started to try and clean up its records in which it listed dead people, kept demanding exorbitant amounts from people who simply can't pay like old grannies, and even issued licences to people living elsewhere in Africa.
James Aguma told parliament's portfolio committee on communications that the SABC has been "cleaning up the database" since the SABC had no idea who in the country are actually legitimate SABC TV licence holders and who not.
"I took a look at the database. We also had to get in consultants because we didn't have the capacity to do that," said James Aguma.
"They discover that of the R23.8 billion the [SABC TV licence] database was worth, about 1 million accounts adding up to R4 billion were either people who shouldn't have been added as licence holders, deceased people and so on. So we cleaned up that database.”
"That meant that even the notices that were being sent to people, were not accurate.” Aguma said he was told that "you are still billing my dead relative". "We cleaned up that database and the figures dropped from R23.8 billion to R6.1 billion".
Aguma said "400 000 accounts were invalid". "We're saying: How does that happen? Either people were too lazy or too negligent to do that job".
He said "SABC licence fees before the amount was 'cleaned' R12.2 billion. Penalties was R11.6 billion. Bringing the total to R23.8 billion. Now this is from a database that has no integrity."
"So we got a firm to go look at it, they then went in and told us that if you want to clean up that data then you have to write-off 1 million accounts. Some had prescribed, some were deceased, some are foreign nationals."
"Someone from Malawi comes in and buys a TV set and you say he owes you a licence but he doesn't even stay here. So all that was listed in the database. So we are sitting with an amount of R6.1 billion."
Grannies owing thousands in SABC licence fees
"Certain grannies had R15 000 owing – R9 000 in licences, R6 000 in penalties," said James Aguma. "How do you do that? It just didn't make sense. We asked the department [of communications] to write it off."
"We also noticed that in sending out the notices to the public to pay, it was annoying. People would have married and then we're sending them individual notices."
People also couldn't even pay in installments, said James Aguma.
"The response from the public then was very aggressive. They would use expletives, telling us to 'Go elsewhere and so on'. But we have cleaned that up and changed the approach."
"We said instead of sending negative messages, lets send positive messages," said James Aguma.
He says the SABC is now putting in place rewards like online bursaries and airtime for people who pay their SABC TV licence.
"If you have a corrupt database, you're not answering people's telephone calls, you're sending them accounts for deceased people, then there's a problem. It causes a negative story," said James Aguma.
"The issue here is accounting correctly and changing the mindset of the people. That negative perception needs to be dealt with."