A director of the cash-strapped Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) still received lucrative payments for three years after the network’s overseas funding had been stopped.
This was revealed during a day of drama yesterday when the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) conducted a hearing into the renewal of the Bhisho-based TBN’s community television broadcasting licence.
Details about the remuneration to Pastor Bernard Roebert surfaced when Icasa licensing officer Victor Grootboom questioned TBN over its claim that it has suffered financially since Icasa in 2003 stopped the funding it received from its mother organisation in the United States.
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Grootboom referred to TBN’s statutes, which stipulated that TBN directors would receive no remuneration, except for reimbursement for travelling and subsistence allowances.
Grootboom said from its financial statements, however, it showed that it paid R328000 in 2003, R445000 in 2004 and almost R470000 in 2005 to one of the directors.
After consulting with the TBN panel, Advocate Keith Matthee, who represented TBN at the hearing, said the monies had been paid to Bernard Roebert, who was a director but also the station manager.
He said the payments, which formed part of the annual R1 million salary bill of TBN, had been the salaries for Roebert’s position as station manager. Roebert, who has since resigned as station manager, has been involved with TBN since 1987.
The hearing, which was scheduled for a day, almost came to a postponement after Matthee accused Icasa of failing to inform TBN with which part, if any, of its renewal application it had problems.
Matthee said of particular concern to TBN was whether Icasa accepted that the application included an expansion of TBN’s broadcast area to the Nelson Mandela Metropole (NNM).
Since 1996 Icasa, and the authority before it, have refused an expansion of TBN’s network to include the NNM.
Matthee said TBN was at a financial crossroad after Icasa earlier ruled that it not could derive any funds from overseas. “TBN now has to access money from its reserve funds to cover its running costs,” he said.
He said since 2003, when its overseas funding was stopped, TBN has had to rely solely on its South African support services.
He said TBN served the poorest of the poor areas and in some areas, such as Cala and Mount Fletcher, it was unable to operate due to its financial constraints.
However, Grootboom said that TBN’s financial statement in 2004 reflected that after the financial support from the TBN group in the US was stopped, TBN’s income rose to R1,9m compared to R1,4m in 2003. In 2005 the statement reflected a total income of R3,1m.
Bernard Roebert’s son, pastor Andre Roebert, whose River Ministries controlled TBN, said these increases were as a result of a major fundraising event. “Subsequently that (the fundraising event) has ceased,” he said.
Roebert however confirmed that basic donations last year also increased “but we still do not break even”.
Roebert said the inclusion of the NMM would open the market for fundraising to TBN. He said the broadcaster was also considering the sale of advertisements in future.
At one stage, Matthee accused Icasa of neglecting its central function to assist community broadcasters by the various conditions it raised. He said instead Icasa “ambushed” the broadcasters, to which Icasa chairperson Zolisa Masiza strongly objected
In another incident during a probe of whether TBN complied with its existing licence conditions, newly appointed Icasa councillor Marcia Socikwa caused great consternation when she described the English language as “foreign”.
Socikwa was questioning TBN’s programme allocation for the various language groups.
“I think you need to review your language policy,” she said.
Matthee immediately objected and called Socikwa’s remark an insult to English, which was one of the 11 official languages.
He said English was not a foreign language to the many rural people to which TBN broadcast. “The fact that someone is poor does not mean English is foreign to them.”
However, Socikwa repeated her statement. In reply, Matthee said for 20 years 80 percent of TBN’s viewers, who were black, have loyally continued to support the network.
Matthee said he would also reply in writing to Icasa to clear up a number of other issues the communications authority has raised.
Masiza told the Daily Dispatch that the panel would report back to Icasa for its decision on TBN’s application.