WINDHOEK – National broadcaster NBC yesterday announced a slew of austerity measures – including switching off live cameras from parliament and abolishing four of its four TV channels from today – due to the dire financial situation the company finds itself in.
Startlingly, the corporation is contemplating retrenching 156 of its staff members due to the same reasons.
TV channels NBC 3, 4, 5 and 6, which stream mostly sports, movies and music, are to be abolished, board chairperson Sven Thieme announced late yesterday.
Thieme in the statement yesterday said the funding situation at the public broadcaster has now reached a critical stage where liabilities continuously rise and efforts to contain them are not sustainable.
This, he said, has made it difficult for NBC to honour most of its commitments to creditors and carry out its mandate as per its founding Act and this has led the board of directors to implement measures as of today to contain costs, given that there is no firm commitment from government as a sole shareholder to a long-term solution to the financial situation at the broadcaster.
Thieme said the broadcast hours on NBC 1, the broadcaster’s prime channel, will be reduced to 07h00 – 21h00 daily and the frequency of English television news bulletins to only run once per day - at 20h00.
“All indigenous news bulletins [will] be taken off air, not to be produced at all,” he added.
He added that the live broadcast of parliamentary proceedings on NBC 2 will be discontinued and will only be broadcast in a condensed edition the next day in addition to the news stories.
Similarly, Thieme said NBC 3 (movies), NBC 4 (education) and NBC 6 which is NBC’s Kwese Sports channel and NBC 5 (music) will also be abolished.
“All radio stations will commence broadcast from 07h00 to 21h00 daily,” he added.
Furthermore, he said staff travels from duty stations to assignments will be limited and all foreign travels unless paid for in full for man-hours and all related cost by the initiating entity, will be suspended.
“No live broadcasts will take place unless paid for in full for man-hours and all related cost by the initiating entity,” Thieme said.
The current situation, he said, will also risk limitations in the coverage of the upcoming Presidential and National Assembly elections, unless this production is fully financially supported.
Thieme said the total staff complement at the corporation will be reduced from 569 as at 1 September 2019 to 413.
“This reduction will require an intensive staff reduction exercise by the end of this financial year, meaning that 156 NBC staff members (permanent and short-term contracts) risk losing their jobs,” he said.
He said the engagement process with the union and the Office of the Labour Commissioner will commence effective from today from a process perspective.
“Current employment agreements of the remaining staff complement may be renegotiated with the aim to reduce cost linked to current and future employment benefits structure (leave, medical aid, retirement, insurance,” Thieme said.
Certainly, he said, the proposed measures are not taken lightly and their impact on many stakeholders such as staff and the public, cannot be overemphasised.
However, he noted that as directors, they must at all time act in the best interest of the entity, owing the corporation the duty to act with care, skills and diligence.
“At present, we are unable to vouch that the NBC is able to meet all its liabilities and can continue as a viable business,” he said.
He said the situation has led to some statutory obligations not being able to be complied with, a situation which risks the directors-exposed to criminal, civil and governance liabilities for failing to ensure that the NBC has the required funds to carry out its operations-despite the fact that this factor is mainly outside the control of the directors but determined by the shareholder.
In fact, he said the Namibia Financial Institutions Supervisory Authority (Namfisa) has been planning to refer the NBC to the Prosecutor General to consider prosecution for violation of the Pension Funds Act (Act No. 24 of 1956).
“Our question is, where does this leave government who in the main is responsible for the funding part of the NBC, given its nature of operations,” Thieme questioned.
“Note must be taken that despite all these challenges, the NBC has been generating revenue which for the past three years is hovering above N$100 million per annum,” he added.