The SABC would return to profit by 2012 and pay off its debts within two years.

This was said by its interim board chairperson, Irene Charnley, yesterday.

But for this year, she told Parliament's communications committee, the public broadcaster's loss had escalated over the past two months by R120million to R910million.

Charnley, a businesswoman who declined nomination to the SABC permanent board, which will assume office in January, said she believed the caretaker team would hand over a stable corporation ready to grow and pay its way.

She said the broadcaster had cut its operating costs by more than R60million this year by closing unnecessary foreign bureaus and by implementing austerity measures such as curbs on flights, hotel costs and the use of company petrol cards.

Board member Leslie Sedibe told MPs the broadcaster expected also to recover at least R54million of the R88million identified by the auditor-general as payments for services never delivered.

He said substantial direct savings would be achieved this year and next year.

"I'll drop the bombshell: There is a contract that is close to a billion rand that we are contesting. We are not happy with it," he said.

Sedibe and Charnley had declined to give any hint about the nature of the contract they are seeking to revoke.

Sedibe said he did not expect criminal charges to flow from the board's inquiry, which continued late into Monday night. He said the SABC appeared to be overpaying for the services covered in the contract.

The interim SABC board has been investigating scores of contracts signed by SABC officials not authorised to make the deals they made or who signed for amounts beyond their authority.

Disciplinary hearings against senior executives begin tomorrow and more junior staff are being investigated and could also face internal disciplinary action.

Charnley said the board would submit a formal application to the Treasury today for a R1,4billion debt guarantee. She said she expected the request to be approved, which would allow the SABC to borrow in the local debt market to commission new local content.

An interim injection of R200million announced last week by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan would be used to pay for local content already commissioned, she said.

Charnley did not refer to the shock proposal by the Communications Department at the weekend to cancel the TV licence system and impose a personal tax of up to 1percent to fund the SABC.

Sources on the SABC board said the caretaker team was not consulted on the proposal and was unlikely to back it.

Charnley said the board had developed a turnaround strategy that would include the licence fees currently levied and could require at most a slight increase in the government's direct contribution, which currently constitutes 3percent of the corporation's revenue.