Public Enterprises reports on rocky and controversial year

Minister  Malusi Gigaba, introducing the debate on the department of public enterprises (DPE) 2011/12 annual report, said. “We have a dual role as government departments and utilities because we have to build an understanding of why our state public enterprise components do certain things operationally and why they do certain things as a result of government policy.”

He thus indicated that at times the two may be at variance and underlined DPE’s role in harmonising the two.

He said that one of the biggest issues currently was to monitor the oil and gas companies in order to bring together a common strategic picture and obtain a better picture with data of the situation. This was the last time oil and associated products and gas were mentioned in the entire presentation, matters relating to Eskom and SOEs being of main focus.

Minister Gigaba said “Another issue is that we have had to ask certain utilities to go beyond their own plans in order to meet certain national obligations, especially bearing in mind the infrastructure programmes being embarked upon throughout South Africa.”

Minister Gigaba said that human resources issues have been at the forefront especially bearing in mind the lack of skills acknowledged generally as a national issue and in many cases obstructing SOEs from reaching the objectives set.

On objectives and targets, he was referring the measurement processes set out in the DPE annual report now assessed by the department of performance, monitoring and evaluation (DPME).

He commented that the environment on which SOEs are now operating had changed completely and were continuing to evolve almost daily. He also referred to the challenge of cost increases and marketing conditions that accompanied this.

“DPE has worked closely with all SOE’s to ensure accountability and oversight meetings are held at least twice a month”, he assured parliamentarians. “This is a robust programme in terms of meeting DPME requirements and is geared to see how all SOEs are responding to current conditions”.

But he asked that treasury in future consider an enlarged budget for DPE due to its expanded mandate as “change managers”. The total staff complement of DPE is 189 persons.

DG Tshediso Matona placed each of the DPE portfolios activity in the context of the current economic picture, which he said was important to reflect upon before one considered both the delivery service picture, an internal issue, and also matters of concern which were national issues.

Real fixed capital expenditure by the public corporations gathered great momentum during the period under review as Eskom and Transnet accelerated their spending, he said, and which was “further crowding-in private sector investment”.  He was not asked to explain this by MPs.

Capital investment went up to 560bn; most of the increase of 9% over the previous year of R520bn occurring in the fourth quarter.

During the last year DPE focused on oversight practices;  the business of stabilising the SOEs in terms of the changing economic picture;  and looking at funding options – all the time constantly reminding the SOEs that by driving fixed investment they were unlocking economic growth.

Joint project facilities between all SOEs, particularly in the area of common procurement, had been a focus of DPE during the year, and also the issues of skills training and development. Transnet provided some 3,500 engineering-related learners and enrolled 854 new artisan learners. Eskom trained some 5,400 learners, of which 4,200 had an engineering leaning and 1,066 new artisans. SAA enrolled 254 learners, Denel 229 learners, and Infraco, Safcol and SAX had together added 191 learners.

In terms of delivery service agreements and targets, Tshediso Matona said that DPE had “largely delivered on all shareholder management functions, including signing of shareholder compacts, delivery of strategic intents and quarterly reviews as called for under the PMFA.”

Exceptions where delivery did not take place were that a shareholder contract for Infraco was not signed, since the new board stated it required more time to assess the situation and this was agreed to, and a review of South African Express was not completed on time because of a necessary restatement of financials.

In the area of energy and broadband enterprises, Matona said that achievements were the approval of Eskom’s medium term maintenance plan and implementation of the “keep the lights on” programme.  An R350bn government guarantee was confirmed for Eskom and 76% of the funding for the New Build programme is now in hand. At this stage Eskom had added 535Mw of generation capacity for 2011/12 and 631km of transmission lines.

Transnet for 2011/2012 had upped iron ore transits to 1.22m tons and coal to 1.6m.  Overall efficiency was claimed by DG Matona as being up 17% on the previous year. Procurement of rolling stock had started and a consignment of 95 locomotives.

SAA, which came under considerable questioning by MPs, had worsened insofar as the financial position, although five additional African routes to Ndola, Kigali, Bujumbura, Pointe Noire and Cotonou had been launched and SAA saw such Africa routes as a future area of expansion. Additional African services to Zambia, Zimbabwe and the DRC were working out of King Shaka.

Major problems in an overall sense mainly boiled down to rising fuel costs, increased international airport docking facilities and strong competition, parliamentarians were told.

Both Minister Gigaba and DG Matona responded to a barrage of questions on staffing issues at SAA and loss of market share to other airline competitors but such questions were continued out of parliamentary time and are adequately covered in the media. The minister admitted to MPs that he had been caught short by all the resignations on the SAA board and was “flabbergasted” to hear of some of the reasons.

He said the guarantee which was being obtained for SAA for future funding should, in his opinion, come attached with a requirement for a new strategic plan and a plan for a complete overhaul of the airline. A diagnostic overview of SAA is now being obtained, he said. “A consultant’s report, given to us in September, is being incorporated.”

Minister Gigaba added on the subject of SAA,”We need to work around the clock to achieve a better situation and we are addressing the staff to allay their fears. The long term vision and strategy to be produced must include a procurement plan and a network design incorporating more of Africa.

An experienced task team has to be assembled to facilitate a strategy, not try to do it themselves”, he told parliamentarians in conclusion.  He admitted that there had to be a clearer distinction between the SAA board and its management team.

On general DPE issues, key areas where targets were not achieved by the department, said DG Matona, mainly lay in the area of Denel where the defence plan had not been finalised therefore stultifying any progress; Safcol, although the balance sheet had improved; and Transnet where its branch line roll out programme (on freight issues) had been held back.

The Ngqura container terminal position had not developed, neither had a national freight network plan been concluded.  Also, a major issue was the future of Eskom and the IRP2 plan.

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