The big SA cabinet crunch

Editorial….

Cabinet hopes are Brown, Ramaphosa, Gordhan…..

Public Enterprises Minister, Lynne Brown, reports that she is to introduce as a cabinet draft, the Lynne BrownShareholder Management Bill as part of a plan to introduce leadership ability and some form of continuity for the state owned enterprises (SOCs) under her control.   This includes Eskom, Transnet, Denel, SA Express, Alexkor and Safcol.

We hope this is the start of something big.

The last few weeks have been an exercise in disaster, so let’s try and take a positive spin on things from a parliamentary viewpoint. Whilst troubled SAA is now an independent, falling under National Treasury and if President Zuma minds his own business, Minister Pravin Gordhan is to sort out National Treasury itself and also the troubled SARS, which he re-designed in the first place and which became such a success working with Trevor Manuel.

More problem children

Meanwhile, PetroSA is in real deep water falling, the entity falling under Central Energy Fund (CEF) reporting to Department and Energy (DOE). With Minister Joemat-Pettersson not back from COP21 or wherever, the country still faces some serious energy issues. But at least the PetroSA problem is now all in the open, with somebody obviously having to take over the reins and the mess, probably CEF itself.
Oddly enough there are people in CEF who know exactly what the problem is but once again politicians pushed experts in the wrong direction, it appears.

In addition, the Passenger Rail Association (PRASA) is very much on the slippery slope and, together with SANRAL, both present highly contentious transport issues which are now in the hands of Minister Cyril Ramaphosa to untangle. Troubling times indeed.

Public Enterprises comes to the party

lyne brown 2Now Minister Lynne Brown appears to be getting the senior management of her portfolio under control and whilst we could still have shutdowns at Eskom she says, because “machines can break down unexpectedly”, the leadership is there she says, as is the case with her Denel.
Lynne Brown recently reported that there are around 700 SOCs, an extraordinary fact, but bearing in mind the fact that South Africa is reputed to have the largest head count in public service per population count, this would appear quite possible.

On the road again

With Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa chairing an Integrated Marketing Committee, which will hopefullyramaphosa designate which entities should remain SOCs and those which should be absorbed back into their relevant departments, there appears some hope with regard to containing the ballooning public service machine which has characterised President Zuma’s presidency.

Hands off appointments

An essential element of Minister Lynne Brown’s plan is to remove the appointment to the boards of the entities under her domain away from cabinet and Ministers, including herself, to a shareholder management team that creates a leadership operational plan for all SOCs and appoints, through due process, a tightly run appointment book.

A brave proposition indeed but it does indicate that Minister Brown is her own person.

Whilst the proposals might look like state control, in fact it is a clear signal that government may have heard the message that the current system of Ministers appointing board members is not working, is open to abuse and what is worse, the consequent “jobs for the boys” system results in taxpayer’s money being thrown away through bad management, corruption and what the auditor general calls “useless and wasteful expenditure”.

On the drawing board

The Shareholder Management Bill, Minister Brown said in Johannesburg, will first need a concept paper (perhaps she means a White Paper) and such could be released after the February Cabinet Lekgotla in February, with an intention of introducing such as system by the end of 2016.

Whilst it is pretty obvious who should not be on such an appointment team, the plan begs the question of will be chosen to occupy such critical posts but it is far too early to cogitate on this one. With Ministers changing their portfolios as if it was a game of musical chairs, there is reason to congratulate Minister Brown on the statement that she herself as a Minister would be excluded from making appointments in her own SOCs.

Leadership needed

During the same address, she added that Eskom was “not out of the woods” yet and there was still not sufficient electricity to facilitate economic growth, but the leadership issue was being addressed satisfactorily with the right people being appointed. Brown said none of the entities under her control “would be approaching the National Treasury with begging bowls”.

Perhaps this is the principle being adopted behind the scenes with the SABC, which whilst not affecting business and industry other than travel costs, unlike trade and investment hurdles and industrial strategic changes, SABC is threatened by the possibility of being returned to its parent government department which at first glance appeared to be a move by President Zuma to gain control of state financed media, Mugabe style.

However, in a broad sense it seems to be Minister Brown’s idea that appointments to the top echelons running the country should be as a result of finding those qualified to do so rather than being handled by totally unqualified persons, some with solicitous intent, and others trying to retain power with dubious appointments such as having friends, in the case of the SABC, to broadcast “the truth” to specific rural audiences.

Unprincipled governance remains the one of the biggest problems facing South Africa, intrinsically coupled to (and in some cases causing} lack of growth and lack of jobs.

Croneyism

Bad appointments by Ministers and of Ministers has been the cornerstone of control by patronage, the route for corruption and the reason for sheer bad management, a practice now openly exposed but not yet controlled by any means. From a parliamentary viewpoint, let us leave it there. The rest is being said by the media but most MPs when they return to Parliament in late January 2016 will have realized that sheer stupidity can ruin their own futures and their pensions.

But if Minister Lynne Brown, in her practical and down to earth manner, can come up with the remarkable idea of Cabinet Ministers, hopefully including the Presidency as well, not interfering in who does what as far as expertise is concerned, then perhaps this can be applied to all 47 government departments and agencies.

One small step

No doubt as far as confirmation of an appointment, the Minister involved may still have to “approve” such a decision but it is worth watching the outcome of the debate on the shortly-to-be tabled Broadcasting Bill, if only to see if the appointment of inept senior appointments can be halted or reversed.

What has come out of the Eskom, PRASA and PetroSA issues is that a bad leader with no qualification or right to be in a position of leadership, or worse led by one who has supplied fraudulent qualifications, leads to frustration and anger by those with genuine skills and high academic qualifications lower down the ladder at the coalface. This is in the space of government service where technical skills are located and badly needed.

We hope Minister Lynne Brown has more of these “eureka” moments.

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