Party loyalty vs ability
SA’s hallowed institutions and state-owned companies have been blighted by incompetent management and corruption, but they can be fixed
Several institutions in the South African criminal justice system and a string of state-owned companies constitute a grave corruption risk with far-reaching consequences for law enforcement and the economy.
Ultimate responsibility for this calamitous state of affairs must be laid at the door of those in party political and government corridors of power – for the creators of some of the most uninspired board and executive appointments in some of these institutions.
It is worth noting that none of the directors of the post-1994 National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) have yet been able to serve their 10-year term in office. Bulelani Ngcuka, the first of its directors, and his successor, Vusi Pikoli, fell foul of the political hurricanes of the time. The controversy surrounding the decision to prosecute President Jacob Zuma on corruption charges claimed Ngcuka’s scalp.
For his part, then president Thabo Mbeki suspended Pikoli for going ahead with the prosecution of then national commissioner Jackie Selebi. Pikoli was subsequently declared fit for office by the Frene Ginwala Inquiry and reinstated. Then interim president Kgalema Motlanthe fired him anyway.
President Zuma appointed Menzi Simelane as director of the NPA in 2009, but was forced by the courts to reverse this decision.
Mxolisi Nxasana, appointed in October 2013, later faced an inquiry instituted by the president “to assess his fitness to hold such office”. This volte-face was attributed to the discovery that Nxasana failed to disclose his previous brushes with the law. Nxasana successfully challenged the president’s reasons for the suspension, which resulted in a settlement, the terms of which remain secret. Nxasana left office after a two-year tenure – and by no means a poor man. And the president adulated him as “professionally competent with the requisite experience and integrity to hold a senior position”. The restiveness at the NPA has occurred across the board. Unseemly bickering, back-stabbing, factional duels among senior officials and arrest warrants have been the order of the day. The conduct of two officers was such that it had to be referred to the General Council of the Bar to decide if these individuals should be struck off the roll.
There has also been instability at the SA Police Service (SAPS). I am loath to speak ill of the dead, even when it comes to telling hurtful truths. Suffice to say that the late Jackie Selebi left the police service in disgrace, incidentally not before ordering the shutdown of the anticorruption unit. He also resigned as head of Interpol. Selebi was accused of corruption, sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment and lost his appeal in court.
The feisty and ebullient General Bheki Cele lasted all of three years before he was dismissed by the president on the recommendations of a board of inquiry mandated to establish whether he “had acted corruptly, dishonestly or with an undisclosed conflict of interest” in relation to two police lease deals.
General Riah Phiyega succeeded Cele in June 2012. Three years on, and persistent accusations in between, Phiyega is dealing with the Marikana Commission of Inquiry recommendations that the president institute an inquiry into her fitness to hold office. This was based on a finding that she was party to a decision to mislead the commission on how it came about that the “tactical option” was implemented on August 16 2012, the day of the Marikana massacre.
The catalogue of corrupt police officers, past and present, is nothing if not nauseating. In July last year, the SAPS reported that 1 448 serving police officers were actually convicted criminals. They included, among others, a major general, 10 brigadiers, 21 colonels, 10 majors, 43 lieutenant colonels, 163 captains, 84 lieutenants and 716 warrant officers.
Their criminality ranged from misconduct, theft and sale of arms to gangsters, soliciting bribes, drug dealing and murder.
Not all is lost. Hard-working employees in the NPA and the SAPS continue to keep them going. The National Development Plan has policing recommendations that can only help.
No fewer than 10 state-owned companies are experiencing levels of maladministration that are severely hurting our already beleaguered economy and sucking billions of rands from the National Treasury. It is proper to describe this as criminal, especially in the face of the desperate social conditions many citizens are experiencing.
With admirable candour, Mbeki admitted that in 1998 Eskom had asked the government for permission to build new power stations. The government rejected the request. In his words: “Eskom was right. We were wrong.”
By the time Eskom started tackling expansion requirements, they were facing severe skills shortages: engineers, project managers and technicians, in particular.
By 2006, it had become clear that it was just a matter of time before the poor maintenance of power stations, ageing infrastructure and the skills shortages had resulted in a power crisis. In the latter part of 2007, the country started experiencing rolling blackouts as demand outstripped supply, threatening to destabilise the national grid.
Economists’ estimates in March this year were that the Eskom crisis had curbed economic growth by as much as 10%. A department of public enterprises presentation to Parliament in the same month said Eskom’s power cuts had cost the national economy between R20 billion and R80.1 billion.
In the midst of this crisis, the Eskom board chairperson, its CEO and three other executives were suspended and all but one have since left the organisation.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe described this situation as a “positive crisis” as it was stimulated by new demand (presumably by the previously excluded).
SA Airways (SAA) is a perennial loss-maker that has gobbled up billions of rands in successive unsuccessful bailouts. The turnover of boards, CEOs and executives has been high and has created instability. The present chairperson, who is also chairperson of the Jacob Zuma Foundation, Dudu Myeni, pointedly defied an instruction from Lynne Brown, who as minister of public enterprises, represented the government on the carrier. In December, the president transferred the administration of SAA to National Treasury.
In its last statement of 2014, Cabinet expressed its concern about the administration of the cash-strapped and strike-riven SA Post Office. Parliament was recently informed that the organisation had no money to pay salaries and that it was on the verge of collapse. Its failure to update its technology had also resulted in a loss of clients. The board resigned in November last year.
The Passenger Railway Agency of SA (Prasa) is another seriously troubled institution. It is planning to invest R123 billion in rolling-stock renewal over the next 20 years.
The board recently dismissed CEO Lucky Montana amid corruption accusations and counteraccusations – all played out in the public domain.
The Public Protector is about to publish her findings on allegations of corruption. Prasa is embroiled in a controversy over trains that are said not to fit South African rail tracks, a likely R1.3 billion foreign currency hedging loss is anticipated and the chief engineer has been suspended and is facing fraud charges on allegations of falsifying his academic qualifications. Meanwhile, the sacked CEO is proud to tell the public he believes the engineer to be a genius.
There are more state-owned companies that are veritable dens of corruption and incompetent management, which are not mentioned here for lack of time.
The elephant in the Nkandla room has been in a prolonged gestation that has lasted more than 36 months. When its due date arrives, there are fears the elephant might actually give birth to a mouse.
We have the spectacle of people running out of breath, to no purpose, in an interminable process. Thanks to the recent visit by parliamentarians to the homestead, the public is now aware of the cesspit of sleaze that has been termed presidential security upgrades. Government officials and service providers had a field day. However, failure to prepare requisite prosecution documents, three years on, may assure the culprits secure custody of their ill-gotten loot – our money.
I wish to conclude by pleading that we, who were the midwives of our liberation, must agree that we ought to be held to the highest ethical standards of performance when we acts as trustees of the people. The departed comrades would have expected nothing less.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT From left: President Jacob Zuma, Mxolisi Nxasana, Riah Phiyega and Lucky Montana