To my mind
A NUMBER OF State enterprises and departments have become synonymous with – to put it mildly – bad administration. Two of the leaders of this hit parade are South Africa’s national broadcaster and our national airline. The SABC has recently distinguished itself with a tableau of inefficiency that would have been dismissed as far-fetched had it appeared in a TV soap opera.
Over the years, SA Airways’ lavish spending has repeatedly necessitated costly intervention, while the recently dismissed CEO’s R20m exit package has seen him fly higher in his private capacity than was ever remotely justified by his actual performance in his post.
Acting CEO of national carrier SAA Chris Smyth has just announced that the “third or fourth” restructuring programme in seven years has been a success and that it’s resulted in a sustainable turnaround of 8% higher than the set target. However, that bit of good news, in which the airline has reported earnings before interest and taxes of R1,1bn, was put into perspective by the admission that SAA bumbled very badly with the cancellation of no fewer than 15 Airbus A320s ordered in 2002, for which taxpayers are now going to have to fork out about R1,5bn.
That type of fragrantly incompetent management is also characteristic of (among others) the Department of Health, the effects of which are felt by the entire spectrum of South African citizens. Healthcare is an emotionally laden issue with moral questions about the fairness or unfairness of the fact that access to firstclass healthcare depends to a large extent on a patient’s financial means. Those types of dilemmas form the basis of the proposal that a National Health Insurance System be established.
It’s hard to fault the moral justification of access to top quality healthcare, irrespective of income. However, economic reality is a different matter: such a system would cost taxpayers an additional R100bn – or 9% of domestic spending. Aside from the massively negative impact it would have on SA’s economy, the proposal is yet another example of the attitude of decision makers who believe money is the quick fix for anything and everything.
That fallacy will cost this country dearly. No amount of money is going to make one iota of difference to State institutions and departments if specific attention isn’t paid to the implementation and maintenance of healthy management practices.
The ghastly conditions found at most State hospitals aren’t simply the result of too little money. Allowing a hospital with a once proud tradition of (among other things) training of nurses – such as the JG Strijdom (now the Helen Joseph) or the Johannesburg General Hospital (now the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital) – to deteriorate to such an extent that to be admitted could be life threatening has very little to do with the availability of money but points to a complete lack of healthy management principles.
On several other terrains a lack of effective administration, maintenance and control constitutes the underlying contagion that can’t be cured by merely injecting more money.
A sick attitude of entitlement feeds that lack of management and direction and manifests itself time and time again in unequitable behaviour, such as the awarding – or appropriation – of contracts, especially within the public services sector. Pumping in more money isn’t going to effect any change in State departments, such as the Department of Health and State utilities such as the SABC and SAA, for as long as poor management and control keep on infecting those institutions.