State re­cap­ture of SOEs

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis -

In his bud­get speech this past week, Min­is­ter of Pub­lic En­ter­prises Pravin Gord­han re­minded South Africa that state-owned en­ter­prises(SOEs) can play a vi­tal role in de­vel­op­ment: they can di­rectly en­able eco­nomic growth and help to gen­er­ate des­per­ately needed em­ploy­ment.

He did not say, in so many words, that they have largely failed to do any such job, in­stead be­com­ing a se­ri­ous drain on na­tional re­sources. (For ex­am­ple, this week SAA’s lat­est debt hole, about R5-bil­lion, was re­vealed.) Gord­han touched briefly on the fact that “the last few years have seen a pro­gres­sive weak­en­ing and cap­ture of these in­sti­tu­tions”, be­fore quot­ing Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s stern words about the need for a ju­di­cial com­mis­sion of in­quiry into state cap­ture to end “the plun­der of pub­lic re­sources”. Gord­han added to that his de­ter­mi­na­tion to “re­cap­ture” SOEs and get them back on to the na­tional devel­op­men­tal job.

Later on in his speech, he got a lit­tle more heated. “We shall not only be sat­is­fied with putting the crim­i­nals in jail,” he said. “The money they have stolen from the [SOEs] … must be re­cov­ered and re­turned … They be­long to our peo­ple, not to crooks.”

That sounds ob­vi­ous enough but it’s good to hear it strongly stated in Par­lia­ment — and to be able to be­lieve that the min­is­ter, the pres­i­dent and the gov­ern­ment will live up to those words. There is ev­ery sign that they are mov­ing swiftly to do ex­actly as they say they will, to “re­cap­ture” and “re­store” the SOEs. Prasa, Denel and Eskom have new boards, and Ja­cob Zuma’s point man at the South African Rev­enue Ser­vice, Tom Moy­ane, is be­ing prised from his po­si­tion and his ma­lign in­flu­ence on the state’s key rev­enue-col­lect­ing arm coun­tered.

Given the vast scale of the depre­da­tions suf­fered by the SOEs, it’s clear that restora­tion will be a huge job. We are very cheered that Ramaphosa and Gord­han have se­ri­ously started that job, and we can only cheer them on.

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