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FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: No new dawn with old state-owned entities

OPINION

The resignations of two CEOs of state-owned entities (SOEs) in two weeks has exposed the neglected cracks on our state walls.

They threaten the solidity of the Thuma Mina mission insofar as it applies to professionals responding to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call to the patriotic mission of making ours a better country.

Vuyani Jarana has finally thrown in the towel at SAA where he was CEO. A week earlier Phakamani Hadebe announced that he was leaving Eskom.

While Hadebe cited health reasons for his departure, word has it that he had had enough of Public Enterprise Minister Pravin Gordhan’s meddling.

Jarana did not leave it to speculation. “Lack of commitment to fund SAA is systematically undermining the implementation of the strategy, making it increasingly difficult to succeed. The strategy is being systematically undermined, and as the Group Chief Executive Officer, I can no longer be able to assure the board and the public that the LTTS (long-term turnaround strategy) is achievable,” Jarana reportedly said in his resignation letter.

Despite the oft-given reason for keeping parastatals in government hands is that they have a strategic value towards creating employment, fostering entrepreneurship and allowing for the common person to access utilities on a fair price, the state continues treating SOEs like the ugly stepchild.

At the rate that top SOE jobs are becoming the place where reputations die, President Ramaphosa can make as many passionate political speeches as he wants, but if there is no plan to fix that which makes the SOE door a revolving one, South Africans will never appreciate why we need to keep pumping billions into these entities.

The parastatals will struggle to attract the talent they need to turn around and achieve their mandates.

The recurring message from senior SOE managers who quit their jobs is that the state and government are simply too flippant about conditions there and allow for extraneous factors to contaminate the required professionalism.

Senior managers are suspended or removed without batting an eyelid, because those who make the call believe they do not have to account for paying someone millions for staying home or in severance settlements.

As things stand, SA Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona is on suspension following an anonymous tip-off. Two months later the agency responsible for marketing South Africa as a destination internationally and domestically has still not said what it was that Ntshona had allegedly done (or even failed to do). In the absence of further information and action, we can only speculate on Ntshona’s situation. Whatever the truth is, it cannot be good for the organisation, the person concerned and the people who work there.

Public Investment Corporation company secretary Bongani Mathebula has told the commission probing allegations of mismanagement at the state funder how former CEO Dan Matjila suspended her on trumped-up charges. She was later reinstated after Matjila left the organisation.

We could go on and on listing cases similar to these.

At the rate things are going, it is only a matter of time before accepting a post at the helm of a parastatal is seen as an act of desperation rather than of patriotism, if it is not already the case.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.

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