Boards, not comrades run state companies

2009-11-07 13:26

ANOTHER week. Another ­parastatal. Another race war. Has Eskom chief executive Jacob Maroga been fired or not?

Who knows. The board says he has while the ANC Youth League says he hasn’t. Huh? we wondered when we heard that.

Why on earth is the youth league of a governing party ­pronouncing on the resignation of the chief executive of a power utility?

The board has every right to ask for a chief executive’s resignation if they think he is not up to the task. It’s one of the core corporate governance jobs of a board of directors and in the case of a public utility they are put in place to serve the public interest. South Africa’s power crisis is dire and a massive threat to that interest.

Next year electricity tariffs will rise at unprecedented rates to prevent a repeat of the season of blackouts that threatened South Africa’s economy and global standing last year.

Bits of evidence have been produced to show that poor power-planning can be pinned on both government and ­Eskom, which did not ­protect coal supply nor plan a viable energy future in the past 15 years.

Certainly, it’s not Maroga’s fault and simply cannot be blamed on one man. An electrical engineer and long-standing Eskom technocrat, Maroga may once have possessed the skills to lead Eskom before it went into crisis mode.

At issue is whether he is the right leader to now lead ­Eskom’s power station building programme while managing a limited generation capacity. Clearly the board decided he was not so it asked for his ­resignation.

Maroga and the Eskom chairperson, ­Bobby Godsell, differ fundamentally on a range of strategic and operational ­details. That’s where it should end if we keep to the principles.

Instead, this vital decision is now mired in a race war fuelled by the youth league, with the Black Management Forum (BMF) playing fire-starter.

Parastatals have become slaughterhouses for black executives, says the BMF in reference to the Transnet debacle, when rail executive Siyabonga Gama’s suspension was ­received in a similar fashion by the league and the BMF.

Yet no similar fuss was created when South African Airways chief executive Khaya Ngqula left under a cloud nor when the SABC board forced SABC chief executive Dali Mpofu from his perch at the top of Fawlty Towers.

The position of Maroga’s supporters is inconsistent and unprincipled. Political interference at parastatals has reached such endemic proportions that no sane executive, black or white, would touch them with a barge pole. Which is why there are four major ­parastatals that run like headless chickens.

President Jacob Zuma was right to stop the Gama express in its tracks. He should do the same with Maroga.

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