Meddling with Transnet matters

2009-09-12 12:35

THE level of political interference at Transnet does not bode well for the effective management of parastatals.

At last count the Presidency, the ANC headquarters, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, the ANC Youth League and trade union federation Cosatu had all insisted that the Transnet board appoint suspended executive Siya Gama as chief executive.

It is an unprecedented level of political pressure exercised on what is supposed to be a board appointed by government but which operates with autonomy and respect for its professionalism and expertise.

What’s at stake here? A race imbroglio or an important and apposite court case?

Transnet is being sued by Sandile Zungu, who sought to buy the parastatal’s stake in MTN in 2003. The deal was ­cancelled by former chief ­executive Maria Ramos and Zungu sued Transnet. The case goes to court next week.

Radebe was minister in 2003. Zungu is an ally and reported ANC funder. In court next week Zungu will demand R2.2?billion from Transnet in damages. Could this possibly be one of the reasons the ANC is going out on a limb? Is it hoping that a politically appointed chief executive will quickly settle this case?

The race card also pales when one considers that after a rigorous selection process the board had put forward Pravin Gordhan as a candidate but he became finance minister ­nominee.

The next preferred candidate was Sipho Maseko, the BP chief who this week pulled out of the race. Who can blame him? The political heat would have wilted any candidate but Gama.

Even for him the politicians have turned this vital job into a poisoned chalice because if he gets the job it will seem as if he is only there by the grace of the ANC.

By all accounts Gama is a popular and talented rail executive. He runs Transnet’s most complex and important rail freight unit and he was part of the team that brought stability to the troubled rail parastatal.

But the board and management felt he had mismanaged two tender processes by not ­being rigorous enough in his oversight thereof.

Gama tells his side of the ­story in this week’s City Press and he is fighting his suspension in the courts.

The question of who is right or wrong is really not for the ANC to determine. Neither is it terribly good practice to level the race card at the board and the executive team at Transnet.

The board is diverse and its non-executive directors include Christine Ramon, Nunu Ntshingila and Peter Moyo.

Their reputations are being sullied and it will be little ­surprise if they walk in the next fortnight.

Also in a tight spot is Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan, who has to make the nomination of Transnet chief executive to Cabinet. She is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.

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