Newsmaker: Getting to know Limpopo’s Mr Fix-it

2012-04-28 14:46

Monde Tom’s unassuming character and looks may make the former exile appear as if he depends on his political connections to secure jobs in government.

Like many former exiles, he gives the impression that his struggle credentials are all he has and that he would never amount to anything outside government.

But Tom, who is heading national government’s intervention team in Limpopo, is a highly learned and skilled technocrat with vast experience in turning around ailing government departments and municipalities.

Tom, who is not even a government employee, says he was seconded to lead the intervention team in December when Pretoria placed five Limpopo provincial government departments under administration because of their disastrous financial management.

The father of two, employed by the Development Bank of Southern Africa as a specialist turnaround strategist, says by the time he finishes with Limpopo, the province will be back on the straight and narrow.

“I’m experienced in dealing with difficult administrative systems. I’ve been doing this for a long time.”

The former teacher was born in Queenstown and holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Fort Hare, and a Masters in Financial Economics from the University of London. He began his career as a civil servant in 1994 in the Eastern Cape.

“I left teaching in 1994 to join the Eastern Cape government. I was leading the team that formed one of the new departments amalgamating a number of departments to form the department of economic development.

There were different departments in the Transkei, Ciskei and another one in the then republic, and I had to put them together. That is where I started putting systems together.”

In 1997, Tom left the provincial department of economic development and joined the provincial treasury – which was facing financial woes at the time – as its head.

A few months down the line, he says, national government placed his department under administration.

“They had their own challenges with an overdraft that was in excess of R3.5 billion. National government did come, but when they realised that there were capable people dedicated to dealing with the problem, they simply worked with them. I and the director-general of the province were part of the intervention team, and we had dealt with it in 18 months,” he says.

“A government overdraft is not easy to deal with, especially when it runs into billions. The issues were similar to the problems here in Limpopo.”

By December last year, Limpopo was almost bankrupt, had wiped out its R757 million overdraft and had asked the treasury to increase it by R1.7 billion. The treasury refused.

Limpopo’s overdraft and financial problems will take at least three years to reverse, Tom estimates.

“The provincial revenue fund is still in serious trouble. They have to save money in order to finance their overdraft.

“But if they use all their money to finance their overdraft, they may find themselves wanting in terms of service delivery,” he says, adding that the fund acts as an internal bank that distributes the money from the treasury to different departments across the province.

Tom said the team had finished diagnosing all the problems in the departments under their administration.

“Sitting here we know exactly what the problems are in each of the departments. The problems are related to the management of cash, the budget. There are also serious problems with procurement systems.

“On the third and the fourth (of May), we are discussing these problems – where they are and what needs to be done, and what capabilities need to be built into the system to prevent the problems from occurring again.”

This stage is called the recovery phase. Law enforcement agencies will try to recover money owed to the state where possible.

Running a province as an administrator, says Tom, is hard work as there are many people seeking his attention.

“There are competing interests. I have to report to the interministerial committee bi-weekly. I also meet with the different administrators bi-weekly.

“When I wake up every morning, I have to interact with the administrators, especially those with challenges in their own departments, isolate the problem and try to sort it out,” says Tom.

Ultimately, Tom wants those who looted Limpopo’s coffers to pay the price.

“We are not here to play . . . People will be arrested and jailed if they are found to have looted,” he says. “At some point, stealing state resources has to be made treason in this country.”

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