Riah Phiyega: SA needs rules ‘specific to SOEs’

Riah Phiyega
Riah Phiyega

Former police commissioner Riah Phiyega has suggested to government that there should be legislation specific to state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to enable them to be competitive.

Delivering a speech as part of a panel of speakers at a Black Management Forum event held in Sandton last week, Phiyega said the SOEs could not be competitive partly because there was no enabling framework for them.

She was chairperson of the Presidential SOE Review Committee tasked with drafting a blueprint strategy for all SOEs from 2010 to 2012.

“SOE legislation will give them space to improve. Look at how Telkom has changed. We are not saying they must not comply – just reshape the framework and enable them to compete. You can’t have your strategies being presented in Parliament while your competition is watching,” she said.

SOEs are regulated under the Public Finance Management Act.

Phiyega is now the chief executive of Safer SA Foundation, which is an organisation that helps communities fight crime.

She took a swipe at government for reinventing the wheel whenever new leadership came into power.

“It appears as a country that we like the starting line with no progress. We are standing there, the gun keeps going off for us to start, but we are going nowhere,” she said.

Phiyega pointed out that a report, compiled by her committee, recommended the implementation of an overarching long-term strategy for SOEs. However, there still isn’t any.

“Be bold. If you know where you are going, make the decisions and create an enabling environment for these SOEs,” she said.

In response, public enterprises department acting director-general Thuto Shomang said the report by the committee was submitted in 2012 and, since then, the SOE committee members had not met again.

“The committee members have not met since then, not even one meeting. The review says it should be chaired by the president, so that means that the president must simply call a meeting,” Shomang said.

Most solutions relating to SOEs were already contained in various blueprint reports and just needed to be implemented, he said.

“We can only reaffirm that the blueprint is still there and only needs to be implemented, and to encourage and really appeal to Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan to make sure that it happens; that the SOE committee meets. The report also raised issues relating to the rationale for the SOEs,” he said.

During the gathering, Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) chief strategy officer Sipho Sithole took a swipe at SOE board members and said they were acting more as mercenaries.

“Any board that has lost sight of its own mandate and rather spends its misdirected energy on persecuting hardworking, committed and innocent black executives is not a board, but corporate mercenaries,” Sithole said. However, that did not mean that they should turn a blind eye to wrongdoing.

Sithole is one of three Prasa executives who were suspended last month following the outcome of an investigation into irregularities at the public entity.

Speaking to City Press, Sithole said boards were more concerned with persecuting executives who were victims of a flawed governance framework.

“The onslaught on black executives by even black leadership, boards and CEOs is worrying. Some people think they are true leaders if they are seen to have gone in there and ruffled feathers and fired some people. Two years later, they didn’t achieve anything and the organisation is worse off,” he said.

“I have been in leadership positions long enough to smell a rat from afar. You just have to listen to the narrative of a board or the minister upon being appointed to know if you are heading for trouble.

“If a CEO at his or her first opportunity articulates their vision as ‘we are going to root out corruption and we will make sure that those found to have contravened governance processes are brought to book and held to account and ultimately booted out of the organisation’, then you must know there will be no service delivery.

“That board or CEO has no substance other than trying to instil fear and send shivers down the spine of the organisation,” Sithole said.

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