Johannesburg – Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) is taking a stand against corruption by cleaning its own house, and calling out government.
Speaking at the signing of a contract with South Africa on Wednesday, chief executive of the organisation Bonang Mohale explained that all stakeholders in society need to “pull in the same direction”.
In the past 10 years, the project of state capture has been happening, depriving the poorest of the poor, he said. “The role of business is to say ‘not in our name’.” The Constitution was not written for the advancement of two families. South Africa almost gave its sovereignty away, and probably took the “silent coup” to the next level.
Business must take up its role to “speak truth to power” and “do our bit and clean our own house”. Different stakeholders must play their part too, he emphasised. “Government needs to come up with laws to make it easy for business to thrive, not to steal from the poor. Businesses on the other hand need regulatory certainty and policy stability which has been lacking in the country for many years.”
On average it takes six years to make a decision and the country cannot be internationally competitive in these circumstances, Mohale explained. When it comes to addressing challenges such as poverty, inequality and unemployment, “business is the answer, not the enemy,” he said.
Mohale said that government also had a role to play in fighting corruption. The removal of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan was an “own goal” which could have been avoided. He said that if current trends continue, South Africa faces a bleak future, and a bitter legacy will be left for our children to inherit.
“Government is not performing its roles competently”. The “systematic project” of state capture has put South Africa in a stressful environment. “Business can’t stand idly by. It is within all our grasps to make sure these trends do not continue.”
All stakeholders are in the same boat. “There is no scenario where one group is succeeding when others are failing.” He called for all political parties and civil society to prioritise inclusive growth. “Corruption and state capture are cancers eating away at society.”
Tackling corruption in business
When asked what business is doing to tackle corruption, especially considering some BLSA members, namely KPMG and McKinsey have been implicated in state capture, Mohale said that these reports have been embarrassing. “The past is useful. I wish I could change it. But we are where we are. We have owned up,” he said. Moving forward BLSA will consider what it needs to do differently.
The contract with South Africa is accompanied by an Integrity Pledge, an anti-corruption oath made to South Africa. “Any company not complying with these, chooses not to be BLSA members.” Mohale pointed out that KPMG and McKinsey have already started taking action.
He added that businesses should abide with laws of the country, including the Companies Act and King IV among others. If these laws are properly observed then all BLSA members should not find themselves in compromising positions.
“We know business made mistakes and too often fallen short.” Business has been portrayed as separate from society. Business should be at work in society, a critical player, he said.
Changing the face of business leadership
Mohale said that business continues to struggle with the representation of its CEOs, which is mostly still white and male, but the BLSA is committed to changing this.
Mohale said that if business had adequately transformed in the past 23 years, it would have made it easier to enlist the support of civil society to defeat state capture together. However it was easy for the Gupta PR firm Bell Pottinger to "deflect attention from the pillage and looting" with campaigns like White Monopoly Capital, because poverty still has a black face. Most people’s lives have not improved.
When it comes to addressing wage gaps between the lowest paid employees and CEOs, Mohale said the answer is not to reduce CEO pay but to increase the pay of workers. A study among BLSA's members found that the average monthly pay for members is over R16 000, higher than the national minimum wage. Some initiatives proposed to address the gap is instead of giving 10% salary increases, is to give 20% to 30% salary increases to lowly paid workers and a 4% increase to executives, he said.
BLSA is also committed to investing in communities in which it operates. Initiaitives that have been launched include the R1.5bn SME Fund arranged with Gordhan and the Youth Employment Scheme (YES) Initiative.
SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE UPDATE: Get Fin24's top morning business news and opinions in your inbox.