CEO lashes out at SA's 'incompetent' leaders

Mark Lamberti, chief executive officer of Imperial Holdings Ltd., pauses during an interview in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Tuesday, April 5, 2016. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg
Mark Lamberti, chief executive officer of Imperial Holdings Ltd., pauses during an interview in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Tuesday, April 5, 2016. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

Johannesburg - South Africa’s political leadership needs to be more accountable and inspire confidence among business leaders to boost investment and economic growth, according to the chief executive officer of Imperial Holdings [JSE:IPL].

The ruling African National Congress’s (ANC) response to a court judgment that President Jacob Zuma failed to uphold the constitution “showed us that we are living in an environment which has got no accountability or consequence,” Mark Lamberti said in an interview on Tuesday.

READ: Gordhan assures South Africans over Nkandla ruling

The ANC defended Zuma on Tuesday, defeating an opposition motion to impeach him after the country’s top court ruled that he failed to uphold and defend the constitution by not abiding by a graft ombudsman determination that he repay some of the taxpayers’ money spent on his rural home. Opposition parties accused the president of refusing to take responsibility for the breach.

“If you’ve got a country seeming to be run without accountability or consequence, it’s a problem,” Lamberti said. “If there was slightly more confidence that we’d be moving in the right direction, you’d get business prepared to take a slightly longer view on investment.”

READ: Trevor Manuel joins other ANC stalwarts, wants oath-breaking Zuma to resign

South Africa is seeking to stave off a credit downgrade to junk with the economy expected to grow at the slowest pace since 2009 following the worst drought since at least 1904 and weak commodity prices.

“A lot of the problems are structural, but I think the quick fix, if you want to call it that, is that investment is preceded by confidence,” Lamberti, 65, said.

Imperial reported revenue of R110.5bn in the fiscal year ended June 30. Its two main business units are logistics, which ranges from distributing pharmaceuticals in Africa to inland shipping in Germany, and a vehicles division that includes importing, dealerships and rental operations in sub-Saharan Africa.

Lamberti, who joined as CEO in 2014, is the founder of Massmart [JSE:MSM], the South African food and general-goods wholesaler now controlled by Walmart. He’s also an executive committee member and director of Business Leadership South Africa.

Imperial shares declined 3.4% to R142.50 by the close in Johannesburg on Tuesday, paring a gain for the year to 19%. That compares with a 1% increase on the FTSE/JSE Africa All Share Index.

“There’s too many people who don’t know what they don’t know and too many incapable, incompetent people making decisions of national importance,” the CEO said at Imperial’s head office in Johannesburg.  

In a televised address on April 1, Zuma said his failure to abide by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s directive to repay some of the R215.9m spent on a swimming pool and animal enclosures was due to a different interpretation of her powers. While Zuma apologised for the frustration and confusion the scandal had caused, he said he acted in good faith and never intentionally did anything illegal.

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