GROPING IN THE DARK: THE PRICE OF INCOMPETENCE

2014-12-08 15:58

Is the fiasco at Eskom symptoms of a more general problem in South Africa – the price of incompetence? By all accounts, if one cannot plan and execute the workings of a utility like Eskom – a bureaucracy that should be at ease with a long term planning horizon, a bureaucracy designed to provide a stable supply of electricity, then perhaps we are only now realising the effects of the brain drain as well as badly managed employment equity policies. Strategic planning was invented at these kinds of organizations. Planning capacity, maintenance, throughput, and financing are internalized parts of the organization’s culture. As if, they only realised yesterday that this is something they should have been working on, all along. I am therefore surprised at the kinds of excuses the Eskom board has made recently. In trying to give sense to the dilemma, one board member even suggested that we learn to live with these constraints. Sure, let’s just add this to crime, corruption and the rising cost of food and transport. How about we lower your salaries and bonuses?  Can you live with that constraint?

While incompetence in parliament can play out longer before one feels the pain (national government is in comparison a symbolic organization with no real teeth), electricity is the lifeblood of an economy, and bad management here will quickly translate into crisis. This is no place for hiding cadres, revolutionaries and window dressing appointments. These appointments require basic skills like reading and counting, and more cognitively difficult skills like planning, design and leadership. No place for appearance management here – You cannot hide behind a slick business suit, intellectual looking spectacles and empty rhetoric. This is a place for managers. You need a set of core skills – At Eskom I would imagine the place is run by professional engineers. You have got to pull up your sleeves. You have got to be smart. You have got to be tough. You have got to think on your feet. You have to know how to get things done. Not longwinded talks, not hiding behind policy. At the same time you have to be thinking ahead.

Why is the utility experiencing one crisis after the other? I am surprised that the world cup went by smoothly. Did we have hordes of consultants hand holding this organization through that period – I wonder? Are more of our organizations in a similar state and we are just not feeling the direct effects of it yet?

I have written elsewhere about competency versus equity. A democracy can only do its best to provide ‘equal access’ to opportunities. But a winning nation does its best to select the person best equipped to do the job because it understands that ‘equal ability’ is a myth.

We better start placing our faith in truly talented individuals. Nelson Mandela showed us the power of a talented person. He was able to transcend the bickering of his party’s members, take command and unite this nation albeit for a short period.

It is time we take the country’s symbolic and material resources away from the incompetent and hand it to people who have talent. Now that will be a revolution to behold. But can the credulous majority who earned this right see the light?

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