Solutions to the Parastatal Challenge and Beyond
By Anthony de Villiers | 02 December 2019
The Zuma era will always be remembered as a time in which dreams and hopes of freedom were crushed and replaced with despair. During his tenure, parastatals that were supposed to serve as a tool for socio-economic liberation have been reduced to instruments to appease the self-serving drive of a sad excuse for politicians. This is because billions if not trillions of rands were lost due to the massive scale of looting at State Owned Enterprises (SOEs).
To ensure that the Ramaphosa era is worth its salt, we need to create the necessary checks and balances to ensure that parastatals are safe from corruption. We need, in fact, such checks and balances for all aspects of government, and we also need to ensure that SOEs are skilfully and strategically managed.
There is a common perception among revolutionaries that for genuine liberation we need to see less free markets. An order of less free markets is indeed necessary and if government fails regarding parastatals, how on earth will it manage to be effective regarding additional corporations placed under its watch?
It’s bad enough that despite its freedom charter principles, the ANC was swept off its feet by influential role players of the global and economic spheres in the early 1990s, to the extent that it bought into the policy of mass free markets. To add insult to injury, its members eliminated the potential of what could have been a microcosm of a viable socialist state. This is because the small amount of corporations that were not in the private sector but in the hands of the state — organisations that could have been relatively effective in the upliftment of the oppressed and marginalised — were looted for the personal benefit of politicians. It’s all well and good to have a state capture commission of enquiry, but not to apply specific strategic policies to ensure that what happened to parastatals won’t happen again, would be blatantly naïve.
What is needed is an anti-corruption cabinet ministry. This ministry would in fact not be solely for SOEs, but for combating government corruption in its broadness. Although it is true that former public protector Thuli Madonsela did great work, our public protectors and their personnel are ineffective in curbing corruption as they lack the capacity to do so. Particularly if top government officials don’t see fit to cooperate with public protectors, current public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane recently complained on SABC television news about reports submitted by her to government ministers were being ignored. This happened during the Ramaphosa administration which was supposed to mean light at the end of the tunnel regarding corruption of the Zuma era. Does this not suggest that the current administration seeks to perpetuate corruption and self-serving trends? For effectiveness, the public protector’s office would be incorporated into this cabinet ministry.
For an anti-corruption ministry to be viable, we need to see the reduction of the size of our cabinet. Although Ramaphosa has notably reduced the cabinet size, it has not been sufficiently reduced, excess cabinet personnel is simply too costly at the expense of the marginalised. This ministry would need to be relatively small for its effectiveness as the creation of expensive bureaucracies would defeat the purpose of what is being attempted to achieve — ensuring the availability of state funds for the oppressed. This ministry would need to be granted unlimited access to all state information and its members would need to be allowed to be present at all state meetings without exception and restriction of its investigative powers would need to be avoided — its investigative powers would need to be particularly vast.
One is likely to find that an anti-corruption ministry is of little value if it answers only to the presidency, obviously because who is to say that it couldn’t be bribed? It’s time for a new age of two golden keys – transparency and accountability, an age old virtue. The general public needs access to all state expenditure information without exception. We as a society became much to complacent and accepting of a culture of government information being privileged and the introduction of a Secrecy Bill. This culture is wholly nonsensical and must be seen as such. In addition to the general public being allowed all access to state expenditure information, a watchdog forum should be elected and appointed by the public for the observation of budgets and expenditure etc, of parastatals and government broadly. This forum would need access to all information except that of military intelligence and criminal investigations. It would need to be uncompromisingly transparent. Such forums could be elected and appointed at local, provincial and national government levels. As far as all state related information is concerned, a free press is vital — free except for the same restrictions as the people’s forum/forums — again one is reminded of how nonsensical the Secrecy Bill is.
Another effective means of ensuring sound management of SOEs, would be the decentralization of the management of these organisations. This refers to a process of taking some of the decision-making regarding SOE management to the broad South African masses. This would be in addition to trade unions having a stake in parastatal management. Democracy by definition is the people having a say in decision-making. Democracy in its fullness concerns not only political power but also economic power. Core parastatal management would be left to the Chief Executive Officers and appointed managers of these organisations as it requires specific skills, however our masses have a role to play in fundamental decision-making such as whether to use business finances to expand organisations for long term benefits, instead of using business finances for the immediate or short term benefits of the poor etc. The benefits of decentralisation would include ensuring integrity regarding the use of business finances not just in terms of corruption but in the broad sense, as parastatals exist for the masses, does it not make sense for the masses to ensure that parastatals are effective for them?
A culture of making comrades and the politically connected Chief Executive Officers and management of parastatals is not conducive to a culture of parastatal prosperity, South Africa has an abundance of business management skills that can be head-hunted for the effective management of these organisations. Just as former Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni was head-hunted for the position of Finance Minister, skills among the private sector can be head-hunted for the managing of SOEs.
These various means for effective SOE management could be applied not just to current SOEs, but to more organisations that could be incorporated into the government sector. Capitalism perpetuates our socio-economic turmoil and a just and fair change to an economic order of less free markets is very much-needed. As shown by Stats SA, some South Africans are living on as little as approximately R561,00 a month. Our mining and finance industries and more have great potential for the effective implementation of job creation and social welfare/poverty alleviation. Mqapheli Bonono, spokesperson for revolutionary shack dwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, says “the capitalist system is for a minority of people who think only of themselves and not of broader society”.
Our revolution needs a wake up call for uniting in demanding specific strategic governance and for militancy like never before. Forward with the end to the unnecessary persistence of socio-economic turmoil forward! Forward with the fight against corruption and capitalist exploitation forward! AMANDLA!
Anthony de Villiers passionately seeks to promote the revolution through commentary, he is opposed to neo-liberalism. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org