South African Revenue Service (SARS) commissioner Edward Kieswetter says that political interference is undermining the commercial viability of the country’s state owned enterprises.
Participating in a webinar hosted by Government Technical Advisory Centre on Thursday (30 July), Kieswetter said that if he were the chief executive of a state owned company today, he would ask for a clear mandate, “and then to give me the scope and the room to do what I have to do, and then fire me if I don’t perform”.
“If you don’t know what you stand for, you fall for anything.”
He was commenting on a paper published by the National Planning Commission (NPC) in June, on the contribution of state-owned enterprises in achieving the 2030 vision of the National Development Plan (NDP).
The Position Paper focuses on Eskom, Transnet and Prasa and makes recommendations in respect of governance, finance, market structure and government policy and processes.
The paper is out for public comment, with the final version expected to be handed to president Cyril Ramaphosa in August.
Kieswetter, said that he was part of a leadership team that turned Eskom from an ailing utility, into a globally admired utility in mid-1999 to the early 2000s.
He said there was a time when SAA was one of the leading airlines globally, while Transnet was also running efficiently.
“We actually know how to do this, and we mustn’t over-complicate it. We can draw on the experience of the 90s and early 2000s,” Kieswetter said.
“For one, there was no political interference. The politicians stayed out of the engine room and that was important.”
Secondly, he said there was sound governance. “The roles between the shareholder, board and management was clearly defined, and adequately implemented.”
He said that there was also a very clear culture of accountability. “We have to be bolder about dealing with corruption. A lot of the inefficiency that has come about, that has bloated the cost that has made these institutions unviable…is because of the cost that was added.”
He said that when the state started intervening, and manipulating the commercial dynamics – is when it lost the commercial integrity of institutions like Eskom.
Kieswetter stressed that it is important to appoint competent managers to be able to hold them accountable.
“If we just do those things, we will see a remarkable turnaround in these state owned enterprises,” he said.