Voices

The BMF’s call for black execs to boycott SOE posts is disturbing

2019-06-12 00:02

The call by the Black Management Forum to black executives not to apply for posts in state-owned enterprises is sad, and rather disturbing for three reasons.

The first is that it is generally not good for anyone to agitate those with the necessary skills and capacity to refuse to be placed at the disposal of their nation and country.

The second is that the proposed boycott method encourages a tendency to refuse to confront those responsible for creating an environment where black executives fail.

The third is that it suggests that black professionals must withdraw their availability and do nothing with their skills, having regard to the fact that the private sector is no better than government in how it treats black executives.

There is thus no opportunity left for black professionals to ply their trade. Whilst this may not be the true intention of the BMF, these are the unintended consequences.

A valid argument

The BMF however makes a valid point, that the ongoing frustration of black executives must be addressed.

The issue cannot however be addressed using methods similar to a consumer or class boycott.

Just recently, we decried the low voter turnout during the immediate past elections.

We decried the fact that citizens opted for a boycott of the elections rather than using the power of the ballot box to express their views.

For this reason we should be loathsome to support the approach proposed by the BMF but must support without reservation the demand to address this issue.

Is a credible public administration achievable?

The issue raised by the BMF strikes at the heart of the question, whether we will ever have a constitutionally credible public administration, where those appointed in public administration are guided only by the constitutional values underpinning our constitutional democracy.

The Constitution enjoins those employed by the state, inclusive of those employed in state-owned enterprises, to implement the policies of the government of the day and to do so without fear or favour.

As the evidence unravelling at the state capture commission suggests, an organised system of patronage and criminality was established and some of those appointed in key strategic positions within the state were appointed to serve a purpose other than the public interest and good.

In equal measure, those seen not pliable were hounded out using all sorts of methods.

The conclusion that circumstances are created for black executives appointed in these state-owned entities to fail must be a matter of grave concern.

It may as well be that those not pliable but with the requisite capacity are being hounded out to make way for the pliable.

The other implication is that the public may believe that those who remain within the system are inherently pliable or have been made to be pliable.

People occupying senior positions cannot decide overnight to quit.

There must be something dramatic that happened and which led them to believe that the only available option is to quit.

Political interference

The abuse of political power has become a past-time for some political leaders.

If indeed the resignations of the two chief executives which prompted this call were actuated among others by political interference, we may just be back to square one to the period that brought about the state capture commission.

In essence, what changed was the label and not the beer.

The president has identified political interference as one of three main factors raised by the chief executives he met and which require attention.

Read:Ramaphosa asked SOE execs about their challenges. This is what they said

If it is accepted that there is political interference, then there is ordinarily unlawfulness and a breach of the Constitution.

Political interference reads abuse of power and borders on dishonesty of those interfering politically in the affairs of state-owned entities or state departments.

Clearly such people are using their power to achieve what is not in the public interest. There ought to be immediate consequences because there is no basis in law for any such political interference.

Political interference and exercising political authority as permitted in law is not the same thing. The latter is simply unlawful.

The government and, in particular, the political leadership cannot be promising change while some leaders are the enablers through political interference, of the further collapse of state-owned entities and state departments.

They have said to the nation that they are in the process of fixing the problem. They need to fix themselves to avoid a deterioration of the situation.

Black executives who are set up to fail

The issue of black executives being made to fail is a rather deeper and complex issue.

On the face of it, it may look like a simple issue of a politician interfering and/or exerting undue influence on the executive.

It goes far beyond that to the existence of a deliberate existence of pliable officials and other executives who are the instruments used to achieve this frustration and who are prepared to be the snipers of those interfering politically.

The officials used as instruments are not themselves victims at all. They are active architects and perpetrators and often have a hold on the politician who effectively becomes their puppet.

This is where the concept of “no such thing as a free lunch” finds true application.

The dangers of generalisation

There is a danger of generalisation that all black executives were failed or that they are part of this heinous scheme.

Some of the executives are in fact the architects of the demise of other black executives and are very instrumental in undermining the public good and interest.

The condition of some of the state-owned entities is the consequence of the behaviour of these executives.

One only hopes that this call does not include those black executives who embarrassed the entire army of black executives with their unethical conduct.

The majority of the boards of these entities are black.

What role do black board members play in the frustration of other black executives? Do they just sit and watch as this happens or are they active players and are they just lukewarm waiting to earn board fees?

It may be interesting to hear the number of board members who are BMF members who are on these boards and to hear what they have done about this regressive behaviour of those who frustrate black executives.

Political interference means those involved are not loyal to the law and the Constitution but to other interests.

They create conditions that undermine the commitment and loyalty of those who are loyal to the Constitution only.

Politicians wield considerable power and have the means to make anyone’s life a living hell if you do not cooperate with their agenda.

As matters stand there are many men and women who have fallen victim to this scheme and the public interest has become the casualty.

The public interest

Opponents of transformation may just marvel at the call because it provides an opportunity for those who want to perpetuate the legacy of the past to thrive.

There is also the unintended implication of supporting the agenda of those whose aim is to frustrate the very black executives and cause them to leave or not even apply.

What then happens to the broader public interest, what if black executives refuse to avail their skills and capacity to the nation?

The politicians involved in these activities suffer a dual-personality disorder. They can say all the nice things in public but be horrible behind closed doors.

Whenever politicians interfere, it is because they are beholden to some other interest other than the public interest.

They are controlled by that force and often must reciprocate for the benefits they derive from that force. So it is no accident at all when there is political interference.

They often pretend as if they want accountability when the true purpose is something else.

It is impossible to fathom why somebody who has known me for years would say in public that she does not know me from a bar of soap. It is a clear abnormality.

But that is exactly how things work. Those who will not engage in malfeasance are not only frustrated but great effort is put into having them to get out of the system.

The high turnover of executives in state-owned entities or government, like everywhere else, cannot bode well for a sustained programme to bring about meaningful change.

In fact it is on its own a factor affecting the stability of these entities.

It gets worse when good executives are made to leave because of selfish interests unrelated to the public interest.

The fact that those who are allegedly interfering always get away with this murder justifies the BMF call.

No self-respecting executive must be made to succumb to political and other pressure to force them to do what is not right.

The question must be asked why these politicians are kept in their positions when they abuse their powers to the detriment of the public and have betrayed their oath of office?

• Mannya is a practising advocate and writer

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September 15 2019