Forum Report: Governance and the Role of SOEs

On Friday the 9th of March we held our second forum of the year, which was titled “Governance and the Role of State Owned Entities”. This forum was presented by Bongi Maseko from the IFAA Student and Youth department and chaired by fellow Student and Youth associate Awande Buthelezi.

This forum was centered around the ongoing conversation around the role of SOEs in the South African economy. Bongi began his address by stating that the current South African government cannot be regarded as a weak state, but rather one which is dysfunctional. This, he argued, was due to the manner in which control over the means through which resources are allocated (a primary governmental function) has shifted from the purview of elected officials to the realms of external agents who are driven by narrow capitalist interests. Following this overture, Bongi went on to highlight the main talking points along which the discussion would develop. The main points outlined were: the manner in which (like many other SOEs) Eskom has fallen victim to a weakened state apparatus, which is incapable of shielding core government institutions from the influence of malevolent business interests; the suggestion that the erosion of the state’s political mandate has led to the re-monopolization of the South African energy sector; the importance of SOEs the South African economy and putting a way forward through suggestions for the mitigation of future occurrences such as the one we face.

Bongi grounded the discussion on the notable role played by SOEs in maintaining and increasing the living standards of the general population. This served to focus the discussion on the societal value generated by SOEs. This was to frame the narrative of the discussion as an inquiry into how would any suggestions, in the mitigation of the problems faced by SOEs, serve to maintain and improve the societal value generated by SOEs. In his inquiry, Bongi identified the management and procurement processes of SOEs as the core elements through which maleficent parties have weakened the functioning of these institutions and linked these occurrences back to his preamble on the dysfunctional nature of the state’s systems of accountability.

Following this, the discussion was opened to the floor. The bulk of the conversation that followed focused around the increasing levels of distrust in the public sector from the general population. One member of the floor argued that it would be more difficult in today’s current context to gather enough mass support for any action to protect SOEs from privatization. Members of the floor argued that it is necessary for government to regain trust from the citizenry by instilling faith in the public sector, through decisive action against corruption and improved functioning of SOEs. One member of the floor touched on the changing nature in which SOEs have been managed since the end of Apartheid and the centralization of the avenues for societal participation in their function, within the Ministry of State Enterprises. Another member of the floor, proposed that the way in which we address SOEs should be grounded in the understanding of the different categories of SOEs. This would allow for a more accurate means of addressing the issues faced by SOEs across their various types, whilst giving the citizenry a greater understanding of the extent to which SOEs form an intricate part of our societal makeup.

Thank you to all who attended the forum and participated in a lively discussion.

A recording of the forum can be accessed here.

For more information about this forum and for information on upcoming events email studentandyouth@ifaaza.org.