BEE ‘is not meant for the select few’

Jay Naidoo, a former trade union leader and former MP, says black economic empowerment (BEE) has, in many instances, been hijacked by a “cabal of predatory elite”.

Naidoo was speaking in Johannesburg on Tuesday at the launch of a checklist of 40 questions that seek to verify the credentials of any BEE organisation.

The checklist, which was developed by the Ditikeni Investment Company — a BEE investment holding company — seeks to ensure that BEE fulfils its mandate, and benefits ordinary previously disadvantaged South Africans.

According to Ditikeni, if a company passes the test, it is credibly broad-based.

Preventing individual profiteering
Sahra Ryklief, Ditikeni chairperson, said that “any genuine broad-based organisation should easily score the required 30 out of 40 points”.

“The benefits of BEE should be widely spread, but instead they have been largely privatised,” she said.

BEE, as defined by the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, is “the process by which previously disadvantaged South Africans are being empowered through the transfer of ownership, management and financial control of companies; the multi-level transference of skills and the widespread creation of jobs”.

“The new checklist will help prevent individual profiteering and promote the broad-based principles upon which the concept of BEE was founded,” said Ryklief.

The checklist would not be introduced through government lobbying but through working with other broad-based companies. “If you can’t win up there, start down here,” she said.

The questions cover, among other things, the nature of the beneficiaries and whether they are sufficient in number to justify the term “broad-based”? Respondents will also have to answer questions on transparency, governance, costs and service delivery.

Unequal nation
Naidoo said the checklist “supplements, but does not replace, the BEE code of good practice”.

Naidoo said in socioeconomic terms, South Africa had become one of the most unequal nations in the world and BEE was partly to blame for this.

“Let me remind you that [BEE] was always meant to be broad-based — and not for the select few, not for that cabal of predatory elite who have, in may instances, hijacked the programme.

“BEE was supposed to bring about inclusion and real transformation. It was supposed to offer something to all, not to a few.

“BEE fell short of its aims. It gave us the BEE-elites — the b’elites,” said Naidoo.

However, he said he still believed BEE could work if linked to goals of a people-centred democracy. In this way it could bring dignity, employment and pride to those who felt left out by the policy all these years, said Naidoo.

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