John F Kennedy said that the enemy of the truth is often not the lie but the myth, persistent and persuasive. The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) responds to the article published on the Mail & Guardian‘s website (“Energy minister shields ‘key nuclear Zuma ally‘”) mindful that the minister of energy has appointed a task team to investigate the affairs of our board.
We do so to stem some myths that have been deliberately perpetuated about the company, most astonishingly by some whose fiduciary duty includes protecting its image. The wilful disclosure of sensitive and private information, including proceedings of board meetings, is shocking in the least. At the same time, the various assertions in the story would have perplexed readers conversant with how companies operate.
By far the most dubious allegation is that a chief executive officer could employ executives without the approval of the board of directors. Necsa board members were involved in the recruitment of the executives. Board members were part of interview panels, and signed on the recommendations for their appointment. Subsequently, the board as a whole, through its own established procedure, endorsed the appointments.
If the chief executive had acted as alleged, there would undoubtedly have been an overwhelming protest from all board members, with a possible appeal to the minister of energy as the shareholder. Instead, a challenge to the appointment of the executives by a single member of the board has been dismissed three times by the courts.
Yes, we face a rather unusual situation when a serving board member is insistently taking Necsa to court despite repeated rulings against the member. Although we do not know the intentions of the board member, the action is difficult to align with the furthering of Necsa’s cause and safeguarding its image.
We deduce from the article an abiding dislike of the ruling party by some members of the board, such that any expenditure in its functions raises questions. The gripe, however, would obviously also come as a surprise to readers. Companies, including state-owned enterprises in South Africa and around the world, find it useful to participate in meetings of political parties. Such gatherings have great networking value with high-level decision-makers. Necsa’s contribution to these functions, as reported in the story, has been relatively modest in comparison with other companies. Participation in such events is always well thought through and is determined on a case-by-case basis, in line with the company’s objectives at the time.
The article also insinuates impropriety in the remuneration of the board members. There has never been a uniform remuneration of board members for their work, and this is public information that can be corroborated from annual reports. It is based on the activities of board members in service to the company during a particular year. It is thus possible that a chairman of the board would be more involved than other members, justifying a higher rate. The chairman’s remuneration also varies from year to year, informed by his engagements.
The disclosures about Necsa’s financial position perhaps represent the biggest attempt to use the media and journalists as an instrument to advance an illicit agenda. When the current chief executive of Necsa came on board in 2012, it was widely reported in the media that the company was in a dire financial position and was about to retrench a large number of its workforce. Within a period of one year the situation was turned around and not a single employee was retrenched. Instead, Necsa continues to pursue its mandate with vigour, enhancing the contribution of nuclear technology to socioeconomic development. The figures published in the story purportedly depicting Necsa’s current financial position are a pure fabrication.
Since 2012, the company has embarked on a determined programme of transformation in line with national imperatives. In undertaking this journey we work with all stakeholders and are fully supported by the majority of organised labour. We make no apologies for taking actions to transform such an important South African institution. Transformation is key to preparing Necsa to play an enlarged role in South Africa’s nuclear new-build programme. Management is determined to work in harmony with all stakeholders in conditions of good labour relations to achieve these objectives.
Xolisa Mabhongo is group executive of corporate services at Necsa, former South African ambassador to Austria and SA governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency.