Protector to probe more SOEs

Public protector Thuli Madonsela said in her annual report that her office is still investigating state-owned enterprises. (Photo: Delwyn Versamy)

Public protector Thuli Madonsela said in her annual report that her office is still investigating state-owned enterprises. (Photo: Delwyn Versamy)

At least eight state-owned enterprises and the provincially subsidised Gautrain are in for trouble from the next public protector — if only she can figure out how to operate with too little money.

The state-owned enterprises, especially Eskom and SAA, have come in for much criticism recently from the treasury and, in the past financial year, the public protector has also made adverse findings on the SABC, the Post Office and the Passenger Rail Agency (Prasa).

Unless the new public protector charts a radically different course after Thuli Madonsela’s term ends on October 15, many more will join that list. Madonsela said in an annual report tabled in Parliament last week, and which has gone almost unnoticed, that her office is still working on several investigations into state-owned enterprise, and “showing worrying signs regarding improper appointments, handling of whistle-blowers and tender irregularities, including corruption, are Prasa phase two, SABC, Eskom, Sassa [the South African Social Security Agency], Transnet and Gautrain, among others”.

Gautrain on Thursday insisted its inclusion in the list of investigations must have been “some kind of mistake”.

The public protector’s office subsequently confirmed an investigation was under way.

Elsewhere in her report she says “less extensive allegations are being followed up” relating to Telkom, PetroSA and the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral).

General problems found “include corporate governance at the level of boards, improper appointment, promotion, remuneration and dismissal of employees.”

But the trouble does not just flow one way. The protector has 18 cases under review at the high court, according to the report, and there is a real fear that the number will grow.

“The main challenge and risk the institution faces is an increasing number of state institutions taking the public protector’s reports on judicial review,” Madonsela said in the report in a section on future risks.
“As a result, the public protector is forced to defend these matters, resulting in a massive financial burden to the institution.”

The landmark Constitutional Court judgment on President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla home, which held the protector’s remedial action to be binding, meant more such challenges could arise and it could receive more complaints that would need investigating, it said.

The office still lacks a proper case management system to deal with such an influx, although it has secured a $500 000 grant for that purpose from the United States Agency for International Development.

In the past financial year, the protector had a R246-million budget to handle 17 374 cases and spent on average less than R20000 for each finalised case.

The office faces “unbelievable resource constraints”, Madonsela said, repeating the phrase twice.

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet writes about politics, society, economics, and the areas where these collide. He has never been anything other than a journalist, though he has been involved in starting new newspapers, magazines and websites, a suspiciously large percentage of which are no longer in business. PGP fingerprint: CF74 7B0F F037 ACB9 779C 902B 793C 8781 4548 D165 Read more from Phillip de Wet

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