Editorials 16.3.2017 05:16 am

The concept of ethics is an unfamiliar one at SOEs

Image courtesy of: www.petrosa.co.za

Image courtesy of: www.petrosa.co.za

It is evident that there is a ‘grab what you can, while you can’ mentality at state-owned enterprises.

Our state-owned enterprises (SOEs) continue to haemorrhage almost unbelievable sums of money, leading to the overriding impression that the use of the word “enterprise” is at best euphemistic.

The latest of these to come into the cross hairs is PetroSA, South Africa’s national oil company and the operator of the gas-to-liquid refinery at Mossel Bay, which proudly trumpets on its website as having talent for innovation “recognised globally”.

While this boast of technological expertise might well be a proven fact, the ability to make the enterprise function is suspect in the extreme.

Despite laying off staff, PetroSA is R14.6 billion in the hole for the 2014-2015 financial year – in presenting figures to the parliamentary committee on energy –  drawing strong criticism over the R17.3 million in bonuses being paid to executives in this seemingly disastrous downward financial spiral.

This follows in the wake of revelations that the SABC needs R650 million a month to operate but that reserves had dwindled to R174 million in December. This was a staggering collapse of available working capital from the R1 billion in reserve held in December 2015 exposed in a confidential treasury report by the public broadcaster in January.

The mismanagement at the top echelon of the public broadcaster’s ranks has been comprehensively documented and it has been suggested it could well serve as a business school model on how not to properly administer public monies.

It would indicate a trend, though, that the apparent lack of accountability in losing billions in state funding with impunity is a “grab what you can, while you can” mentality which countermands any deep feeling of ethical credibility.

If awarding bonuses to executives who have not managed to reverse losses – and arguably exacerbated them through the failed Ikhwezi drilling project – we must ask whether there are any ethics left?

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