Transnet CEO's Straight 'A' Report Card: Who Scored the Exam?

By Mohamed Motala · 10 Jul 2008

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Picture: J. McPherson
Picture: J. McPherson

The emphasis being placed on Transnet and how well its current head has performed has been getting much attention. However, in the midst of all the year to date earnings, positive cash flows and balance sheets that we are being presented with in the press, one issue stands out: the inefficiency of the public train system is being drowned out in the noise of the accolades for the parastatal’s business and leadership performance.

There are no figures to gauge the performance of the Transnet board and executive management in relation to train services. Yet poor commuters who ride Transnet's trains have demonstrated their dissatisfaction by burning the trains when they have had to wait for hours, literally, being left out in the cold. These are the people who should be asked if the performance of TRANSNET has been exemplary and whether its leadership should be rewarded with bonuses.

Transnet is one example that highlights the significance of how evidence is being presented to gauge the performance of public institutions. But the question that requires further interrogation here is: whose evidence is being presented, how and why?

In the policy-making world, the call for evidence is strong. At the same time, who is presenting this evidence and what purpose it is serving, is often not questioned.

The rich and powerful control the evidence based policy-making space. If a progressive change is to happen, it will require looking behind the evidence to see who is presenting it and why. Elevating the why question and attempting to seek out the evidence in support of the why, is always most important, in presenting evidence for policy.

In South Africa today, the possibilities for change are a little more present after the ANC’s Polokwane Conference. Nevertheless, the direction of the post-Polokwane change depends on the extent to which a more progressive stance will be tolerated by the existing power elites. 

Whether this will allow for the faster realisation of social and economic justice is mostly dependant on the balance of forces between those that have benefited and continue to benefit from the transition and those that have been marginalised. 

Polokwane’s political power shift has already started rolling in a new leadership in provincial and local structures. Administrative changes within government are sure to follow. At the same time, fundamental aspects of the policy terrain, such as economic policy, are being contested.

Examples of policy positions that have emerged are the 'war on poverty' as well as a reassurance that there will not be any fundamental changes to economic policy that affects business. Proponents of the former position argue that the last 15 years have not adequately addressed human development nor spread, some may argue redistributed, the country’s wealth. While advocates of the latter position, push for a continuation of existing economic policies on the basis that their effects have not had enough time to filter down to the poor.

Both these positions are unclear and not supported or developed in any real sense.

These positions are also being advanced in the midst of grand infrastructure projects that channel public investment into the construction of stadia and rapid rail systems, while the more pressing need for an affordable and efficient public transport system - and other interventions to ensure basic food security for the majority of South Africans are not so evident. There remains an inability to see how equity, in the long term, can lead to growth.

How is it that policy makers and the public are unable to push for more equitable solutions?

Over the past decade, the capacity of the poor and the working class to present information on which to base policy has dwindled. So, too, has the capacity to collect and present evidence on which to base policy. Policy research capacity within civil society has been significantly reduced with most social justice NGO’s and trade unions losing their capacity in this area. Most of this capacity has gone to government and the private sector.

The democratic transition has skewed the evidence that is being used in policy making.

Evidence, upon which policy is made, is never neutral and the intermediaries who present and package information that influences policy makers and the public should be a little more aware of this. This is why it becomes important to ask: who is presenting evidence and to what end?

We are living in an era where research, the reasons behind research and the results of research are becoming secondary, as ‘information’ is being packaged as evidence in support of policy. Evidence based policy-making that collects, analyses and presents evidence in support of social justice, is simply lacking in South Africa.

If the political transition in South Africa is to benefit the poor, a reorientation of the evidence on which policy is based, is desperately in need of taking place. Creating the space for evidence that is guided by social and economic justice is in itself a struggle that the poor will have to engage in before their voices are heard.

Motala is executive director of CASE, the Community Agency for Social Enquiry.

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Jan Beeton
9 Jul

Transnet's Boss Scoring Straight As

I love your article! Escom has the very same problem- everyone patting themselves on the back yet we get poor performance as the general public! At least Escom's CEO has not taken a performance bonus if the media is to be believed. As I understand it, in Escom's performance scoring system for management, there is no criterion which states ' efficient delivery of electricity'. Can you believe it? Maybe it's the same with Transnet??

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Rory Short
12 Jul


Society is shaped by activists.

There are two categories of activists. The first category comprises those whose activism is based on a genuine concern for all the activist's fellow citizens. The second category is comprised of those whose activism is solely based on self interest. Both categories use the same rhetoric when promoting their ostensible causes. Unfortunately for society however there are usually many more activists who fit into category two than into category one.

It would seem that for us in SA since 1994, category two activists have steadily been gaining the upper hand within the ANC. Zimbabwe is a classic example of what happens to a post liberation society when category two activists control the levers of power.

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Madlembe Makhene
29 Nov

Performance Measurement

The meusurement of perfomance in the public sector is absolutely shameful.Nearly all managers tend to be performing on paper with no real or tangible results for the services the organisations offer and they still get the bonus cheque!!!

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