Eskom's head offices Megawatt Park. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Eskom's head offices Megawatt Park. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Civil society groups say urgent reforms are needed to remove appointments in key state institutions such as Eskom from political influence, to curb corruption.  

The Public Affairs Research Institute (Pari), which studies the effectiveness of state institutions, is due to release three position papers, in collaboration with various civil society actors on the depoliticisation of parastatal senior management.

They collectively argue for reforms in key regulatory and administrative institutions to “realise a rigorous reduction in corruption and in the influence of patronage in SA politics.”

State-owned enterprises (SOEs), particularly Eskom and Transnet, have been embroiled in controversy in recent years largely as a result of the appointment of inappropriate individuals as CEOs and board members, which facilitated state capture.

The looting of SOEs is now being probed by the commission of inquiry into state capture headed by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo. Boards have been the central vehicle through which patronage has been dispensed and political control over tenders exercised.

The appointment process of SOE board members has largely been a politically negotiated process, with the line minister, the ANC’s deployment committee and the president all pushing to get their candidates appointed.

Pari said while the executive should retain control over the policy direction of government, recruitment below a certain level in the public service (national and provincial government), and in local government, should be depoliticised.

“Reforms in this area of state legislation are fundamental to stabilising government institutions, and in limiting the space for graft in the public procurement system,” the Institute said.

It further called for reforms in state procurement, citing it as the major site of corruption.

“But reforms to the procurement system itself should, we suggest, focus on enabling the state to play its intended role in supporting economic and social development. This is a vital ingredient in reducing pressure to use state resources to build political factions.”

Urgent reforms are also required in appointments in the criminal justice institutions, in particular the national director of public prosecutions, the national commissioner of the SA Police Service, the head of the Directorate of Priority Crimes (Hawks), and of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

Pari says the legal framework that governs the appointment of senior personnel to, and removal from, key institutions of the criminal justice system has contributed to a blurring of the political-administrative divide, and has severely constrained efforts to contain corrupt practices.

The institute said while it has been suggested that to address the phenomenon of state capture, to stabilise and improve governmental institutions the country simply needs more ethical leaders and a citizenry mobilised around accountability, this idea places an “unwise degree of faith in the morality of future political leaders and citizens”.

“The current challenge is more structural in nature and therefore crucial reforms in the SA state are required. These reforms would allow SA to insulate its public administration from illicit political interference at the same time that it progressively opens channels of upward mobility and tackles poverty and inequality.”