Vusi Mona. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Vusi Mona. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

The current public conversations about the role of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the South African economy are welcome and will, hopefully, provide greater clarity about their public mandates and governance structures.

There is, however, a proviso. Such discussions should be based on facts and remain rooted in an understanding of why such enterprises were established in the first place and what the true state of their current business is.

SOEs have become soft targets for columnists, commentators and social media activists. The lazy approach is to bunch them all together into one category and then to throw buckets of mud, hoping that some would stick.

"Corruption" is being used as a catch-all label for all public-sector agencies whether proof of maladministration exists, or not. Similarly, it has become an easy narrative to simply refer to them as "ailing state companies".

Unfortunately, columnist Neva Makgetla contributes to this slapdash style of analysis by simply adding the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) to a list of SOEs where "corruption is just part of a broader governance failure" and where corporate governance is characterised by "complicated, secretive and defensive oversight structures…".

She labels Sanral without evidence or proof. In the process she not only weakens the quality of the public discourse, but also damages Sanral’s reputation among road users, partners, stakeholders and investors.

As a well-governed state entity with an enviable track record of delivery in the design, management and maintenance of our primary road network, Sanral has to set the record straight: Sanral has never been found to be — or even accused of being — in breach of corporate governance regulations.

E-tolls were launched in December 2013 — no "unlawfulness, fraud or corruption" was found then and none is to be found now.

What is more telling is that 87% of our business — our non-toll portfolio — is not in trouble. The rest of what we do — the 13% toll portfolio — is also not in its entirety in a crisis. Only 1% of this 13% — the so-called e-toll project — is making a third of what is needed to keep it afloat.

We do not fit the description of an "ailing" enterprise, nor do we want to be associated with corrupt practices.

We welcome a healthy debate about the role of Sanral in a developmental state. In fact, we accelerated this conversation in the past six months with the publication of our long-term strategy, Horizon 2030, and our new transformation policy.

It would be constructive if commentators and columnists can engage with Sanral on the basis of facts rather than on stereotypes and labels.

Vusi Mona
GM of communications at the South African National Roads Agency