Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

When venal politicians or CEOs abuse their power, the one consistently excellent institution to call them to account has been the courts. We saw this again recently, not just in Sulet Potterill’s ruling on school feeding schemes, but also in relation to Telkom’s outrageous demand that it be exempt from empowerment rules.

The fixed-line operator, owned 40% by the government and 15% by the Public Investment Corp, was granted "BEE facilitator" status by trade & industry minister Ebrahim Patel in 2019, which exempted it, and its subsidiary BCX, from having to meet empowerment requirements when bidding for contracts.

It was so manifestly unfair that it raised sharp questions about just how much the government really understands about business, and the lengths to which it will go to bend the rules to suit itself.

Nonetheless, it took Telkom’s rivals — MTN and Altron — going to court to have this declared unlawful. Which shouldn’t surprise Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko.

The share price might be 47% down over three years, but that still doesn’t justify cheating the system.

If Patel is so enthusiastic about using competition to bolster SA’s competitiveness, it’s a wonder he ever signed this self-evidently anticompetitive rule. And it remains an indictment that it took a judge to consign this to the scrapheap.

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