IoDSA hails Government plan to improve board appointments on state-owned entities
20 July 2017
Government’s undertaking to finalise a board-appointment framework for state-owned entities (SOEs) by March 2018 is warmly welcomed by the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa (IoDSA). The move is one of the key steps outlined in Government’s Inclusive Growth Action Plan, which was released by the National Treasury on 13 July 2017. The Plan is intended to kick start economic growth, end the recession and stave off further downgrades.
“State-owned entities are key enablers of economic growth, particularly in South Africa, and the IoDSA has repeatedly argued that their lack of performance is linked to imperfect governance, particularly when it comes to appointing directors,” notes Parmi Natesan, Executive: Centre for Corporate Governance at the IoDSA. “We will certainly be making our specialist expertise in this area available to Government going forward, as it works to create the framework for appointing SOE board members.”
Natesan says that the IoDSA has already interacted with the Department of Public Service and Administration in this regard, and has made several recommendations for its consideration. As the torchbearer for corporate governance and the convenor of the King Committee, the IoDSA will certainly hold itself ready to contribute further as Government gets down to the details of the proposed framework.
The IoDSA has long argued that “board composition probably has the greatest single impact on the future success of an organisation”, to quote its recent board appraisals benchmark study.
Directors need to have the requisite knowledge, skills, experience and personal qualities, and should be appointed through a formal, independent process. This is critical in any organisation, but particularly for SOEs because of their influence on the rest of the economy, and the difficulty of keeping political and economic goals separate.
As the IoDSA has pointed out before, it is critical that the state as shareholder and the board understand their respective roles, and that undue political interference in the appointment of board members is avoided. Boards cannot be held accountable for the SOE’s performance if they are unable to exercise their judgement freely and in the best long-term interests of the organisation, Natesan says.
Another critical factor is the need for demonstration of appropriately skilled and experienced directors. To help resolve this, the IoDSA is playing a leading role by providing training related to each of the 20 competencies identified in its Director Competency Framework. It has also introduced the professional Chartered Director (SA) designation in 2013 and more recently the Certified Director designation, in a bid to professionalise the directorship role, providing directors with a way to ensure they build the right competencies; and organisations with a way to ensure they are getting the directorial talent their boards require to function effectively.
The final piece of the puzzle is regular, objective assessments of board performance.
“The IoDSA is committed to improving corporate governance across South Africa. Effective corporate governance can improve organisational performance over the long term, which has socio-economic benefits for the country as a whole, but it will also contribute to reversing the perception of corruption that is swamping our public life,” Ms Natesan concludes. “While the IoDSA is a non-statutory, voluntary body and cannot act directly to penalise improper conduct, we have a key role to play in building awareness, providing training and guidelines, and influencing governance policy. We believe this element of the Inclusive Growth Plan offers a great opportunity for us to do so.”