THE game of parastatal board musical chairs is well underway with ministers dissolving their respective boards for a variety of reasons encapsulated by the need to ensure the success of the country’s latest economic blueprint ZimAsset.
By Stewart Chabwinja
Most notably, the dissolutions come against the backdrop of the continued rot at parastatals and state enterprises dominating media space and national discourse amid revelations of, among other scandals, “obscene” salaries, corruption, tender manipulation and general mismanagement aided and abetted by a glaring oversight deficit.
So far the axe has not only fallen on the ZBC board; Mines minister Walter Chidhakwa has dissolved the ZMDC, MMCZ and Marange Resources boards, Energy minister Dzikamai Mavhaire dismissed eight energy sector boards, Transport minister Obert Mpofu fired the Air Zimbabwe and Zinara boards and others under him, while Saviour Kasukuwere has booted out the Zinwa board. The trend is set to continue with talk that more boards face the chop.
The dissolutions will pave way for the constitution of new boards with a fresh mandate as enshrined in ZimAsset, government contends, as the new boards will be mandated to ensure there is improved service delivery, maximisation of shareholder value and spearhead the turnaround of the state-owned enterprises.
This will hardly be music to the ears of the general public and only the naive will hold their collective breath as, despite its sound intentions, ZimAsset requires US$27 billion in the next five years at a time the broke government appears clueless as to how even a fraction of that amount would be raised beyond extending the begging bowl to China.
One can only hope those who will sit on the reconstituted boards possess the specific skills in their areas of concern to enable them to deliver and that ministers will use the process to inject new blood into the boards rather than recycle the same familiar faces who sit on countless boards.
In terms of corporate governance trends, having the same faces on many boards runs counter to best practice, the argument being for board members to be effective, they need time with each board they sit on.
In fact, the old multiple board system was to a large extent driven by cronyism, something which, alongside patronage, is pervasive in Zimbabwe. Currently, there is an appreciation that no matter how good someone is, they cannot monopolise corporate wisdom. The Corporate Governance Code of 2010 and Parastatal Restructuring Manual of 2012 should guide the constitutions of the boards.
To allay any fears that vested interests or cronyism are behind the dissolution of the boards, there must be transparency as to why the fired board members met their fate, particularly if they were still eligible for re-appointment. Otherwise, it would appear as if the ministers are doing so to merely replace the boards with their cronies.
Thus the calibre of the incoming board appointees will come under much scrutiny as viability constraints and poor performance of most state-owned enterprises has been attributed to the absence of strategic leadership and lack of sound corporate governance.