South Africa needs competent directors


The Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, has recently renewed his calls for a new board to be appointed at South African Airways (SAA). His comments come as the national carrier’s financial statements are delayed, owing to the Treasury not providing the guarantees needed to convince its auditors that it is a going concern.

Minister Gordhan is quoted as stating that the guarantees will only be considered once the airline has a new board and executive team. This‚ Gordhan told a business breakfast‚ would require a “whole new board” of “credible people… with the right balance of skill and exposure”.

According to Parmi Natesan, Executive: Centre for Corporate Governance at the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa (IoDSA), “The IoDSA’s Board Appraisal Benchmark Study shows that public sector boards perform less well than those in the private sector. One of the reasons for this, sited by public sector board members themselves, is that board members are often political appointees, and thus lack the necessary knowledge, skills, experience and independence to fulfil their roles adequately.”

The IoDSA’s Board Appraisal Benchmark Study concluded that board composition is probably the single most important governance factor in respect of an organisation’s future success. Interviews with members of these boards indicate that key challenges include the fact that incorrect criteria are used in appointing board members, lines of accountability are not clear, and a lack of industry knowledge resulting from the high turnover of ministers, MECs and directors.

Need for professional directors

“When it comes to appointing new members to the SAA board, it would be wise to ensure they have the correct knowledge and skills—public-sector directors have a tough job and the company’s performance is dependent on their competence,” Natesan says.

“Directors generally have such an important role to play, and the issues they face are so complex, that a new cadre of professional directors is required.”

In response to this need, the IoDSA has introduced a formal professional designation for directors, the Chartered Director(SA) or CD(SA). In addition, a structured pathway has been designed to enable directors/aspiring directors to acquire the director competencies they need to complement their existing business skills whilst working towards the designation. The CD(SA) designation also enables directors to demonstrate objectively their fitness to serve on a board, and provides a vehicle for continuing professional development.

“While the pool of CD(SA)s is still relatively small, the pathway and ultimate designation should be used as a benchmark for competency to serve as a director in South Africa,” says Natesan. “If SAA is to turn the corner, it needs board members with the right knowledge, skills and personal competencies; and a clear understanding of their responsibilities to the organisation, to the state and, ultimately, to the citizens.”

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Issue 68