Robin Vela: the bigger picture

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Mr Vela

Kudzanai Sharara Taking Stock
The dismissal of NSSA board chairperson Robin Vela came as no surprise as this is the norm of how parastatals are run in this country. The market has come to expect that the appointment of a new minister brings with it changes at executive and board levels.

While Vela’s reign at NSSA has generally brought some stability and a sense of direction, accusations of unfair dealings have been made.

But the fact that Vela has worked under two different ministers means if he was doing anything wrong, this should have been detected some time ago and corrective action taken.

The firing of Vela at this point, raises more questions than answers, particularly at a time when NSSA has improved its performance.

There is the issue that Vela is not ordinarily resident in the country. Does it mean the two ministers before the current one did not know about Section 8 (a) of the NSSA Act?

The big question to ask is: Are the changes at parastatals and state-owned entities motivated by the desire to drive the vision of the organisations forward or they are just there to promote the personal interests of politicians?

Continued changes at parastatals without justifiable reasons tends to affect continuity and, consequently profitability, at the organisations.

Some market watchers believe high staff turnover causes management to pilfer national resources so that by the time they are fired, they would have lined their pockets and will go happily.

Prominent human resources practitioner Memory Nguwi believes accepting appointment to a board of a State entity carries a huge risk especially for those people who want to remain professional.

He notes that majority of board members are never appointment on merit in the first place.

The hiring and firing of parastatal boards brings into question the selection criteria used to appoint people at key State institutions. How can one suddenly become bad the moment a new minister comes in?

According to Nguwi, his assessment is that performance is not assessed the normal way other organisations do.

“It’s more to do with your level of allegiance to the appointing authority than performance. Boards are never given the freedom to act independent of the minister.

“With such practices, economic turnaround will be slow and very painful given how much state entities are supposed to contribute to GDP.”

Many share the same sentiments. If we had a shared vision as a nation, it should not matter which individual minister is in charge in terms of who sits on parastatal boards, but it should be about what the individual brings to the table in terms of technical know-how.

Whose vision and strategic thrust are we following at these institutions; the nation’s or the minister’s? If it’s a matter of incompetence or poor corporate governance as Vela was often accused of, the previous minister should have had issues with that and fired him.

The strategic vision at big organisations such as NSSA should be shared by the whole nation and not changed at the whim of a change in personnel at ministerial level.

The values should be the same, as should be the implementation strategy and if a competent individual has these traits as approved by one minister, then it should be the same with all incumbent ministers.

NSSA is currently the biggest investment institution in the country followed by Zamco and all developments that happen at NSSA are closely watched as they impact directly and indirectly on major markets in the country, such as the stock and money markets as well as other related sectors.

Walter Mandeya, an analyst says the removal of the current board chair should be explained for transparency’s sake.

“In addition, a clear strategic plan now needs to be outlined such that disruption to strategic initiatives through such mid-term changes is minimised.

“The next chair at NSSA should be chosen through a transparent process and should be allowed to implement the necessary strategic initiatives to bring NSSA to the high corporate governance standards that are expected of the institution. Direct Government intervention should be limited and alternative governance measures through which pension contributors can participate and question the board and management about their pensions should be put in place with parliament having the ultimate oversight over the institution.

It is our hope that the Public Entities Corporate Governance Bill, which is expected to address such issues, is quickly passed so that ministers’ wings can be clipped.

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