Many state-owned enterprises have had struggles in appointing substantive CEOs or managing directors in record time. A classic example is Air Namibia, which went for years without a substantive managing director following the unceremonious departure of MD Theo Namases. The Air Namibia board at the time immediately installed University of Cape Town law graduate and then PhD candidate in air transport Advocate Mandi Samson and who came highly recommended as acting boss.
“The board wants to assure the public that Samson has the ability to lead Air Namibia and will provide her the full support in that regard. In the area of aviation, Samson has assisted the Southern African Development Community in developing and drafting the Common Regulations of Competition of Air Transport Services within the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the East African Community and the Southern African Development Community (SADC),” then board chair Gerson Tjihenuna was quick to sing her praises. Samson went on to lead the national airline for about four years, albeit in an acting capacity. But to date the company is yet to appoint a substantive CEO, with renowned businessman Theo Mberirua roped in on an interim basis. Air Namibia is not the only company that has struggled for years to appoint a substantive head. Many other institutions, including educational entities like the Namibia University of Science and Technology, National Commission on Research Science and Technology, Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund and the Namibia Institute of Pathology, among many others, are being run by acting chief executives. All these institutions play crucial roles and are considered to be of national importance.
Yes, we understand in some cases executives are acting because officials in those positions are on suspension and advertising the vacancy can only happen after the conclusion of a disciplinary process. However, the acting phenomenon nevertheless raises pertinent questions, including whether those representing the interest of the shareholder really understand the leadership vacuum and its catastrophic impact on institutions, partly funded by the taxpayer.
From a governance point of view, the acting phenomenon cannot be good for the ability of any SOE to turn itself around. As the saying goes, accountability is the lynchpin of corporate governance. Hence, we need capable CEOs that can take decisions and can be held accountable in the long run. We are the first to admit the CEO appointment process is cumbersome by its very nature, considering it usually involves an open process, through first advertising the post, appointing recruitment specialists and getting the blessings of Cabinet, before announcing the successful candidate. Still, the process cannot take a full year to complete if we really claim to be serious about service delivery and corporate governance. For how long will SOEs remain on standby?
The interim board of Telecom Namibia under the leadership of chairperson Jerry Muadinohamba has shown us this week how things should be done following the appointment of Stanley Shanapinda as new CEO. Perhaps, SOEs should take a leaf out of the book of the Telecom board, whose adeptness, timely and transparent appointment of a new CEO was hailed by many this week. Not only was the appointment being realised in record time, but the board also found it absolutely necessary to update the public on the appointment process, with at least two statements issued to that effect. This is the type of transparency we so yearn for as a nation. These are all hallmarks of good governance.