What the MBDA Should Learn: Honour is Still a Thing

Ste Peter's view over harbour 2

A salute to Kholile Nzo for standing up on a couple of important principles relating to a proposal to remunerate board members of the Mandela Bay Development Agency.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was one of the excited ones when the MBDA was launched and welcomed Pierre Voges when he was appointed the agency’s first CEO. What a disappointment his tenure at the helm turned out to be.

The city needs to have a broader discussion about the value that the MBDA adds to its communities, to business and professional interests, to councillors with evident or undeclared vested interests. I wonder why it is suddenly necessary for the MBDA to remunerate board members. I have suspected for a long time that the MBDA is a glorified slush fund for vanity projects for certain councillors with strong sway in the city’s political and economic morass. Perhaps this is another step along that path.

We should have seen the red lights when there was a concerted campaign to bring anything and everything that had development written on it, under the MBDA’s purview. Such centralisation, as we’ve learnt in South Africa, is never a good thing. The MBDA even dabbled in project funding for art and culture – perhaps, largely driven by Voges’ own predilections or the interests of others with ties to the agency.

Has the MBDA done enough to take out the slumlords that have been the bane of Central? It’s a real question and I don’t know the answer but I think the bluddy Irishman who started a lot of the trouble is still around, and still being enabled by individuals and organisations who should know better. Instead, we’ve seen yet more pointers to gentrification ala the Cape Town model.

What has been the long-term impact on broken, jobless communities, what impact on cultural projects that might develop young kids out of poverty?

Now Khulile Nzo has quit the board because the agency and the municipality want to pay board members for attending meetings. It’s not an astronomical amount of money. But it’s the principles which are important here. Nzo has raised concerns about the secretive manner in which the proposed remuneration was handled and rightly points out that current board members signed up for duty on the basis that they would not be remunerated.

If the MBDA’s mandate remains an honourable one – to bring essential developmental projects and kickstarting initiatives to benefit communities throughout the city – it should be no problem to persuade the best hearts and minds in diverse fields to bring their core expertise and to give of their time. The work of directors is to ensure that the agency has a defensible set of core objectives and that proper, legitimate work is done in accordance with those objectives. It is an oversight role – not the turning-the-blind-eye kind of oversight, but a focused on-the-ball examination of work and achievements against objectives.

Of course, it could be onerous – at times, when executives are incompetent and board members are expected to play a more hands-on, day-to-day role, or when executives are crooked and board members have to clean up their messes.

Current board chair Phil Goduka says that paying directors means you get the best minds. I disagree. There are enough of the best minds around who are more than willing to put service for the common good before personal pecuniary interests. If you can’t afford to volunteer, then don’t.

He also says that remuneration is necessary because board members are precluded from doing business with the municipality. Again, that’s what you sign up for when you accept appointment to the board. If you don’t like that rule, don’t bother to sign up and, instead, go and do business with the city.

I love the reference to “good practice” as being behind this move. Allegedly, if you are paid to sit on a board that plays a critical role in the lives of a city’s people, you will be more attentive, committed, accountable. “Good practice” has been the hide-all for a whole lot of rubbish policies and crooked practices that have been heaped on citizens, consumers, residents, over many years.

But we also know that we gave the Gupta crooks their directors’ fees for sitting on the boards of State-owned entities, and then paid them hand over fist on every deal that came across the boardroom table. Good practice? Not so much.

Thank you Mr Nzo.

“Honour and integrity” are still a thing.

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What the MBDA Should Learn: Honour is Still a Thing

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