Mark Barnes’s burden: New SAPO chief battling to beat the curse of Kahn

Mark Barnes was once tipped as a future CEO of Standard Bank. But lacking the finesse required of successful corporate politicians saw him ditch his banking career for colourful entrepreneurial endeavours that have brought lows (Capital Alliance with Mzi Khumalo) and highs (growing Purple Capital with Charles Savage). Most recently, the passionate Barnes has dived into a pool that most private sector executives have steadfastly avoided after former SABMiller boss Meyer Kahn’s disastrous attempt to fix the SA Police Services. Kahn, who shares many of Barnes’s engaging personality traits, jumped into public service shortly after SA’s democracy dawned, arriving with great fanfare as CEO of the SA Police Services in 1997. His two year contract was not renewed with a dispirited Kahn admitting the boys in blue were losing the fight against crime. He returned to his roots, chairing what became SABMiller as it relocated its headquarters and primary stock exchange listing to London. For his part, Barnes has grabbed his new role with typical enthusiasm, exciting taxpayers with a promise of ending ongoing subsidies. But he received a serious insight into the depth of the challenge in Parliament yesterday when his chairman didn’t bother to pitch for a key Parliamentary hearing. With odds so heavily against him, here’s hoping the curse of Kahn is not still alive and kicking. – Alec Hogg

By Duncan Alfreds, Fin24

Cape Town – The Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) has questioned the commitment of the South African Post Office (Sapo) chair after he failed to appear at a key hearing.

Sapo chair Dr Simosezwe Lushaba failed to appear before the committee on Tuesday after the Post Office posted a R1.5bn loss for the 2015 financial year.

Mark Barnes, new CEO of the South African Post Office
Mark Barnes, new CEO of the South African Post Office

Lushaba also failed to show up at a recent telecommunications and postal services parliamentary hearing.

“He shows no commitment; he doesn’t understand the expenditures that we need to answer for and the corruption that has run deep into the Post Office, he has not been able to come and account for it,” Scopa member Nyamezela Booi told Fin24.

Sapo’s newly appointed chief executive officer Mark Barnes and acting chief financial officer Nicola Dewar were present at the hearing on Tuesday, but the committee demanded that Lushaba should have been in attendance.

“In terms of the law, the people who must come and talk to us is the board – your board,” said Scopa chair Themba Godi.

Read also: Post Office won’t be privatised, says new CEO Mark Barnes

“I cannot accept that a correspondence that was sent in good time, and the chairperson is not here,” he added.

Fin24 reached out to Sapo about the Scopa members’ statements but Lushaba declined to comment.

Massive losses

post officeLushaba was the Sapo administrator before being appointed to chair the state-owned entity. The reported loss of R1.5bn also occurred under his watch.

“The reality is that he is conflicted. He’s been an administrator – now he’s chairing,” said Booi.

“We want to get clarity on that – the work they have doing before. There’s been a probe by the Public Protector; there’s been a probe by the Hawks. Everybody’s been on this particular institution. We thought that the chairperson out of good consciousness would come and account – that’s the point,” he added.

The Auditor General earlier this year also found that the Post Office regressed on the reliability of financial statements, performance reports and compliance with key legislation.

On Tuesday, CEO Barnes was prevented from providing the committee with details of a turnaround plan intended to move Sapo to profit by a self-imposed 2018 deadline.

“The turnaround plans come at the end. For the past few years, they been in the deep end with financial expenditures that the Auditor General has identified to be very problematic,” said Booi.

Booi said that Minster of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele should encourage accountability.

“At the end of the day, the minister must come forward and tell us what he will do because he appoints them. We want answers and accountability,” said Booi. – Fin24


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