Transparency clears the thinking!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Many years ago, when I was relatively inexperienced in being a manager, a rather attractive young woman with an impressive CV came into my office for a job interview.

As the conversation proceeded, I suddenly became uncomfortably aware that her contribution to the discussion was laced with flirtatious innuendo.

I very quickly stood up, saying, "I'm thirsty. Let's grab a cup of coffee", and moved out of my office into the reception area where I concluded the interview within eyeshot of two secretaries.

(She did not get the job.)

It was an important lesson for me. In my current role as a CEO, when we acquired in 2009 the building that would become the current headquarters of our operation in Hyde Park, I designed all of the offices, including my own, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls.

Think about it – I work in an industry dependent on the talent of young attractive people who recognise that success on air at my radio station is a major stepping-stone to stardom. None of my management team can afford to be accused of any impropriety behind the closed doors of their offices.

This is particularly so in my case since most of my would-be employees are young enough to be my own children.

I was thinking about this over the past few days as the sorry saga of SA Revenue Services Commissioner George "Oupa" Magashula unfolded in the weekend papers.

The background to this, in case you missed it, is that on 24 March, City Press published an article under the headline "Caught ON TAPE" sub-headed "boss and drug dealer". The article read:

"SA Revenue Services (SARS) boss Oupa Magashula is at the centre of a jobs-for-pals scandal involving a convicted drug dealer who is allegedly a police informant.

"In a clandestine recording laced with sexual innuendo, a copy of which the City Press has in its possession, Magashula and Panganathan ‘Timmy’ Marimuthu offer a 28-year-old woman from Marimuthu’s church a R700 000-a-year SARS post…."

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan acted with swift decisiveness that is uncharacteristic of President Jacob Zuma's administration. He appointed retired Constitutional Court judge Zak Yacoob and advocate Muzi Sikhakane as an internal fact finding committee into the allegations of improper conduct.

Last week, the minister issued a statement to the effect that based on findings of that inquiry, he was accepting Commissioner Magashula's resignation. He also released in full the findings of the inquiry including the transcript of the damaging conversation. (These can be found at

I have had the opportunity to hear the commissioner speak on many an occasion; most recently at FNB's post Budget Speech breakfast briefing with the finance minister in February.

Magashula has never failed to impress with his obvious competence accompanied by geniality and good humour. Under his tenure since 2009, SARS has consistently performed well under increasingly depressing economic conditions.

I have read through the transcript of the incriminating conversation as well as listened to the recording.

It is clear to me that there is no corrupt intent on the part of the commissioner. My read on his interaction is that he was trying to recruit to SARS ranks one of those rarest of creatures – a black female chartered accountant.

(To put this in perspective using apartheid terminology, there are about 33 000 chartered accountants in this country made up of around 25 000 whites, 3 000 Indians, 2 100 Africans, and 870 coloureds.)

Nevertheless, the commissioner's behaviour was entirely inappropriate.

It's not that long ago since membership of the Broederbond substituted for due process in the filling of vacancies. Our labour laws passed in 1998 sought to correct those injustices of the past, requiring substantive and procedural fairness in hiring processes.

The commissioner drove a truck through those principles.

I found myself cringing with distaste at his suggestion to the young woman that "my brother Timmy here says we can even find you a husband".

Minister Gordhan said in his statement that SARS "is an institution whose very foundations are built on the trust and credibility that South African taxpayers have in it. It is therefore critical that those to whom the stewardship of this vital fiscal institution is entrusted conduct themselves, during and after working hours, in a manner that ensures that they are above question."

I take my hat off to the minister. It could not have been an easy decision given his long association with the commissioner. Nevertheless, he has acted swiftly and decisively in the best interests of the nation.

I can only hope the minister's colleagues in cabinet take his example to heart.