FROM whatever angle you you look at, it is simply wrong for a governing political party to own shares in a commercial company, let alone when such a company bids for government contracts.
What is happening to the ANC and its leadership? There can be no doubt that for a ruling party to be a shareholder in a private company that tenders for state contracts represents a clear conflict of interest.
The ANC has a financial arm, Chancellor House, which owns a 25percent stake in Hitachi Power Africa. Hitachi has been awarded a contract by Eskom, the electricity utility, to supply and install boilers for power stations.
The ANC's stake in the deal through Chancellor House was estimated in 2008 to be R5,8billion. For the sake of transparency, accountability and clean governance there has to be a firewall between the ruling party and its leaders on the one hand and state and private companies on the other.
It is hardly unlikely that when a company that is partially owned by the ANC bids for a government or parastatal contract, that such a company will not be awarded the contract.
Soon after the ANC's national conference in December 2007, then newly minted party treasurer Mathews Phosa promised, as part of a post-Polokwane spring-cleaning, to disinvest the party's shares in Hitachi. This has not happened. The ANC must do so, and close down Chancellor House.
Good ruling parties govern in the broadest public interest. Private companies have a narrow motive - that of expressly securing a profit for their shareholders.
They rarely work in the public interest.
It would be a shame if the ANC leadership governs in a way that maximises its profits in its investments, rather than maximising the prosperity of the whole of SA Inc.
If the party is a major shareholder in Hitachi, how can one be without doubt that the ANC leadership applied their minds objectively in the proposed 35percent tariff hike proposed by Eskom?
The tariff increase is likely to hit the struggling economy, families and businesses at the worst possible moment. Ultimately, ordinary black South Africans - the ANC's bedrock constituency - are going to suffer the hardest.
To get our economy back on even an keel demands tough choices, some of these will no doubt be very painful.
Similarly, to award state contracts on delivery critical services to black economic empowerment companies on the basis of their owners' political connections or liberal donations to the ANC, yet knowing they do not have the capacity to deliver, and so again robbing the poor of "a better life", is equally wrong.
It is unacceptable that state-owned companies disburse finance or contracts to businesses linked to their own board of directors. It is just silly for someone to say when the decision was made, "I recused myself from the meeting where the decision was made". Neither is it enough for state-owned companies to say they disclosed such transactions in annual reports. The point is: if your friends and comrades are on the board that will make the decision to award a contract to your company, you do not need to be physically there.
Ultimately, we need to also bring greater transparency to the funding of political parties. Knowing which companies or individuals have donated to the ANC, DA or Cope is almost the only way to know whether they have secured their tenders solely on the basis of this, rather than merit.
The writer isis co-editor (with Leslie Dikeni) of recently released The Poverty of Ideas