South Africa’s marine and maritime interests at risk if decisive action not taken

OUTA is concerned about inadequate SAMSA leadership and wasteful expenses, and fears this will lead to failed responsibilities

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02/05/2023 10:07:49

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South Africa’s marine and maritime interests at risk if decisive action not taken

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) was established in April 1998 with a mandate including ensuring the safety of life and property at sea, preventing and combating pollution from ships in the marine environment and promoting the country’s maritime interests.

SAMSA, established under the SAMSA Act of 1998, is overseen by the Department of Transport and classified as a Schedule 3 national public entity.

It has come to OUTA’s attention that the entity is hamstrung by leadership problems and wasteful expenses. On 18 April 2023, OUTA wrote to the Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Transport highlighting our concerns.

One of our main concerns is that SAMSA has been operating without a permanent CEO since May 2016. “This was discussed in all SAMSA’s appearances before the Transport Portfolio Committee from 2016 to date, and the SAMSA board and the Transport Minister were instructed to appoint a permanent CEO,” says OUTA’s Rudie Heyneke. “The CEO position was eventually advertised in January 2021 and, after the final interviews in November 2021, the board recommended to then Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula to appoint Theresa Williams as the CEO. The minister failed to respond to the board timeously, and the board resolved to appoint another acting CEO.”

In April 2022, Minister Mbalula replied to SAMSA and recommended the secondment of Rufus Lekala from Transnet National Ports Authority to act as SAMSA CEO until an appointment was made. However, because of the minister’s late submission and the board’s lack of a resolution on the secondment, Lekala was not seconded.

When SAMSA appeared before the portfolio committee on 11 October 2022, the then Deputy Minister of Transport, Sindisiwe Chikunga, reported to the committee that a process still needed to be followed before a permanent CEO could be appointed, and the committee did not ask her to elaborate. It is also unclear what processes still had to unfold before the minister could accept the board’s recommendations for a permanent CEO.

“We find it very problematic that SAMSA has been without a permanent accounting officer, or CEO, for seven years,” says Heyneke.

OUTA also has serious concerns about SAMSA’s failure to act on complaints by the Disabled People of South Africa (DPSA), a broad-based black economic empowerment group which – together with other stakeholders – was selected to participate in and derive benefit from the maritime economy. The DPSA filed a high court application to compel SAMSA to act on numerous complaints it has raised over many years. The SAMSA board and the Minister of Transport ignored the DPSA complaints for years, acting only after legal action, resulting in the appointment of a forensic investigation company to investigate the allegations made by the DPSA.

Three SAMSA senior executives were suspended on 26 April 2021 as a result of the forensic investigation, including Sobantu Tilaye, who was acting CEO for five years. The disciplinary hearings of two of the three suspended officials are still not completed, costing SAMSA and taxpayers millions of rand.

Heyneke says OUTA is concerned that SAMSA, with its many internal problems, will not be able to fulfil its duties and responsibilities. “Apart from limping along for years now without a permanent CEO, most executive positions are currently filled by acting officials. The board members cannot work together in harmony and are unable to make decisions. SAMSA’s partners and service providers are threatening with litigation, and fruitless and wasteful expenditure is running into millions.”

OUTA says SAMSA’s leadership crisis has left the institution vulnerable, and it can easily escalate to a national and international crisis.

“For instance, will SAMSA be able to act if a major oil spill is reported in our national marine environment? Will they be able to protect our marine life? What will the reputational risk be for the country if SAMSA fails in its duty?” asks Heyneke.

OUTA asked the portfolio committee to use its powers to conduct a thorough investigation and oversight into the affairs of SAMSA.

“We also requested that the committee apply pressure on the Minister of Transport and the SAMSA board to fill the vacancies, but most importantly to appoint a permanent CEO. Furthermore, we requested that all the members of the current board be invited to present the current situation at SAMSA to the committee without fear, favour, or prejudice. Finally, OUTA asked the committee to oversee the competency of all the board members responsible for SAMSA’s affairs, and to determine if they are acting in the best interests of SAMSA and South Africa,” says Heyneke.

The portfolio committee through the committee secretary has acknowledged receipt of OUTA’s correspondence.

“We will frequently follow up with the committee to establish what progress is made with OUTA’s requests,” says Heyneke.


More information

OUTA’s letter to the Portfolio Committee on Transport is here.

A soundclip with comment by OUTA Transport Portfolio Manager Rudie Heyneke is here.

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