No dividends for rats

No dividends for rats

SOMEONE should tell government ministers to shut up about companies failing to declare dividends. It’s time to reap the rich rewards of our thoughtless stampede to privatise state companies. We embraced the privatisation mania as a silver bullet to the chaos overwhelming state companies, forgot that private ownership is not synonymous with profitability and efficiency. The first problem lies with the nature of the deals the government signed when selling its majority stake in the companies.

Our bureaucrats read the contracts while imbibing hopose and perched on the buyers’ laps. The results are horrible deals scandalously tilted in favour of the so-called buyers. A management contract without clear targets on performance and profit is just tosh. That is what is happening at Lesotho Flour Mills. The second problem is the pathetic claim that government should be getting dividends simply because it owns shares in the companies. The delusion is breath-taking.

Read Muckraker’s lips: those shares don’t translate into real ownership as long as the government has no real say on the declaration of dividends. The government must just admit that the real owners of the businesses are the majority shareholders. The best the government gets for its minority shareholding are just buttocks in the boardroom. Sadly those bums don’t change anything if owned by empty-heads appointed for their political bootlicking rather than expertise and acumen.

A former chief executive of one of those companies used to tell Muckraker a hilarious story of one government appointee who spent several years on voicemail. He would sit there like a stooge. He wasn’t even like the robot Sbu in the Chicken Licken advert. Occasionally he would fiddle with his fingers and adjust his cheap jacket. He only moved to get the cookies and coffee. And boy, did he munch those biscuits. “He was so in love with those cookies that at one time I suggested that they bring a whole tray for him alone,” the chief executive told Muckraker.

Still the chief executive kept praying that one day the director would say something in the meeting but those prayers were never answered. “Then one day I saw his lips open and I waited for words to come out. I said to myself: this is it, finally he is saying something. I was excited.” The chief executive says he was in for a crushing disappointment because just as he thought words were just about to come out the director’s right hand popped a sweet into the mouth. “Then as sudden as it had opened the mouth was shut for the next year until the government changed and the director was replaced by another dimwit.”

For years the government has been stuffing boards with nincompoops who cannot read even a simple balance sheet. People who cannot run their dog’s kennel are appointed directors in multi-million maloti companies. We are talking about people who have never sold even second-hand clothes being allowed to deal with capital investment, engineering, marketing and cash flow, profit after days and share earnings. Phew!

The government has been appointing simpletons to state companies but has the audacity to demand dividends. It’s as if all state companies have a huge bin outside their board rooms in which government-appointed directors deposit their brains before attending meetings. They will sit in those meetings, starring at those PowerPoint presentations while nodding to every drivel they are fed by management. As the rings are run around them they don’t utter a word because they know zilch about the business.

They are like Roman Catholics who have been forced to attend a Pentecostal church service. They are at sea when the Pentecostal zealots start screaming in tongues and shouting prayers. At the end of the meetings the directors collect their brains from the bin and receive their cheques. The only time they ask to wear their brains during the meetings is when there is a discussion about board allowances. And even then they only use the sense of hearing because it is what matters when it comes to figures. If the ears like what they hear the head will nod furiously.

This is what has been happening in the boards for years. They are teeming with slow-minds whose only motivation for attending meetings is to collect the cheque. The majority shareholders in the former state companies have understood how it works. The trick is to warn the boardroom before the meeting so that the directors snooze when it comes to discussing strategic issues. Ply them with lots of fizzy drinks so they are forever taking bathroom breaks while you skirt dubious decisions made during the year.

Have a meeting at a local hotel around lunch time so the directors are distracted by the smell of food. When the aroma becomes too much they will start murmuring about adjournments. Finally, make a show of bringing envelopes during the meeting so they see that their cheques are ready. The problem is therefore not the companies that bought the shares but the quality of people who represent the government on those boards. If they knew their mandate they would have started screaming about the lack of dividends many moons ago.

With time the government will learn the fundamental rule about business ownership. Forget the academic nonsense about equity and so forth. If you don’t control the person who signs the cheques then you don’t really own that business. Real ownership is when you either sign the cheques or you control the person who signs them. Your money must just be a signature away from you. The government claims it has shares in some companies but doesn’t control those who make financial decisions.

It’s not for nothing that most of these companies have insisted on management contracts and the right to appoint chief executives and financial directors. They know power is not vested in some rubberstamp boards but those who decide how and when to spend the money. This is not some MBA module but logic applicable in life. Experienced nyatsis have mastered this lesson. They know that until you get to decide how a man uses his money on either you or others you are not in control. Until that happens you are just one of the rats in the granary. Yes, you will eat but you cannot dictate how other rats eat.

If the other rats loot everything you will have to wait for the next harvest. And if the granary owner decides to fumigate you are finished. Brother Majoro is right to insist that companies should declare dividends. His only problem is that he is speaking like an economist: he speaks of the ideal situation and conditions. The reality is entirely different. It is an open secret that the government is one of the main customers of those companies. He should therefore ask his colleagues if they are paying government bills to those companies. Companies are not balloons that run on air.

Our notorious police claim they don’t know what happened to ‘Makarabo Mojakhomo, the woman arrested for allegedly thieving from the First Lady’s Trust Fund. They are now appealing to the public for information on her whereabouts. The nerve of it is astounding. The last the public heard was that Mojakhomo was in police custody being interrogated for dipping her manicured fingers into the cookie jar. Now the police are asking people to help them find her. How the hell are people supposed to know what happened to the poor woman when she was last seen at a police station?

Our police have a gift for incompetence and a penchant for crude methods. Bungling is their surname. And when they live up to their clan name they do so with gravely ruinous consequences. Muckraker says this with a straight face for she knows no other police force as close to calamity as ours. Shame on those concocting inane theories to explain her disappearance. It doesn’t matter how she disappeared because the buck stops with the police. If, by some Houdini act, she slithered out of the police station the police are to blame. The same applies, God forbid, if she has been maimed.

It is common cause, known even to emaciated dogs in Motimposo, that once a person is in police custody they are the responsibility of the police. And when they disappear it is the police’s fault. We therefore cannot have the police asking the public where Makarabo has gone as if she was last seen at a bus stop or wedding. The police’s sullied history is as apparent as a pig’s behind. We all know the case of Khetheng who was claimed to have vanished from police custody but turned up in a shallow grave.

While his family was demanding answers the police kept insisting that he had slipped out of a police station. Some even opined that he was probably enjoying life somewhere. There have been cases of suspects leaving police stations with broken bones and swollen bodies. People therefore have reason to fear for the worst for Mojakhomo. Our police are capable of unthinkable things, especially when the report is coming from someone with any semblance of political authority.

Their indolence is legendary but they will summon all might and suddenly wear their thinking caps when the complainant is politically connected. They are exuberant when it comes to pleasing their masters.

They find their mojo when doing their bosses’ bidding.

Previous Heritage and social points of union
Next Fresh headache for Thabane

About author

You might also like

Muckracker

Minister of nothing

SIZE TWO has never been known for being sly. What you see is what you get: A riddle here and a timid move there. Some sparks of oratory prowess and

Muckracker

Tripped by tricks

WE begin the year with a folktale. Once upon a time Rabbit and Baboon were good friends. They ate, farmed, played and even fornicated together. But, as we all know,

Muckracker

The hunt for SADC babies

Muckraker is thrilled the SADC standby army will soon hit our shores. But her excitement has nothing to do with the prospects of those foreign soldiers spanking our mischievous soldiers