State functions require solid risk assessment

Nigerian rebels as South African state guests, ran up incredible hospitality costs. Is admin and budget risk management no longer a state departmental ethic?

I stood open mouthed when a read a news report titled ‘Rebels’ R2.7-m hotel bill’ (Daily Sun 23 November 2011). What had happened to our country’s sense of risk, and sense of cost management?

I felt fear coil around my heart at the thought of state department managers losing the time honoured and common sense of accountability and frugality that should be part of managing every budget and cash flow, especially public budgets and cash flows.

Four T’s of risk management

There are four ways of managing risk, known as the four T’s, and they stand in a specific sequence: treat, transfer, terminate, tolerate.

The Nigerian government thought it prudent to transfer some of their risks, in the form of former rebel fighters, to South Africa. On the other side of the coin, the SA government agreed to contain and manage this risk to political stability by rehabilitation of these Nigerian rebels who “…know very little about living in a city and who are uncouth to the highest level.”

The SA Department of International Relations and Co-operation should have done a risk assessment before accepting this human cargo. They should have known better that a mouse charmed by the smile of the snake.

The Nigerian guests, among other liberties, threatened to kill the hotel owner. South Africa should brace itself for the next scary step: they may well refuse to return home, and demand citizenship, housing, medical care, and child support grants.

Like Trojans acting on a vague ceremonial impulse, our leaders had drawn a ‘Greek’ gift within our once secure walls. While they celebrate their diplomatic moves, ordinary citizens will pay the price.

Admin risk assessment

SA minister Maite Nkoane-Mashabane, incoming president of COP17 /CMP7 drummed out a politically correct message: “Climate change will change our world, unless we change”. Politicians like to parade vague risks and vague solutions to maintain their licence to ‘do something about our situation’, but they are poor at assessing and managing clear, present and measurable risks.

Perhaps 4000 rebels from Nigeria pose hazards larger and more accountable than the diffuse effects of climate change. The SA government, in its political wisdom, had turned those hazards into clear and present risks.

Rebels outside a war zone act out their practiced roles like rape, hijack and robbery. Their commanders have some experience in fraud and bringing out the worst in their comrades.

When crime and loss escalates due to our new guests, the SA government should take the blame for their failure to do a risk assessment.

Shakespeare was right in Romeo and Juliet when he wrote: “Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace.” We cannot rehabilitate rebels, nor harness a race horse with a mule. Nigeria could lure rebels out of the bush, but South Africa could not lure the bush out of rebels!

Skilled practice of politics, diplomacy and security management could limit the damage, but I fear that we have seen leading indicators of larger loss incidents to come, if government and the state continue to fail at their primary tasks of leadership and administration.

• Mabila Mathebula (BA UNW, BA Hon UNISA, MBA MGI, Post Grad Diploma Advanced PM Cranefield) is completing a PhD in Organisational Behaviour at UP. He is a member of PMSA, former member of USA Transport Research Board and SA Railway Association Safety Committee, and managing member of a behavioural safety consultant, Safety Gabs. Mathebula writes for various publications, and is writing some sections in a new Life Orientation grade 11 textbook.

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