INTERVIEW WITH LYNNE BROWN, MEC FOR FINANCE & TOURISM
|What's in a name?
Throughout CapeInfo, we abbreviate Western Cape provincial government to WCPG.
The Western Cape Provincial Legislature is often referred to as the provincial parliament. The equivalent of the cabinet at national level is the executive council at provincial level. The Western Cape is the only province (with special legislation) where members of the executive council (MEC's) are referred to as ministers... at local level only... when dealing with national government they are referred to as MEC's.
|'Jack be nimble, Jack be quick'
Provincial government launched its Western Cape Tourism Development Partnership this year.
The goals – broad inclusivity – may be noble but it's a cumbersome organisation that will be difficult to focus and steer. Some criticise it for vesting more control in PGWC, and point to the excellent model of SA Tourism working with the Tourism Business Council.
Will the Partnership sideline the good work of the Province's Tourism Business Forum?
We balk at the following diagram about this partnership: Putting the MEC at the centre of tourism is fatuous – it's private sector tourism that drives everything.
It seems to be the kind of "talkshop" that chased away the competent people from the private sector at the beginning of the decade. Looking at the sub-committee nominations, it seems like the same old, same old... Did we miss the Convention Centre, V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain, etc, there?
PGWC can be no more than the catalyst, mobilising and encouraging the private sector; guiding them to a new provincial culture of co-operation and collaboration. And... being part of a winning province!
More about the structure:
Background: WCTD Framework 04Oct06
Institutional arrangements 04Oct06
Draft outline: Framework 05Mar07
Sub-committee nominations 01Aug07
|A history of rebuttal
Lynne Brown is less than happy at the way the private sector has come forward. But there is a reason.
In 1986 Pick 'n Pay's Raymond Ackerman offered to put R1 million into an upgraded Cape Town Festival - a lot of money then. Proposals were prepared and workshopped with other business leaders. Then came the presentation to Captour's board, since they managed the festival. It was an embarrassment, with Ackerman being attacked for the quality from Pick 'n Pay's catering division! The proposal and offer died – Cape Town's mayor at the time was Peter Muller. He was also chairman of Captour and one of his companies had the contract for the Cape Town Festival.
In 1991, Ackerman started Cape Town's 2004 Olympic Bid. He ran it and paid for it. Then when Cape Town was chosen South Africa's preferred city, local government told him it was their prerogative as host city to appoint the management team and dumped him unceremoniously, with no gratitude, respect or recompense for what he had achieved.
Now if anyone as successful, widely respected and passionate about Cape Town is treated like that, surely anyone from the private sector worth their oats will think twice before contributing to anything where the public sector has a say?
In 1999, Hugh von Zahn, as regional chair of the Tourism Business Council, was nominated for the Western Cape Tourism Board. Now surely the TBC was an important roleplayer and von Zahn is without doubt a competent businessman? But he didn't get the nod; he would have rocked the boat.
Many others in the private sector learnt this lesson in 2001 when they rallied to support Leon Markovitz's Joint Marketing Inititiative. But when he – a successful and respected businessman – left public office, the process was taken over by bureaucrats. CEO's from sizable businesses sat in meetings where junior officials were too important to turn their cellphones off. CEO's were told what was expected of the private sector. Many were so aghast they vowed never to get involved in public sector initiatives again.
More recently, CTRU has failed to gain or garner widespread private sector support. Offers of assistance were rejected. Decisions were taken by some companies at board level not to get involved because it was a waste of time.
The public sector needs to establish its bona fides anew. It needs to earn trust before enjoying any credibility.
Half an hour for an interview with someone one has never met is not much time. It's fine for a few questions and answers, but not when one also tries to understand the person's philosophy and way of doing business.
WE warmed to Lynne Brown the moment she walked in the door. There was an immediate rapport and mutual respect. Brown repeatedly remarked, "I shouldn't be enjoying this interview as much as I am." Yes, CapeInfo has been very harsh on her before, but it's taken a year to gain this interview and anybody in public office should know that accessibility is one requirement to building relationships and avoiding criticism. CapeInfo hopes to establish a much closer relationship in future. We genuinely liked her.
We recalled that our last visit to the Provincial Building had been in 2001 to a former MEC for her portfolio. The late Leon Markovitz had invited us because he wanted to bounce a new idea he had for a Joint Marketing Initiative. Given what's happened since, it seems a lifetime ago!
Brown admitted that the Provincial Building does seem an intimidating place... and the cause for the greatest annual trauma in her family when she really wants them to be there for her annual budget address to the provincial parliament.
For anyone from the private sector, the place certainly has a foreign culture. We first encountered it 10 years ago on a visit to a former premier, Hernus Kriel. He revelled in his tough guy image, he intimidated staff and all opposition. But we challenged in the way that CapeInfo is now renowned for, and found him open, accommodating and a thoroughly nice guy.
If you visited Transnet's brand new HQ in Johannesburg in 1990, you would have been impressed by the building and appointments. But you would have been astounded to discover that on the executive floor, only the CEO had a female personal assistant. The rest had former railways clerks who called their seniors "oom" (uncle). Elements of South Africa's historical culture linger today.
The culture of WCPG and its reliance on authoritarian structures contrasted so with the culture we got to discover a few years later that epitomise BMW. There, empowerment (true personal empowerment, mind you!) and taking ownership were inculcated into every BMW employee, and every employee or manager had to go through BMW's induction course. Why has Australia been so successful? Is it their irreverence for authority that breeds that can-do, kick-ass attitude? Maybe it's a pity that convicts destined for Australia were not allowed to be offloaded at the Cape! Or maybe the Cape was weakened when local rebels embarked on the Groot Trek to take entrepreneurship and the can-do attitude up north. Today, the Western Cape's provincial culture is out of step with the rest of South Africa.
LYNNE BROWN has been in the spotlight this year. As the saga at Cape Town Routes Unlimited (CTRU) unfolded, she claimed in March that "there is no crisis"... everything was hunkey-dory. In June, the City of Cape Town gave notice that it intends withdrawing its R24 million a year grant and pulling out of CTRU. In her address to the full City Council, mayor Helen Zille said, "This notice is also intended to send a clear message to the Minister responsible for CTRU in Province that the status quo cannot be maintained." In July, the CTRU chairperson appointed by Brown admitted to the City that there are serious problems at CTRU.
Brown says that after the last CEO resigned after two months on the job, they did review what is happening there and found two problems – finance and HR – "they have a staff of over 60!" which she believes is excessive. On criticisms of poor branding, she says that if the organisation and the board don't have the necessary skills, they should be buying it in. She notes that when the board asked for her permission to appoint a chief operating officer, that request was granted.
But in reviewing their service level agreement with the province, she says they found that CTRU had met 80% of their obligations. Regarding the demands and frequent requirements by PGWC on CTRU, she doesn't see this as interference but rather the accountability that is due.
Brown admits that CTRU's future is in the balance and one option, which she doesn't favour, is for it to be incorporated into the provincial tourism department. She is disappointed that the private sector has not been more supportive, saying "they have never had it as good..."
Now good finance and HR should be the given in any organisation. Without it, in the private sector, one would go brankrupt. But what of, for CTRU, great marketing and the big ideas the public can buy into? These are the criticisms that have been levelled at the organisation. Brown takes the point that the "big ideas" are missing.
If CTRU is accountable to PGWC on a daily basis, we have to wonder why there is a board of directors at all. Is it a feel-good factor so they can say "we have private sector participation"? One of the previous board members was criticised by a provincial bureaucrat for a statement he had made in his private capacity, and warned not to do it again. Is that acceptable?
|The Great Divide
"Private sector tasks are always results-driven;
public sector tasks are process-driven"
It does seem that PGWC doesn't understand the private sector and does not know how to work with that sector. Prescribing structures and authority won't achieve success and is so "old South Africa". This is PGWC's biggest hurdle. Commenting on this draft interview, someone made the point that when the private sector tackles a task, it's always results-driven; when the public sector tackles a task, it's process-driven.
Brown is a former schoolteacher where order and discipline are essential qualities. We're sure that she was a very popular teacher and that her learners responded to her expectations. But when you're dealing with experienced businesspeople, mutual trust and respect alongside creativity and breaking the norm are ingredients for success. Brown is passionate about her job and determined to make a success of tourism in the province. In the same way that she enjoyed this interview, we are sure she would enjoy more robust and wider discussions about tourism outside the provincial structures.
Brown places a lot of hope in the new Western Cape Tourism Development Partnership that was launched eariler this year and asks, "Don't you think that the Tourism Partnership with people like Nils Heckscher will do good work?" Heckscher chairs Fedhasa Cape and is on the CTRU board. Fedhasa focuses and does stirling work on operational issues for its members. It is careful not to rock the boat. At national level, almost 50% of its board comprises government or statutory agencies. So Heckscher must be a very comfortable choice for the MEC.
This raises an important question we didn't get to ask. Why is Fedhasa the chosen organisation for representation on the CTRU board? CTRU is a marketing organisation and Fedhasa has no marketing focus, whereas SATSA does have a marketing focus and their nomination was rejected. One must also wonder why CTRU has a place on the Fedhasa Cape board which deals only with members' operational issues.
Ten years ago we wrote about the "koffie en koeksuster" culture that prevailed in provincial tourism structures – great warmth and friendliness, but not terribly professional. Brown agreed that this is still a problem she encounters when going into tourism offices unannounced and unidentified. Accreditation alone won't solve this, more training is needed (and probably some attitude adjustment as well).
Apart from CTRU, other provincial agencies like CapeNature and Wesgro have also been in the spotlight lately. Could there be a wider problem with the structures of provinncial agencies we asked. "Environmental MEC Tasneem Essop is looking into the affairs at CapeNature, but we have a fourth agency that has performed exceptionally well – the Western Cape Gambling and Gaming Board," she says. That's primarily because it operates at arm's length with the private sector and little creativity is required of it.
Can our provincial culture be changed? We are so out of step with the rest of South Africa. The Western Cape's ANC is riddled with divisions which makes everything even more difficult. It's interesting how the new governments of Gordon Brown in the UK and Nicolas Sarkozy in France have placed extraordinary emphasis on having inclusive leadership across all spectrums – the party is one thing but government is for all the people and can only succeed if it works with the private sector.
A short CV
LYNNE BROWN has a long history of involvement in women's and community organisations in the Western Cape. Born in 1961, she trained and worked as a teacher for a number of years.
She was chairperson of the Mitchell's Plain Youth Congress in 1979 and a member of the United Women's Organisation from 1979 to 1985. She was a member of the United Women's Congress from 1985 to 1990, serving first as Education Officer and then as Provincial Secretary.
She was involved in the United Democratic Front from its formation in 1983 until its disbandment, serving as a member of its Finance Committee.
Brown joined the ANC in 1987 and was elected to the Provincial Executive Committee and Provincial Working Committee in 1999. She has served as Western Cape Provincial Secretary of the ANC Women's League since 1990.
Her involvement in education continued after her teaching years. She was a board member of the National Literacy Project and is currently a board member of the Extramural Education Project. She initiated and was director of the Women's College in 1990.
In 1994 and again in 1999 she was elected as an ANC Member of the Western Cape Provincial Legislature. She was chairperson of the standing committees on Community Services and on Health and Welfare, and served as an ANC Whip and Chief Whip in the legislature. She stood as the ANC's candidate as mayor of Cape Town in 1999 and has been provincial MEC for finance, economic development and tourism since 2004.