The public revolt over tolling has unfairly claimed a victim in Sanral CEO Nazir Alli. Yet his resignation has been oddly celebrated in a variety of quarters as a victory for democracy, against government rip-offs and against corruption.
These perceptions are not based on fact or fairness. In Mr Alli, it is widely agreed by those who have worked with and knew him, SA had a public sector manager with rare skill and expertise, uncompromising integrity and enormous passion.
His mistake, many in the public service say, was that he failed "to build consensus" - essential on a project the size of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project - and was a "bad communicator".
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But even these are unfair criticisms. It was not Sanral’s role to build political support for government policies, but rather to implement the policies themselves. Unluckily for Mr Alli, his political principal, Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele, has ducked and dived since the political unpopularity of the tolling project became clear.
Mr Ndebele has on several occasions gone so far as to imply that he and the Cabinet never took a decision on the Gauteng project, which, on closer questioning, he has reluctantly admitted not to be true.
As a result, Mr Alli never got the political support he would have expected when implementing an agreed policy and a strategic plan, which had been published and discussed on numerous occasions and for many consecutive years by the Department of Transport and parliamentary oversight committees.
Mr Alli thus soldiered through the court application by anti-tolling lobby groups very much alone. And while argument was under way in court, Mr Ndebele was making a deal in an ANC-Cosatu meeting to postpone tolling.
Mr Alli’s breaking point seems to have come in the past week after newspaper articles appeared with innuendos of corruption. While real corruption might be discovered, the claims so far are awfully thin.
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