Department of Trade and Industry director-general Lionel October on Wednesday endorsed a Democratic Alliance (DA) proposal that points awarded for skills development be racially neutral in the revised Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment codes of good practice and scorecard.
He said he would take this, and other proposed changes to the draft codes of good practice released last year for public comment, to Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies in the next week or so.
The amendments, among other things, assign more points to skills development and enterprise and supplier development. Other proposals relate to the definition of "value-added" procurement.
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DA trade and industry spokesperson Wilmot James had proposed the introduction of racial neutrality into the codes.
In a debate at Parliament’s trade and industry committee on Wednesday, he questioned whether racially based empowerment was still desirable and necessary in South Africa and whether a sunset clause signalling its end should be legislated.
Mr James argued that everyone, regardless of race, should have the opportunity for skills development.
African National Congress whip Bheki Radebe contended that there was still far too much inequality to consider a sunset clause.
Mr October agreed that companies could be rewarded for enhancing the skills of all employees, not only blacks.
"I think it (the DA’s proposal) is a good suggestion. It relates to our nonracial ethos. It is definitely possible to not have a racial element in skills, because there is such a shortage in the country that anything will be a net benefit," he said.
"Currently, the code dealing with social economic development allows for white beneficiaries. The other elements definitely cannot be."
Mr October said companies had argued in their submissions on the draft codes that, without a transition period, they would be immediately prejudiced if their scores were lowered under the new scorecard.
Another proposal Mr October will take to Mr Davies is that more points should be given to equity ownership by broad-based groups. "I think there is merit in this idea," he said, especially for large deals.
Chief director of empowerment Nomonde Mesatywa said the submissions indicated general support for the broad direction of the amended scorecard though they called for some technical clarifications, particularly with regard to value addition, an element of procurement.
Large, capital-intensive companies that depended on imports said they would not be able to meet the requirements for value addition by suppliers in the draft scorecard.