THERE is no trace of hesitation as Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba describes how he wants to keep a "hands-on" relationship with state-owned enterprises.

Mr Gigaba has already publicly chastised Transnet over its handling of its R23,4bn multi product pipeline project.

He has vowed to exercise what he calls robust leadership over the state-owned enterprises. "I am going to be hands-on, consultative but decisive. Decisions must be made, so we will make decisions. We are guided by certain guidelines such as the strategic intent statement and the shareholder compact. We will keep the state-owned enterprises accountable.

"I will not delegate this responsibility to somebody else - that includes compliance with board compliance assessments. I want board performance evaluation," he says.

Mr Gigaba wants to meet the chairmen of boards of the various state-owned enterprises regularly throughout the year.

"We do not want to be taken by surprise when something happens in a state-owned enterprise. If we are taken by surprise, then the chair will have to account because the doors to the ministry are wide open. Twice a year there will be a chairperson s' forum where all the chairs of the state-owned enterprises with the ministry will come together," he says.

Some of these entities - which straddle diverse fields such as electricity, transport, defence and forestry - have not covered themselves in glory. Their leadership has been unstable . "We have to tighten up on the issues of leadership and corporate governance because there are still gaps in some of the areas," he says.

Transnet is yet to replace former group CE Maria Ramos, who left in 2009. The top job is not the only one vacant at Transnet. The group also has to appoint a CEO of Transnet Freight Rail, the group's largest operating division. Soon after his appointment, Mr Gigaba had to hit the ground running and set up a board for Transnet.

Eskom went for months without a CE after the controversial departure of Jacob Maroga.

The departure of Khaya Ngqula from South African Airways (SAA) was also not without controversy.

Arms manufacturer Denel last year announced that group CE Talib Sadik would not renew his contract when it expires in September this year. Mr Gigaba says the search for Mr Sadik's replacement is under way.

He says the government wants the state-owned enterprises to create jobs and develop skills. "That is priority number one. We have got to embark on projects that create jobs ," he says.

The creation of jobs is not a "small" mandate, he says.

"In some instances it may conflict with the commercial mandate of state-owned enterprises because sometimes you have to balance the national and the commercial interest so that the state-owned enterprise does not pursue a bottom line at the expense of the bigger national interest."

Mr Gigaba says there is a need for a common understanding of the role of state-owned enterprises, as well as a preferable "governance model" for these entities.

"One of the problems is that the state-owned enterprise environment has not been rationalised. We have between 300 and 400 state- owned enterprises. In some instances you have state-owned enterprises in the Department of Public Enterprises. In other instances you have state-owned enterprises in other departments.

"The state-owned enterprises that fall under the Department of Public Enterprises are the ones that in pre-1994 had been earmarked for privatisation. When government changed its mind after 1994, there was no wholesale review of the state-owned enterprise portfolio.

"It was only in 2009, when President (Jacob) Zuma established the presidential review committee, which was going to undertake a comprehensive review of the state- owned enterprise environment."

Mr Gigaba says the committee will make its recommendations during the course of this year.

" Fortunately, (the state-owned enterprise review initiative) is coming from the Presidency. (Because it is coming from the Presidency), nobody among us is going to be fighting for the turf ," he says.

Mr Gigaba has supported SAA's fleet renewal programme.

But he says SAA's profitability is still fragile. "It is a matter that we continue to discuss regularly with the chairwoman . They posted a very modest profit last year, but they need to change their fleet. We will do our best to ensure that SAA does not embark on that programme to an extent that it becomes unviable.

"The airline needs profitable routes (with) the greatest focus being Africa.... And the airline is looking at establishing two more hubs (in addition to OR Tambo International Airport). You need to move to the east and west of Africa and establish hubs there," he says.

njobenis@bdfm.co.za