South Africa

Notes from the House: Unite Behind monitors Eskom inquiry probe

By Moira Levy 9 November 2017

Parliament’s investigation into state capture of Eskom has spilled over into the public domain. And it’s not the shocking revelations before the Committee on Public Enterprises alone that are grabbing attention. NGO Unite Behind has launched its own Eskom Monitoring Project, which is keeping track of this sordid story, which began in 2010 when former minister Barbara Hogan first raised a red flag about President’s Zuma’s interference in the boards of state-owned enterprises. By MOIRA LEVY.

First published by Notes from the House

If Parliament had hopes of hiding the inquiry into Eskom under the cover of a run-of-the-mill parliamentary committee process, then it has failed.

Now civil society movement Unite Behind has upped the ante by launching the Eskom Monitoring Project, with the slogan “Get involved! The corruption at Eskom has gone on too long”.

This turns a parliamentary investigation into a public campaign. For the first time, Parliament is taking seriously allegations of state capture, and the Eskom Monitoring Project is making sure that citizens know that they are directly affected.

A member of the Eskom Monitoring Group and former leader of NGO Equal Education, Doron Isaacs, explains that the aim is to offer assistance where Parliament may be under-capacitated.

“We saw the need to support the parliamentary inquiry, whether by providing research or other legal or factual information. We are an independent body that provides resources for the process.”

Isaacs made it clear that Unite Behind and its affiliates recognised that Members of the Committee needed digestible information.

“We have seen the value of engaging regularly with Parliament,” said Isaacs. He indicated that the group from Unite Behind would also be willing to provide similar support to other parliamentary committees that have been singled out to look into state capture.

A second aim of the Eskom Monitoring Group “is to promote public awareness of the parliamentary inquiry and then broader crisis of state capture which has led to massive looting and mismanagement,” Isaacs explained.

Unite Behind for a Just and Equal South Africa may be a fairly new kid on the block when it comes to community mobilisation, but it’s got a lot of the old names behind it, and its slogans hit the right spot. “Stop state capture! Make our state-owned companies work for the country, not the corrupt!”

The Eskom Monitoring Project website reminds us that since 2014 Eskom has had six CEOs or acting CEOs, which is “indicative of the problems Eskom has had with governance and the exposure of the state capture at the power utility”.

Isaacs pointed out that the parliamentary investigation has already achieved significant gains. The evidence so far given under oath from a number of witnesses has drilled down to before unknown levels of corruption.

He added parliamentary committees have the power to subpoena any witnesses and the Committee on Public Enterprises investigation, which will in time also investigate Transnet and Prasa, has the same leader of evidence who drove the SABC’s very public parliamentary inquiry into that institution.

The website takes us back to the beginning in 2010 when then Minister of Public Enterprises Barbara Hogan was dismissed for raising the problem of interference by President Zuma in the boards of state-owned companies.

Eskom’s Monitoring Project has it all on the record for those who need reminding and the story of Eskom’s capture gets very murky – which is why South Africa needs the monitoring project. This is a story that has been extensively covered, but as the Eskom Monitoring Group tells us, “State capture affects all of us on a daily basis. It results in key services, such as electricity, being more expensive than they should be.

“It also puts the future of the country in peril when our institutions are re-purposed to benefit a few instead of delivering on their mandates [to] act in the best long-term interests of the country. State capture negatively affects the struggles of communities and civil society and undermines government’s ability to improve the country and the lives of those who live in it.”

Unite Behind, which has been at every Public Enterprise Committee meeting, makes sure that what happens in Committee Room V475 in Parliament’s Old Assembly building doesn’t stay in V475. DM

Photo: Eskom power lines run through an open field as the sun rises on a cold winters day in Johannesburg, South Africa, 08 June 2015. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK

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