The ending of the disastrous State of Disaster shows it was all just a PR exercise
On Wednesday, the government announced that it was ending the National State of Disaster for the electricity crisis, claiming that the period during which it was in effect had helped alleviate the danger. There is no evidence that this is true. Rather, this appears to be another sign that the government is unable to fix a problem using a certain course of action and then sticking to it.
The end of the National State of Disaster was announced on the same day that the National Treasury backtracked on Eskom’s exemption from parts of the Public Finance Management Act. These developments, along with other actions by the government, appear to reveal that President Cyril Ramaphosa has no clear plan to end our burning energy crisis.
The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) published a statement indicating the government had “terminated, with immediate effect”, the National State of Disaster that was signed in February by the then Cogta minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
GCIS said: “A significant enabler of the improvement in the supply of electricity has been the appointment by President Cyril Ramaphosa of Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa as Minister of Electricity”. It also pointed to some of the interventions adopted by the National Energy Crisis Committee in terms of the Energy Action Plan.
Nowhere in the statement is there any evidence that more megawatts have been added to the national grid, or that it is in any better shape than it was in February. The statement was published on a day when the country was under both Stage 3 and Stage 4 load shedding.
Meanwhile, Eskom has published data on its website showing that it will have 2,000 fewer megawatts than the forecast demand for almost all of the next 52 weeks. In other words, if things go well (and they usually don’t at Eskom) there will be, in the very best scenario, Stage 2 load shedding for the next year.
There is simply no evidence that anything has been done to improve our electricity supply.
The only real intervention has been the announcements by the finance minister, Enoch Godongwana, in his Budget, of tax incentives for rooftop solar power. But this has yet to have a significant impact on the grid.
More absurdly, while the National State of Disaster was publicly declared on 9 February, the regulations, without which it had no force or effect, were only published a full 19 days later, on 28 February.
One month and five days after that puzzling moment, the government has scrapped the whole thing, declaring some kind of victory.
While the government claims that it is ending this because it has achieved its purpose (which simply cannot be true), it is much more likely that officials realised how vulnerable the declaration was to a legal challenge. Even before the declaration, it was public knowledge that there was a legal opinion before Ramaphosa stating that such a declaration was unnecessary and not legally rational. And it’s understood the State Attorney’s Office had already replied to several people who were going to court on this issue, telling them it would be lifted.
However, while this may reflect poorly on Ramaphosa and his Cabinet, it illustrates the problems the ANC has with this issue.
The government’s decision to declare a National State of Disaster followed a decision by the ANC’s National Executive Committee lekgotla in January. This means that the ANC’s first big decision of its new leadership has now been overturned.
Worse, it must mean that ministers knew that this decision was legally irrational and went ahead and implemented it anyway. And then took 19 days to draw up the regulations. And then just retracted the whole thing.
What does it say about their a) competence, and b) honest intentions?
A series of retractions
The decision to end the National State of Disaster is just the latest in a series of retractions by government officials, which suggests the government has no realistic plan.
Earlier on Tuesday, Godongwana had to announce he was temporarily retracting the decision to exempt Eskom from having to publish wasteful, fruitless and irregular expenditure in its financial statements.
This brought to an end a brief moment of national unity: almost everyone, from the EFF, the Black Business Council, the Progressive Professionals Forum and Cosatu to the DA and AfriForum had lined up to condemn the decision.
It was clear that the National Treasury, despite what may have been good intentions, had simply not understood the mood of the nation. So large is the evidence of corruption at Eskom that any move away from transparency was going to result in complete outrage.
Also, it was never clear if there was really any benefit to Eskom. As the financial analyst Khaya Sithole and others pointed out, if the same information was available anyway in the annual report, it was unlikely that bankers and rating agencies would lend money to Eskom without analysing that.
Then there are Ramokgopa’s public statements.
In the hours after his appointment he was giving interviews and explaining how difficult the problem of load shedding was. Then he undertook a national tour of each and every Eskom power station. At each point, he was asked questions about the situation.
All of this occurred in the weeks after former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s interview, in which he said that corruption at Eskom was politically connected. De Ruyter had also explained several weeks previously, that corruption was responsible for at least one or two stages of load shedding.
Ramokgopa has consistently contradicted this, saying during his speech at the Kusile Power Station that the problems there were all technical, and not related to corruption.
Then, in what may have been a contradiction, he gave a very different view of events at Tutuka, saying: “There’s a web, a network, that undermines our ability to procure quicker because the network wants to be the ones that are preferred.”
He also appeared to suggest there was corruption at Medupi, and that “corruption and greed” were responsible for the design flaws there.
As the publication of this list shows, a large number of corruption cases relating to Eskom are already in the courts.
Eventually, the Highveld Region of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said Ramokgopa was wrong to deny the impact of corruption, with its chair, Bizzah Motubatse, telling Business Day that “as the NUM Highveld Region, we are categorically and emphatically disagreeing with the minister’s version that corruption in Eskom does not play any role towards persistent load shedding”.
The ANC has even opposed a Parliamentary inquiry into corruption at Eskom, which led former President Thabo Mbeki to strongly criticise the party in a leaked letter.
Then there is the contradiction, by Ramaphosa himself, around the tariff increase for Eskom.
After the energy regulator, Nersa, approved an increase of 18% for Eskom, Ramaphosa told the Free State ANC conference in January that he would ask Nersa and Eskom to not implement the hike.
On Saturday, the tariff increase came into effect. There was not one comment from the Presidency on this, indicating that Ramaphosa realised it was simply not possible for him to fulfil his promise.
Also, if he had done this, it would have made Eskom’s problems much worse. It needs the money. Without it, it will collapse. Along with the grid.
It must be remembered, as Professor Mark Swilling has pointed out, that around the world the energy transition we are experiencing is incredibly difficult. It is leading to dramatic changes, which is hard for politicians to manage. And because of mistakes dating back to 1998, our transition is happening under existential stress.
That said, voters expect those elected to govern to find solutions and implement them. And they expect, entirely legitimately, that this should lead to their lives getting better.
So far, there is no evidence that our government is capable of doing this. DM