Gordhan must shed light on allegations of corruption at Eskom when he appears before Scopa
That pretty much everyone knew of the privately funded, intelligence-driven investigation at Eskom from mid-2022 is now on public record. What’s missing is why little, if anything, happened even among law enforcement, until — publicly — political sensitivities were touched.
When Pravin Gordhan appears before Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on Wednesday, a central question is whether he really had not told President Cyril Ramaphosa of then Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s claims of the alleged involvement of “high-ranking politicians” in sabotage and corruption at the power utility.
As the shareholder minister — the Cabinet member responsible for a particular set of state-owned enterprises — Gordhan is responsible for what happens at Eskom. So too is presidential security adviser Sydney Mufamadi, given the wide-ranging impact of Eskom’s latest R254-billion bailout on the national purse, and on South Africans left without electricity for up to 11½ hours daily.
That Ramaphosa said he didn’t know of these claims is on public record: in the House during the presidential Q&A slot on 11 May he told MPs he wasn’t “presented with members of Cabinet or others involved in corruption at Eskom”. During an earlier parliamentary reply to DA leader John Steenhuisen, he said: “I was not briefed about the identities of people who are allegedly involved in cartels in Eskom.”
What does this say about governance? Instead of political accountability in office, it’s a case of fobbing off potentially serious political interference claims to the — at best — lacklustre law enforcement. This is a page from the State Capture playbook in which the government dismissed claims and reports until it was no longer politically convenient to do so.
It’s on public record the SA Police Service knew of the private sabotage and corruption investigation at Eskom after meetings with top brass from the electricity utility on 4 June and 5 July 2022.
De Ruyter told SAPS national commissioner Lieutenant-General Fannie Masemola about the investigation, and Masemola appointed Brigadier Jaap Burger as liaison.
Read more in Daily Maverick: SAPS knew of private Eskom corruption probe while significant portions of De Ruyter statements corroborated
That was confirmed by ex-Eskom board chairperson Malegapuru Makgoba, who on 10 May told MPs that De Ruyter also spoke with Hermione Cronje, the then boss of the Investigating Directorate, about sabotage and corruption at Eskom, and his frustration at police and law enforcement officials not moving at speed.
However, the current Eskom board chairperson, Mpho Makwana, maintained before Scopa the Eskom board was not told of this investigation and did not have its report.
The failure of police and law enforcement to properly do their jobs in South Africa’s interest overall was underscored when De Ruyter’s book, Truth to Power: My Three Years Inside Eskom, hit the shelves over the weekend.
The State Security Agency (SSA) has investigated corruption and sabotage since December 2019, and yet nothing was presented to Eskom, according to an excerpt of De Ruyter’s book published by TimesLIVE.
“… Now the doctor [from the SSA] was saying that the information we had uncovered was consistent with the SSA’s intelligence. So, why had nothing been done for two and a-half years? The official said something about a joint task team being established but then being derailed by the pandemic,” wrote De Ruyter.
By late 2021, the situation had become intolerable and after discussions with the then Eskom board chairperson, the privately funded investigation began. Makgoba confirmed this to MPs.
The results, including the role of high-level politicians, were shared with Gordhan and Mufamadi.
In his book, De Ruyter wrote: “‘Can I name them?’ I asked Gordhan, who was also accompanied by one of his advisors. The minister indicated that I should go ahead. I expected him to be shocked, but instead his reaction surprised me. Gordhan looked over at Mufamadi and said, ‘Well, I guess it was inevitable that it would come out.’”
What changed the dynamics was De Ruyter’s interview with e.tv in late February, which raised hackles in the ANC. His comments hit political sensitivities ahead of the make-or-break 2024 elections where rolling blackouts have been identified as a key polling issue.
Amid the outcry from the ANC over De Ruyter’s claims of political involvement in Eskom corruption and sabotage, Gordhan distanced himself.
“CEOs of any entity should not be involved in any open political debates or assertions. Where they have political views that’s their private business and they are welcome to express those views privately,” Gordhan told Parliament’s public enterprises committee the day after De Ruyter’s television interview.
“But it is the responsibility of any CEO of any entity, as far as I’m concerned, to keep their focus on the job at hand, and make sure that it is done as proficiently as possible.”
Gordhan went on to effectively dismiss De Ruyter putting the privately made claims into the public domain.
“One thing we have got to do is to differentiate between suspicion or rumour and actual evidence. If there is actual evidence, which is what the police try to establish when investigating with the Hawks and the SIU [Special Investigating Unit], NPA, only then the law enforcement authorities should be made aware of it so they can act on it.”
A state paralysed
This is the response of a state in which governance and accountability are, if not already broken, then breaking. It also is the response of a state paralysed by governing party factional winds, ideological posturing and vested interests.
In this context, it’s not surprising that agreed policy and implementation timelines are elastic.
In February 2019, the unbundling of Eskom into transmission, generation and distribution entities was announced, and in October of that year, details were put into a roadmap. Now, in May 2023, while a transmission entity has been established, regulatory approvals are still outstanding and, according to the Department of Public Enterprises’ annual performance plan, a board is expected by June.
While talk is of the energy availability factor — currently averaging 50% — and not decommissioning ageing power plants, not much has emerged about the roughly 8,500km of new lines Eskom has to build to beef up the grid. Already, new renewable projects can’t be signed off because of a lack of grid capacity.
Stalled also is the regulatory system, from tariff setting and wheeling to selling spare electricity into the grid. What the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy sent to Parliament a couple of weeks ago fails to comply with what can be deemed draft legislation. It is understood that Parliament’s Bills Office is assisting.
Instead, what is being seriously considered is delaying the decommissioning of old power stations — a key part of the Just Energy Transition Partnership in which $8.5-billion was offered by a number of overseas countries to help SA’s Just Energy Transition.
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, who has yet to receive his formal delegation of powers, has argued that South Africa must rethink its decarbonisation plans. Ramaphosa has publicly backed Ramokgopa on this.
On Monday, the Presidential Climate Commission, in a briefing, said that while the “government doesn’t seem to be of one mind around decommissioning”, delaying the process by a year or two was doable.
This illustrates South Africa’s policy fudginess in a state breaking under unceasing political and ideological posturing amid the risk of entrenched poverty and inequality further deepening.
In the Eskom saga, when he appears before Scopa, Gordhan has many questions to answer. DM