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Eskom bailout legislation passes in the House, with sharp politicking and gerrymandering

Eskom bailout legislation passes in the House, with sharp politicking and gerrymandering
Vapour from cooling towers of the Matla coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | (Photo: Simon Dawson / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Eskom received parliamentary approval for its R254bn bailout after the House on Thursday passed the Eskom Debt Relief Bill — but not before a bit of parliamentary sleight of hand.

The final vote was 198 for the Eskom Debt Relief Bill and 23 against, effectively scuppering an opposition attempt to sink the draft law because of the lack of a quorum in the House.  

Such parliamentary moves signal the politics in the noxious mix of rolling blackouts, debt and corruption-troubled Eskom, and dipping deep into a tight national purse. 

But the presiding officer, ANC MP Grace Boroto, was prepared for the DA’s call for a division, or vote. With Rule 111 at hand, she invoked the check that at least four MPs must be in support. In rapid-fire, Boroto said there weren’t four DA MPs in the House, and the online numbers didn’t count. “At this stage, there is no vote… I have ruled.”

But a point of order from DA Chief Whip Siviwe Gwarube reversed this and clinched a vote after all. The rules of hybrid physical/online sittings give all MPs on the virtual platform the same rights as those actually sitting in the chamber.

But somewhere amid EFF interjections and opposition legislators leaving their seats and the online platform, the numbers went awry for a quorum manipulation. Not even an opposition-requested recount of ANC MPs that saw numbers in the House drop from 41 to 38 changed that.

But without the IFP, National Freedom Party, Good and the Pan-Africanist Congress, the Eskom Debt Relief Bill would not have passed National Assembly muster. Now it goes to the National Council of Provinces for concurrence, a straightforward and speedy process of endorsement.

Thursday’s debate and vote underscore the bill’s contentiousness.  

The Eskom Debt Relief Bill is effectively the second quarter-trillion rand bailout for the troubled state power utility, four years after the 2019 Budget provided R230-billion in a mix of a once-off allocation and annual instalments over 10 years.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Mboweni’s The Eskom Job: The devil lives in the details  

The National Treasury has maintained the money will only be transferred if Eskom complies with strict conditions, including no new borrowing and not pursuing new generation projects. But in the wake of the public outcry, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana withdrew — for now — the exemption granted to Eskom from reporting irregular spending in annual reports.

Between a rock and a hard place

The Eskom Debt Relief Bill comes amid the persistent rolling blackouts which leave households and businesses without power for up to 11½ hours daily and which have diminished South Africa’s investment potential and devastated economic growth prospects.

This tension was outlined by IFP MP Mzamo Buthelezi saying the party was between a rock and a hard place on this.

“If we don’t support this bill, South Africa will reach a total blackout. It is a shame, we are being held hostage.”

In opposition were the DA, EFF, Freedom Front Plus and African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), albeit on different grounds.

EFF MP Omphile Maotwe said President Cyril Ramaphosa and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan were “instructed to allow the national grid to collapse” while a consortium of European companies was assessing the state power utility. “If those people in Europe say privatise, Eskom has no option…”

Freedom Front Plus MP Wouter Wessels squarely blamed the governing ANC following its failure to heed Eskom’s warnings in the early 2000s.

“Your former president [Jacob] Zuma allowed this. His cronies the Guptas did this. Your cadres that you appointed at the state-owned entity did this to this country. And now you say this bill is about protecting lives and livelihoods. But this bill does not do what’s needed — keep the lights on.”

ANC MPs toed the line on how the R254-billion that the Eskom Debt Relief Bill provides to the troubled power utility would allow it to settle debt and interest payments, freeing it to focus on plant efficiencies and energy availability factors. And that would help end rolling blackouts.

“Be warned, if you say no to this bill, you will say to the unemployed, the farmers, the industrialists, you do not care about their plight,” said the chairperson of the Standing Committee on Appropriations, ANC MP Sifiso Buthelezi.

And he took a stab at ex-Eskom CEO André de Ruyter over his claims of the involvement of unnamed “high-level politicians” in Eskom corruption in a televised interview followed up by a book. These claims are currently before Parliament’s spending watchdog, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. The ANC has taken exception and is suing De Ruyter over his remarks.

“Let us not appoint conservative politicians who masquerade as CEO. Let us not appoint someone who instead of managing the organisation becomes an intelligence officer. Let us not appoint someone who pretends to be a CEO only to find out we are appointing Shakespeares, in other words, writing books,” said Buthelezi.

A new CEO would be appointed in the next couple of months, Gordhan announced in his budget vote speech on Tuesday. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Pathological liars are not taken seriously,so anc drivel get regurgitated, but nobody believes the thieves

  • Miles Japhet says:

    Sifiso demonstrates his ignorance of the facts at Eskom. Politicking at its worst and the people get poorer whilst he and his fellow ANC friends “eat”.

  • Elizabeth Lightfoot says:

    Sickening that the ANC cannot admit to their abject failures.

  • Diana Bidwell says:

    The more ‘bailouts’ from the public purse, the more looting for the corrupt… and we all have a good idea where the money will go, and it’s not debt relief. We cannot trust those in power.

  • bkeegn says:

    Can an energy expert please calculate the cost to a user who pays pays tax for his usage of 1KWH when you include the cost of bailouts? Maybe one could also factor in the cost of rolling blackouts due to price increases in goods and service. I would not be surprised if South Africa now has the most expensive electricity in the world. Bailouts supply the funds to pay the looters and so the cycle of political corruption continues.

  • . . says:

    This just hints at the deadlock that we will see in Parliment next year if/when the ANC drop below 50%

    Brinkmanship and skulduggery in Parliament process will be the order of the day.

  • Louis Pie says:

    Incredibly skilled lying or unfathomable stupidity… I cannot decide which

  • Davis Kate says:

    Just more BS.

  • Rae Earl says:

    The ANC comrades and their looting cadres in Eskom feel nothing for South Africa. They’ll manipulate people and parties this way and that to keep the feeding trough of corruption within easy reach. They’ll sow as much confusion as possible to mask the shocking mess they’ve made of all the SOE’s and then tell the uninformed what a great job they’re doing fixing it all. The legacy of apartheid and the race card will start featuring increasingly in their pre-election drives. Andre de Ruyter is being used as a convenient scapegoat to this end, and major efforts are being made to discredit his uncovering of the true facts of Eskom’s demise. A classic example of shooting the messenger. In this case the messenger has left and load shedding has gone from around Stage 4 under his watch, to a constant Stage 6. And the ANC says he was not doing a good job? BS.

  • Robert Gornal says:

    Did Shakespeare write a book? I know he wrote a number of brilliant plays but a book!

  • Ra Ma says:

    They asked everyone competent to be CEO already and only Andre was willing, so…

  • Terry Hodson says:

    More money for the criminal cartels robbing Eskom.

  • Ernest Esterhuizen says:

    “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Only God can save our beautiful country if the wicked will turn from their wicked ways. Mantashe said “We did not struggle to be poor” and that is why the oppressed has become the oppressor. The end is not going to be nice. Our country is filled with people with lots of honest and patience people, but just as God is also a God of wrath, our patience will eventually run out with those wicked ones in power.

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