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Opinionista

To get to the root of Eskom’s problems — start with an independent forensic audit

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Ghaleb Cachalia is a Democratic Alliance MP in the National Assembly.

The state-owned enterprise doesn’t need more recovery and maintenance plans. It needs full disclosure of what went wrong and that can only be done by a competent and respected joint auditor.

In an unprecedented move, President Cyril Ramaphosa has penned an Opinionista piece in the Daily Maverick. This is indicative of the ANC closing ranks and embarking on a media campaign.

The message is that the ANC has finally woken up, albeit at five to twelve to the hour, to the severe challenges posed by Eskom to the economy and citizens.

Ramaphosa now acknowledges the “deeper challenges at the institution”, ranging from its financial situation to inadequate adherence to its maintenance programme, and from a growing deficit of financial skills to poor procurement practices. Informed commentators, opposition parties, primarily the Democratic Alliance, have highlighted these challenges over the past 10 years.

The everyman translation of this is: We have squandered financial resources, neglected crucial maintenance over decades, deployed useless cadres and facilitated theft via opaque procurement.

The solution now presented is the utility’s 2018 nine-point plan – yet another recovery and maintenance plan as well as short-term measures to minimise blackouts in the new year.

We have been sold this mantra since 2015 (and for years prior) when Ramaphosa headed the Eskom war room. Now we have yet another war room.

But there is still no mention of transparency and accountability. It is still command-and-control. The same levers to address issues that are systematically entrenched in the utility will not be opened to scrutiny.

The DA has called for an independent forensic audit. This will uncover the crooked contracts and the entrenched procedures and culture that has delivered us to the brink of shutdown.

Eskom also needs new external auditors. The incumbents, Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo Grant Thornton, are a merger of some small local firms with a tier-two international firm. They have released statements on irregularities, but have not made plain the level of financial misstatement.

By comparison, the South African Banking Regulator requires joint audits by tier 1 audit firms to audit the banks as well as a mandatory rotation of audit firm appointments. This is to ensure disclosure issues are regularly cleaned out and for auditors to be visibly independent. Eskom must appoint a respected tier-one firm as joint auditor.

Only then will the country know who stole via which existing contacts, and what needs to be done to fix this systemic rot.

Full disclosure is needed, not more command and control. Open the books to an independent forensic audit and appoint a competent and respected joint auditor.

Now is the time to come clean and implement, and not to obfuscate and present yet another raft of plans in a systemically compromised entity.

The DA has been active in finding solutions. This year we tabled our Cheaper Electricity Bill, formally known as the Independent Electricity Management Operator (IEMO) Bill. The bill seeks to break Eskom into two separate entities – a generation entity and a transmission/distribution entity. Our plan would see a generation entity that is privatised in an effort to break Eskom’s monopoly on the production of energy, allowing Independent Power Producers to compete on an equal footing in the generation sector.

We want to be part of the solution, but it requires political maturity and the will to sit around the same table with full transparency and disclosure. DM

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