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[OPINION] The shameless spin around Eskom


So Brian Molefe, the freshly reinstated CEO of Eskom, allegedly arrived at work at 5am such was his keenness to escape possible protests by those opposed to said reinstatement. Instead, clips of a throng singing and dancing welcoming Molefe to Eskom were distributed liberally on social media.

Despite this, Molefe also cancelled a speech he was to have made at African Utility Week as Eskom chair Ben Ngubane covered for him.

Molefe may need to go undercover for a while given the opposition to his surprise reinstatement by the compromised Eskom board and sanctioned, inexplicably, by Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown.

Despite the contortions by Brown and Ngubane, the issues here really are crisp.

In early November 2016 Molefe tearfully resigned as CEO of Eskom. His statement then said that he was doing so “voluntarily in the interests of good corporate governance”. This followed the damning State of Capture report released by the Public Protector in late October.

In that report it was revealed that Molefe was in regular contact with the president’s associates, the Guptas, over an extensive period. This was alleged to have included 58 phone calls to Ajay Gupta and several visits to the Guptas’ home in Saxonwold. Molefe famously denied the visits as ones to a ‘Saxonwold shebeen’.

So Molefe resigned. Brown accepted his resignation. At the time her exact words were, “I am saddened by the announcement of Mr Molefe’s resignation. However, I do respect his decision to do so”.

Yet Eskom is now saying Molefe ‘took early retirement’ in an attempt to allow for his reinstatement presumably? Brown told the media that reinstating Molefe was better than having to pay him the R30 million pension. Brown allegedly feared Molefe would sue for the R30 million. Strange, when Zuma’s government is drowning in litigation to protect the president himself that it fears a lawsuit from Molefe?

So, did Molefe resign in November or did he take early retirement? Where is the truth? In any event, why was he due a R30 million payout? And can we really say that Molefe is the best person for the job given the serious nature of the allegations against him and that he himself thought them serious enough to resign in November last year?

It’s unlikely that we will get the answers anytime soon. Brown has said she will conduct a joint press conference with the Eskom board to provide greater clarity.

The board itself is compromised and so we can expect no clarity, only more shameless spin. At the heart of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s investigation was Eskom’s contract with Tegeta, a Gupta-linked company. That contract was for the supply of coal to Eskom at grossly inflated prices. The report found that the contract between Tegeta and Eskom potentially constitutes a contravention of the board’s duty to prevent fruitless and wasteful expenditure under the Public Finance Management Act.

In addition, it found that the board appears to have been improperly appointed. The Public Protector’s report goes on to detail a tangled web between the Guptas, Molefe and the Eskom board. It sets out several instances of alleged conflicts of interest between board chair Ben Ngubane, several past and present board members and the Guptas or their associates.

Yet even after this, Ngubane and the board remain in their positions and Brown has no appetite to investigate the breaches of corporate governance at Eskom, or even a semblance of curiosity to get to the bottom of allegations of corruption.

If Brown were interested in good governance and not protecting her job and her boss, she would seek to ensure that government uses its powers as majority shareholder in Eskom to fire the board and appoint members of integrity.

Eskom is a public utility, after all, and spending public money. In addition, she would seek to clarify the glaring contradictions between her initial statement that Molefe resigned and the latest statement from Eskom that he actually took early retirement.

Given what this Molefe reinstatement symbolises, we can expect more of the same in terms of the continuing dysfunction within state-owned enterprises in general and Eskom specifically in the next year and beyond. Presumably Molefe’s tears last year did not end his association with the Guptas?

Brown has called for a ‘decisive investigation’ into state capture allegations. That was the recommendation made by the Public Protector, but Zuma would have to set that process in motion. Predictably he has stalled any such commission. One has to wonder why? Perhaps it is too blatantly obvious that Madonsela’s report only scratched the surface of the network of patronage, capture and corruption which exists within SOEs and which the president himself is at the centre of in some way or another?

For its part, the ANC has criticised Molefe’s reappointment and summoned Brown to Luthuli House. We are told ‘the ANC registered its discomfort’ in a meeting with Brown early this week. ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the matter had been ‘referred to government’ to deal with. Clearly, the reinstatement does not bother our president or he would have intervened. This has his imprimatur all over it. So let us expect no action from Zuma on this.

One was left to wonder which part of the ANC was speaking? And where was this ANC when Molefe was spirited into Parliament after ‘leaving Eskom under a cloud’- the ANC’s own words? The only explanation is that the ANC has lost control of what Zuma does in government.

For Zuma, the ‘state capture’ project therefore continues apace given that he is consistently able to rely on his acolytes to bolster his next move.

The facts, however, are in the public domain and as an ANC voter asked on a radio talk show late last week, “Do they think we are idiots?”

Apparently yes.

Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february

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