It’s Time To Come Clean On Load Shedding, Eskom

The South African Energy Forum (Saef) notes with grave concern the timeous evasion of responsibility and accountability of the board of Eskom to account to the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) since this board was put in place in 2018.
This board was given a mandate to rescue Eskom from the financial abyss, and there had been no load shedding in the preceding three years before it was appointed.
It started with former Eskom board member Nelisiwe Magubane when she appeared before Scopa. The then chairperson of Scopa, Themba Godi, accused her of not even being able to explain her own Eskom Report Document presented to the committee. The Eskom board was found part-timing on their job.
The following years were marked by a period of what seems to have been deafening silence on Eskom regarding accountability to Scopa for the persistent load shedding for the years 2020 and 2021. Scopa did good work by revealing that the Eskom board had been pretending not to be aware of about R4  billion that had been paid to an Eskom contractor by mistake.
It took Scopa (not the Eskom board) to point out this gross financial dealing and money laundering had happened under the watch of the current Eskom board. To date, that money remains unpaid.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Special Investigating Unit (SIU), courts, Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) Minister Pravin Gordhan, President Cyril Ramaphosa and the current Eskom board are all quiet on the recovery of that R4bn that Eskom conveniently overpaid to a contractor.
The Eskom board was, surprisingly, not aware of this until Scopa pointed it out. The solution to this is easy: the listed state organs must recover this R4bn, or just come out and tell the nation that the money can’t be recovered because the untouchables are involved.
The Eskom board has a history of dragging its feet when it comes to accountability and recovering the billions stolen from the power utility. The Eskom board is quiet on what happened to the R 3.5bn Insurance Payout for the 550MWe Duvha Unit 3 boiler that was supposed to be returned to service in 2016. There is no trace of this money.
Both the Eskom board and the NPA/SIU are dragging their feet to recover what the SIU estimated to be R178bn stolen by 79 contractors on the Medupi and Kusile power stations contracts. The Eskom board is turning a blind eye to this stolen money, and it is not clear if it is doing anything to assist the NPA, SIU and the Hawks to expedite the recovery of this money from the thieves.
The board recently reviewed and renegotiated the 40 Years Cost Plus Mines (coal) contracts and the 64 Independent Power Producers’ (IPP) contracts of the Bid Window 1 to 3 of the Department of Energy’s IPP Office.
It has become clear that the current Eskom board is prioritising continuing to pay these hugely expensive contracts even when the power utility and National Treasury have the law and contractual clauses on their side to renegotiate downwards these highly unaffordable contracts.
The period between 2020 and 2022 has been characterised by unjust load shedding.
The current Eskom board have unjustifiably, if not fraudulently, subjected the nation (South Africans and business owners) to completely unnecessary load shedding.
The basic thing to do is to have the Eskom board present to Scopa a report of every Eskom power station
manager, giving factual details why their power stations are having multiple breakdowns, what exactly is required to decisively deal with those multiple breakdowns, and if the Eskom board has supported them with the necessary tools and requirements to stop the load shedding for good.
The power station managers are the best people to explain to the nation why Eskom is subjecting the country to what appears to be unjust load shedding. It’s time the Eskom board stops shielding the men and women (power station managers) who are supposed to stop load shedding.
It is well known that the current Eskom board is unable to arrest the persistent load shedding that is crippling the country. The debacle between Scopa chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa and Eskom board member Busisiwe Mavuso last week is a reflection of that.
Mavuso is a non-executive director, meaning that she is not at Eskom all the time.
The last thing South Africans need is to have a person who is not permanently based on the job reporting to Scopa on behalf of those who are permanently at Eskom. It is quite unfortunate that Mavuso seemed to try to avoid giving answers to Scopa, stating that they “as the Eskom board must not be made the fall guys. This is the ANC-led governments’ mess.”
Perhaps Mavuso had a point in trying to give answers to the Scopa chairperson by referring to the historical background of how Eskom got to this bad situation.
Perhaps the current Eskom board is frustrated by the ANC-led government not supporting the board in executing its duties.
What gives comfort is that Mavuso shows that she is willing to address the real core problem of why the Eskom board is unable to abate and arrest the persistent load shedding, and why it is unable to turn around its business to be self-sufficient.
This then begs that a request be made for Mavuso and the Eskom board to be given a fresh opportunity to unpack how the government is really standing in the way of the Eskom board in executing its duties. Saef and its allies are aware of the impediment that Mavuso might have wanted to allude to by stating that the Eskom board’s failure is the creation of the ANC-led government’s mess.
That impediment could well be the Public Finance Management Act, section 63 (2), which states: “The executive authority (DPE minister) responsible for a public authority under the ownership and control of the National or Provincial Executive must exercise that executive’s ownership control powers to ensure that that public entity complies with this act and the financial policies of that Executive”.
This effectively means the buck stops with the minister, and not with the board. This means Gordhan is running Eskom remotely or in absentia, thus giving credence to Mavuso’s frustrations and statement that the crisis is attributable to the ANC-led government’s mess.
It is, therefore, on the basis of all points raised that Saef and its allies kindly request Hlengwa and Gordhan not to rob the people of South Africa.
They must tell the Eskom board, especially group CEO Andre de Ruyter, group chief operating officer Jan ­Oberholzer and group chief financial officer Calib Cassim, to stop hiding behind a part-time non-executive like Mavuso.
De Ruyter, Oberholzer and Cassim must explain to South Africans why the Eskom board is unable to attend to its outstanding tasks. Furthermore, the three men are kindly requested to ask all Eskom power station managers to avail themselves to Scopa to explain why Eskom is unable to stop load shedding.
Once all the parties mentioned earlier have explained why Eskom is unable to stop load shedding, and why money owed to the power utility is not being recovered, only then can Mavuso have an opportunity to explain her frustrations of why she feels that the Eskom crisis is a creation of the ANC-led government.