Attempts to influence the outcomes of the ANC’s national conference next month and the general elections in 2019 are behind corruption accusations against Eskom and other state-owned companies, according to Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown.
She also suggested that the parliamentary inquiry into governance issues at Eskom was designed to achieve a certain objective.
“I feel there’s a little objective here to be achieved,” she said on Wednesday at Parliament’s inquiry into governance matters at Eskom.
She also charged that the trouble in state-owned companies (SOCs) was being used to achieve short-term political and business objectives, regardless of the cost to the company or the country.
Brown said while the governing party was in the midst of a gruelling and divisive countdown to an elective conference, which will be followed by campaigning for the general elections in 2019, disparate forces including members of the ruling party, opposition parties, business and media were in alignment to try and influence these events.
“State-owned companies are their chosen battleground,” she said.
Earlier Brown had told the inquiry that she had obtained legal advice to decline the public enterprises committee’s invitation on the basis that its process was unfair, inappropriately accusatorial, and that her appearance would only serve to legitimise a pre-determined interim report containing a rehash of untested information designed to embarrass particular politicians.
“I did not take that legal advice because the constitutional principles that members of the executive should account to Parliament, and the people have the right to know, is more important than any of us,” she said.
MPs later commended her for ignoring the legal advice, saying constitutionally she had no option but to appear before the inquiry.
Reading from a prepared statement, Brown acknowledged that there was overwhelming circumstantial evidence of malfeasance at some of the SOCs.
She said some of those who have been accused of being leading actors in “this tragedy” were under investigation, some were in the throes of disciplinary proceedings, while others had resigned hoping to escape the fuss.
She said it was important for information to be tested and for people suspected of wrongdoing to be investigated and prosecuted, and those falsely implicated to be exonerated.
“The ill-gotten gains of crime must be returned to state-owned companies and focus must turn to bolstering state-owned companies’ capacity to deliver the mandate demanded of them by the developmental state,” she added.
Brown suggested that due to the politicisation of problems at the SOEs, there was no time to wait for investigations by law enforcement agencies following due legal process.
Instead the information was constantly regurgitated as if repeating it often enough will prove that it is true.
“The same allegations levelled against the same group of individuals goes around and around, destroying the reputations of companies that form the spine and ribs of our economy and people who have been associated with them, including me.”
She added that the best thing for the country, for the economy, for Eskom and for herself personally, was a comprehensive investigation.
“It presently feels as if Eskom has been beaten to the ground and is being pinned down by the weight of untested allegations while being kicked to death,” she said.
Like former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe who told the inquiry on Tuesday that “real capture” involved established coal suppliers, Brown suggested that Parliament should also look into the long-term contracts that Eskom entered into pre-1994, some of which were for up to 60 years, covering the entire life of the mines.
She said 80% of these coal contracts were still in the hands of historically white companies like Anglo, Exxaro, Section 32 and BHP Billiton, and were coming up for renewal.
If a few of the larger SOCs were to spread the wealth they generated through transforming their supplier pipelines, they would have a significant effect improving the quality of lives on the ground, argued Brown.
“But we are so divided that even mentioning the term radical economic transformation has been poisoned and using it is considered evidence of corruption,” she added.
Brown began her submission by denying former Eskom board chairperson Zola Tsotsi’s accusations, made earlier in the day, that there was clear collusion and association between Brown and the Guptas.
“I have never consulted with anyone on my executive functions, not Tony Gupta or (Gupta associate) Salim Essa or anyone else. Why would I hand over my functions to anyone else?”
Brown added that as far as board appointments were concerned, she reported to the Cabinet, which decided who served on the boards. She said she was astonished that Tsotsi found it appropriate to attend a meeting with President Jacob Zuma without conferring with her before the meeting, nor bothering to share the outcomes of his engagement with the president.