In an unprecedented move on Tuesday, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan accused Eskom of state capture while he climbed into Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown and Eskom chairperson Ben Ngubane.
Gordhan confirmed to Fin24 that he was now a permanent member of the portfolio committee on public enterprises, and that this was his maiden appearance.
He arrived late, making a surprise appearance into a briefing where the Parliamentary oversight committee questioned Brown and the Eskom board over the reinstatement of Brian Molefe as chief executive.
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“You are part of a conspiracy to capture Eskom for the purposes or benefit of the few. That is the reality. Let us not play around with technical questions. That’s the reality,” Gordhan charged.
He said the South African public is worried that the country is reaching a stage in managing governance where “a significant number of people in bureaucracy and elsewhere and the courts” are taking a view which says: “I don’t care. I don’t care if you know what I do. I don’t care if you know that public resources are going elsewhere. I don’t care how many reports the Public Protector or anybody else provides, because I am protected.'
“The question is by whom, and at what cost and how will history record your role ultimately,” said Gordhan.
He lashed out at Eskom management, saying this is the critical institution in the South African economy, "as we learnt in 2010 and there above [further on]”.
“When Eskom doesn’t work, it has a massive impact on economic growth, it has a massive impact on job creation in SA, it has a massive impact on enterprises in South Africa. Today I don’t think we’ll recover from that.”
Referring to Molefe's reappointment, he said: “This is not just one isolated incident of hiring, firing, retiring, or not retiring or maternity leave or otherwise. This is part of a pattern.”
Gordhan said the board is putting on a straight face, believing that whatever is being put out in the public domain will not be challenged. They are doing so with “extreme arrogance”, regardless of the fact that they serve a public institution.
Secondly, Gordhan highlighted that state-owned enterprises play a crucial role in the development of the state. “But we are busy at all levels, parcelling out state assets, resources and procurements to a handful of beneficiaries,” he said. “If we think we are bluffing the public, we have got a thing coming.”
‘Eskom shouldn't be a personal toy'
Gordhan also requested the board to provide the documents from the meetings where decisions were taken to let Molefe go, and then to rehire him again. These documents are necessary for legal advisers of Parliament to do their job well, he added.
Additionally, Gordhan requested the audio tapes from these meetings for Parliament’s legal advisers to verify that they match the written minutes of the meetings.
“Let’s have transparency,” Gordhan said.
Gordhan also asked Brown why there had been no mitigation on the R30 million to be paid to Molefe. “Why not mitigate on the matter? Why just give in to somebody’s demands?”
Gordhan suggested that the full parliamentary inquiry be backed with a forensic audit on how decisions are taken at Eskom. “[Eskom is] far too an important entity to become a personal toy for a few individuals.”
Finally, Gordhan called for the board to resign.
“[The board] has let South Africa down more often than not. I don’t think the board will serve South Africa well.”