A lesson in buck-passing

2013-07-14 10:00

Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba and his colleagues at Eskom gave us a masterclass in passing the buck this week.

The delay in constructing the Medupi Power Station was everybody’s fault but Eskom’s. This after Gigaba previously said heads would roll if the project wasn’t completed by December this year. Yeah, right.

First we were told the delays were caused by Alstom and Hitachi – the multinationals contracted by Eskom to construct Medupi.

This implies that these companies – to which we give money – are so powerful that they can unilaterally delay a project of national interest.

Penalties were issued, but these are being challenged in court. Remember, Hitachi is 25% owned by the ANC’s investment arm, Chancellor House.

Why did Gigaba and Eskom chief executive Brian Dames take so long to crack the whip? And when they did, why with kid gloves? With the ruling party’s financial fortunes directly tied to those of Hitachi, were Gigaba and Dames under pressure to tread lightly?

At his press briefing on Wednesday, Gigaba announced that he would “dispatch” his director-general and senior Eskom executives to Paris to meet with Alstom in order to “express our displeasure at the delays, get first-hand information and understanding of the causes for the delays as well as the remedial steps they will speedily take to get the project back on track”.

With all respect, Mr Minister, this is a bit too late. The tenders were awarded in 2007. Six years later and you still don’t have “first-hand information” on what caused the delay?

The truth is that Eskom and its project managers were asleep at the wheel. Outgoing financial director Paul O’Flaherty’s attempts to shift the blame to the construction companies and their labour disputes also don’t fly.

The buck stops with Dames and Gigaba. They should be big enough to take the flak.

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