New blood, new vigour: Lynne Brown

2014-06-01 15:00

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The minister behind Eskom and SAA says she’s more concerned with efficiency than fancy new head offices

Lynne Brown, the new public enterprises minister, is well aware that her first order of business is to bring stability to Eskom and SAA.

Brown has inherited a messy portfolio from Malusi Gigaba.

Eskom, which is currently leaderless, is critically behind on its programme to build power stations.

Its reserve margin on power demand and supply is now at critical levels.

Despite the crisis, it has also been reported that Eskom is considering a R500?million refurbishment at its head offices.

In an interview with City Press, Brown said the Eskom refurbishment plans would have to be explained.

“I am quite prudent. They [Eskom] will have to explain themselves and make the case for [the upgrade] because I am more concerned about the lights going out in winter,” she said.

“Of course, I don’t know much about it right now so it seems very imprudent of me to make rash statements. But I represent the public here so I will have to do the right thing.”

Brown said her immediate concern with Eskom was appointing the right leadership, including the right CEO. Currently, the acting CEO is Collin Matjila.

“Almost as soon as possible, I want to make sure I get a CEO appointed. I can’t give a time frame. I would like to tell you in a week’s time but that’s not possible,” Brown said.

SAA, on the other hand, has had governance challenges and has recently announced its ninth turnaround plan in 13 years.

The airline remains unprofitable and reported a R1.1?billion loss in its 2013 annual report.

It has become synonymous with regular bailouts and, in the last 20 years, has received R16.8?billion in bailouts from taxpayers.

Although the minister said she was unhappy with SAA being bailed out constantly, she did hint that it needed more money.

“I also need to check if they have been undercapitalised in the first place and I am in the process of doing so,” she said.

Brown said she was not considering privatisation.

“In the short term, I think that debate [privatisation] is probably not one I am considering now. And as time progresses, there are other forms of financial modelling we can look at, for instance, private partnerships,” she explained.

Ministers in this portfolio have often been accused of pushing political agendas at the expense of efficiency or even profit, but Brown said she would try to limit political interference in state-owned companies.

“I don’t think there should be political interference in the board.

“I think one must allow the board to run its course but I also have taken an oath to play a very important role – but not an interfering role,” she said.

“I don’t run the company. I just create the environment for the company to run in, but I don’t interfere in the details on how to run the company, what to buy and so on. But I also can’t put the country at risk.”

Biography: Lynne Brown

She spent 20 years in the provincial legislature of the Western Cape.

Brown, who was born in District Six, replaced Ebrahim Rasool as Western Cape Premier in 2008. Before that, she was the MEC for finance, economics and tourism from 2004.

She was also chairperson of the standing committees on community services and on health and welfare, and was an ANC whip and chief whip in the legislature.

After the ANC lost Western Cape in the 2009 general elections, Brown was leader of the ANC opposition until May 2014, when she was appointed as minister of public enterprises.

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