Calls for ministers to be fired over power disaster

2008-01-31 00:00

Cape Town — “Do the honourable thing and resign with immediate effect.” This was the repeated call made by opposition parties yesterday on Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and other cabinet ministers responsible for South Africa’s energy crisis.

At a special sitting of Parliament to debate the crisis, they also called for the heads of the directors and senior officials of Eskom to roll.

Mlambo-Ngcuka took flak, along with Erwin, for her insistence when she was Minerals and Energy Minister that South Africa would never run out of power.

Erwin looked stonily ahead as his critics accused him of “gross negligence”, of “shameful” decisions in aiding and abetting Mlambo-Ngcuka — and of “ludicrous” claims denying the immense economic cost of the crisis to the country, before addressing the house on plans to alleviate the crisis.

Saying that “baying for blood” will not help, Erwin said the government is doing all it can to restore stability and is driving a two-phase stabilisation programme.

Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica, who started the debate with an apology to all South Africans for the hardship caused by the “unfortunate turn of events”, was met with jeers of “too late”, “fire the ANC”, “get rid of this government” and “you knew [about the crisis]” — as well as many jeers about Eskom bonuses.

Sonjica criticised people bent on “identifying the culprits and castigating them”, but reiterated the apologies of the president and the deputy president.

Sonjica said that the the main contributing factors to the crisis were the unprecedented and unanticipated growth in the economy, and “to a certain extent” the expansion of electricity services to previously unserved areas.

She also offered energy-saving tips. “Go to sleep earlier so that you can grow and be cleverer. Boil less water, use the microwave rather than stove, take a shower and not a shallow bath.” But, for opposition MPs, it was a case of too little, too late.

Responding, Democratic Alliance (DA) minerals and energy spokesman Hendrik Schmidt called on President Thabo Mbeki to look at the DA’s proposals for dealing with the energy crisis.

“This is possibly the single biggest challenge to continued economic growth since 1994. Five years ago … the honourable deputy president, in her capacity as Minerals and Energy minister and in a display of arrogance, informed us that South Africa would never run out of power. The result of such arrogance is evident today.

“The DA therefore calls on the former minerals and energy minister [and] the current Trade and Industry Minister to resign with immediate effect. Failing to do so places the task on the honourable president to remove them from office,” Schmidt said.

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Narend Singh called on Eskom to ensure accurate communication with the public on load shedding times. He cited a skills shortage at Eskom as a major driver towards the crisis and called for a recruitment drive to get “enough people with the right skills into key positions”, and an expansion of SA’s energy mix.

United Democratic Movement MP G.D. Madikiza described the crisis as a matter of “national shame”, saying Eskom and the government have given pessimists and sceptics every opportunity to badmouth SA. “Amidst all this hand-wringing, the arms deal is now coming home to roost,” he said, adding that the money on the controversial deal should have been used to resolve the crisis.

Reiterating the call for heads to roll, Independent Democrats MP Lance Greyling called for all energy efficiency funds to be taken away from Eskom.

“We share the outrage of millions of South African citizens who have been severely affected by our country’s electricity blackouts. Our economy has been built around the premise of cheap and reliable electricity, but through willful government negligence this has now been destroyed … Last week the mines were forced to shut down for the first time in our country’s history with estimated losses of over R1 billion. This equates to a loss of R300 million in tax revenue, the annual budget of three large hospitals,” Greyling said.

African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe called for accountability and an end to Eskom’s monopoly.

Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder called on the government and Eskom to come clean with the people of South Africa. “Don’t lie. Be honest with us. Don’t underestimate our IQ.”

Mulder said: “If a minister in any other country made decisions which cost the country up to R650 billion in a matter of days and which bring the whole economy to a total stop, he would immediately be fired.”

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