ANALYSIS: There will be blood at Eskom

Johannesburg - The ruptures of Gupta involvement at Eskom will continue to haunt the state utility for some time yet, even as it embarks on the difficult process of identifying and holding all employees involved in its capture to account.

This week it appeared that Eskom had taken action against employees complicit in the corruption that has eaten through the state utility. But by the end of the week, everyone was at work again and the reported suspensions swept away.

Business Day reported on Thursday that five senior officials were suspended as a result of their deals with Trillian, after the paper had seen the suspensions letters. On Wednesday it emerged that Eskom’s head of procurement, Edwin Mabelane, and the acting commercial general manager, Charles Kalima, were suspended. Three other suspension letters were written, but never issued, including that of Prish Govender, head of group capital.

But then current Eskom chair Zithembe Khoza, one of the last survivors of the old Eskom board that was at the helm during many of the controversies, apparently stepped in according to the paper, although he told Business Day as board member he didn't get involved in management decisions.

And although investigations have been concluded, former acting Eskom boss Matshela Koko is also still to face his disciplinary hearing.

But pressure is mounting. Already Eskom creditors forced the power utility to suspend Eskom CFO Anoj Singh, when Eskom's annual results briefing shone the spotlight on Singh's transgressions, including a trip to Dubai that was paid for by the controversial Gupta-family. If Eskom did not act, it might have found it in a tight financial bind.

For Eskom to secure funding and restore its damaged reputation, ultimately there is no other way out but to deliver strong action against all employees and managers who had a hand in the capturing of the state utility. And if the whole rotten core of executives and employees are held to account, the face of management at Eskom could look dramatically different in only a mere number of months.

This week suspension-drama centered around the Gupta-linked financial advisory company Trillian, which has emerged as a key player in the capturing of Eskom. A July report probing Trillian by leading advocate Geoff Budlender revealed the company submitted an invoice for R30.7m to Eskom chief financial officer Anoj Singh in April last year, which was paid the same day. 

Govender was also linked to payment of the questionable invoices, but has denied any wrongdoing.

Eskom appointed law firm Bowman Gilfillan to probe the corruption allegations associated with Trillian, and the investigation apparently shocked some members of Eskom into action.

Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe did not want to confirm that Eskom issued suspension letters to its senior officials, stating that the company doesn’t share employer-employee contractual matters unless it’s by mutual consent.

He confirmed that interim CEO of Eskom Johnny Dladla had appointed a law firm to probe all Trillian transactions. 

Apart from the Bowman Gilfillan probe, Eskom faces several other investigations, including a parliamentary inquiry which threatens to haul shadow players such as Duduzane  Zuma and Atul Gupta before it in order to explain the shenanigans at Eskom. A great many revelations of exactly how Eskom was captured is yet to surface, and if action is taken more suspensions and eventual dismissals will follow.

Singh also allegedly arranged a R1.6bn guarantee and authorised a R660m repayment for a Gupta-linked firm to buy the Optimum Coal mine.   

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown started initiating the idea of a fresh-faced Eskom when she appointed three new members to the Eskom board last month. This followed firstly the departure of controversial former CEO Brian Molefe, and then his acting replacement Matshele Koko. Also the appointment of the apparently untainted Johnny Dlaldla as interim CEO seems to have been a positive development in cleaning up Eskom.

Other departed Eskom leadership include chairperson Ben Ngubane, former Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona, former Eskom chairperson Zola Tsotsi, former executive for group capital Dan Marokane. All of them will have to face Parliament at some time to account for their actions while employed at the company.

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