Gordhan: Those responsible for Eskom's failures may soon be in 'orange uniforms'

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has said that government plans to hold those responsible for Eskom's failures to account.

Gordhan said there would be litigation against those responsible for the poor design of Medupi and also suggested that, in terms of corruption, some people might soon "find themselves in orange uniforms". 

"We are going to have difficulties for a short while," he said.

"The board will ensure, as will government itself that the experience of load shedding will be as short as possible and ensure it does not become a permanent feature for SA."

The minister along with representatives from the department of public enterprises briefed the portfolio committee on Eskom on Wednesday.

The committee heard that Eskom is technically insolvent and if it continues on the current trajectory it will cease to exist by April 2019.

Gordhan explained to committee members that the corruption which has damaged the institution did not just happen over two years but accumulated over a number of years.

Eskom is currently implementing stage 3 load shedding which will last from 08:00 to 23:00 on Wednesday. For links to the schedules click here.

Gordhan said the recent load shedding has come about due to technical problems, which is why three senior coal power station engineers from Italy along with experienced SA engineers have been recruited. Their task is to assess why there have been frequent breakdowns, whether Eskom has the right competencies among its engineers and whether there is sufficient maintenance to prevent load shedding in future. 

They will also come up with medium term solutions instead of "quick fixes".

Gordhan highlighted Eskom's three-pronged crisis – financial, structural and operational.

Speaking to Eskom's financial problem – Gordhan said Finance Minister Tito Mboweni would provide details on the kind of financial support Eskom would receive from government, given the fiscal and economic constraints the country is facing.

"Eskom should not be a huge financial burden for the fiscus over the medium term," he said. 

As for Eskom's current structure, Gordhan said that the utility is not being managed in a way that was consistent with similar utilities in other parts of the world.

"Security of supply is imperative - not just for our economy but for every household relying on electricity for basic things," he said.

He also stressed that the unbundling of Eskom into three entities - generation, transmission and distribution – does not mean the utility will be privatised.

As for Eskom's operational problems, government has met with Eskom's board to determine what is happening at the power stations, why they are breaking down and if Eskom has the "technical competence" to resolve those issues.

The Medupi and Kusile coal plants were meant to create a buffer - or extra energy space – so that older power stations could be taken offline and receive "deep maintenance". But this has not happened, he explained.

"Eskom's current dilemma on the operational side – is that we do not have the safety margins that the Medupi and Kusile construction should have provided," he said.

There has been a "distinct neglect of maintenance".

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