UPDATE | Public Protector clears Gordhan, Eskom board over Oberholzer complaint

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Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the Public Protector.
Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the Public Protector.
Picture: Tebogo Letsie
  • The Public Protector found a complaint against the Minister of Public Enterprises and the Eskom board to be unsubstantiated. 
  • The complaint, brought on behalf of Eskom employee Mark Chettiar, alleged that the minister and the utility's board failed to probe serious allegations against Eskom COO, Jan Oberholzer.
  • In the report, the Public Protector notes that Chettiar didn't respond to requests for a response - apparently unaware that he died in June, Bloomberg reports. 

The Public Protector has found no evidence of wrongdoing by the Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Eskom management over their handling of a complaint against the utility’s COO Jan Oberholzer.

In a report, the office of the Public Protector said it had investigated the alleged failure by Gordhan and the Eskom board to investigate a complaint relating to various allegations of maladministration and improper conduct against Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer. 

The complaint was lodged in September by Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) on behalf of Mark Chettiar, an Eskom employee who alleged he had been victimised by Oberholzer and Eskom.

Chettiar made a protected disclosure in June 2019 to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture regarding contracts entered into between Eskom and a number of construction companies, which he believed pointed to corruption, abuse of power, nepotism and corporate mismanagement.

Among Chettiar’s allegations against Oberholzer was that he allegedly participated in meetings and supported the extension of a contract between Eskom and Stefanutti Stocks, but failed to disclose that he owned shares in company.

Oberholzer also allegedly pressed for the payment of R42 million to Aveng Construction by Eskom despite the company’s non-performance in terms of its contractual obligations. Because he had sounded the alarm over Oberholzer’s actions, Chettiar claims he was resultantly victimised and ultimately transferred from operations to human resources.

In his complaint to the Public Protector, Chettiar said the serious allegations he had made against Oberholzer were not dealt with, despite having been brought to the attention of Gordhan.

No evidence of wrongdoing

The Public Protector, however, found no evidence of wrongdoing.

"Our investigation revealed that the allegation that Minister of Public Enterprises, Mr. Gordhan, BoD [Board of Directors] of Eskom and Eskom failed to investigate the complaint relating to various allegations of maladministration and improper conduct against Mr. Oberholzer, and subsequent improper application of the PDA [Protected Disclosures Act] is unsubstantiated," the office of the Public Protector said in its report.

The report further noted that Eskom had investigated complaints lodged by Chettiar against Oberholzer, and issued three reports – one in October 2019, one in April 2020, and another in August 2020 – all of which exonerated Oberholzer of the various allegations levelled against him.

Chettiar has also referred a complaint of unfair labour practice to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

The Public Protector’s report said it does not have jurisdiction to review the ruling of the CCMA and recommended Chettiar refer the matter to the Labour Court if he is not satisfied with the outcome.

But Bloomberg reports that Chettiar died on June 30 from Covid-19 complications. 

The Public Protector wrote to Chettiar on August 16 requesting his response to its initial findings, but he didn’t respond within the 10 stipulated working days, it said in its final report issued on November 30.

Oupa Segalwe, a spokesman for the Public Protector, said in a response to a Bloomberg query that “the team probably wasn’t aware that he was dead.”

The article has been updated with information reported by Bloomberg, including that Chettiar passed away.

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