Eskom brings back former manager from Philippines to head Kusile construction

Kusile Power Station. (Photo: Eskom)
Kusile Power Station. (Photo: Eskom)

Eskom has brought back into the fold a former senior project manager at the company, who left to work at the Redondo Peninsula Energy company in the Philippines in 2017, to manage the Kusile construction project.

Avin Maharaj was appointed as projects director for the Kusile project, effective of January 23 this year, according to internal Eskom communication seen by Fin24.

Maharaj has been brought in from the Philippines, according to the correspondence, and replaces Binesh Singh, who held the position at Kusile until now.

The Kusile project has been beset by cost overruns and delays. With an (eventual) installed capacity of 4800 MW, the mammoth power station will be the fourth largest of its kind on earth, according to Eskom.

Like its twin station Medupi, Kusile is millions of rands over budget. It is hoped that it will be completed in 2023 – about eight years after its original completion date. Formerly known as the “Bravo” project, just three of Kusile’s units have been synchronised to the national grid. Eventually, Kusile should consist of six units.

Corruption

Kusile has also been the site of mega-corruption. In December last year, the Hawks arrested two former Eskom managers and the directors of several companies in connection with contract fraud on the project, according to the Sunday Times.

Daily Maverick’s Scorpio also uncovered a slush fund, allegedly used by Kusile contractors to bribe Eskom officials.

Maharaj's appointment comes as the embattled power utility struggles to stay afloat, with scores of skilled and qualified engineers, technicians and other personnel having either been pushed out or jumped ship during the tumultuous state capture years. 

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan told News24 in an interview last week, that over the years, “the quality of our operators and power station managers declined…”

In what could be interpreted as a nod to Maharaj, Gordhan continued: “…and many are overseas, running power stations in places like the Philippines…”

Lost skills

Lost skills needed to be brought back to Eskom, he said. 

From 2017 until now, Maharaj was the Vice President of Project and Construction management at RP Energy. He was in charge of the construction of two circulating fluidised bed coal-powered generating units.

RP Energy was contracted by a subsidiary of the Manila Electric Company, as one of several projects currently underway to bring additional capacity onto the country’s grid.

Eskom Chief Operating Officer (COO), Jan Oberholzer, informed the company of Maharaj’s appointment via an internal memo last Friday.

“Avin has an extensive array embedded knowledge and experience, both locally and internationally, which will significantly contribute to and enhance our current portfolio within operations,” Oberholzer said in an internal memo to staff.

He has over two decades worth of experience in the local and Philippines power industries, and has managed projects worth anything from $10m to $10bn, Oberholzer says.

Maharaj was appointed as senior projects manager at Eskom in 2007, and managed various new power generation projects. These include work on the Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme Project. He was also projects director at the Grootvlei and Sere Wind Farm projects, and was involved at a senior level at Medupi. 

According to his LinkedIn profile, Maharaj was in charge of developing and implementing a turnaround strategy for Ingula after a number of safety incidents. This included the construction of two new dams. He oversaw the construction of Eskom’s first Wind and Concentrated Solar Power Stations, and a 68 kilometre coal railway line. Prior to that, from 2011-2012, he was executive project manager at Medupi.

Eskom was not immediately available for comment. 

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