Johannesburg – Suspended legal head of Eskom Suzanne Daniels on Wednesday told Parliament about how Ajay Gupta and Gupta-associate Salim Essa on separate occasions tried to influence decisions related to executives at the power utility.
Daniels was testifying before the public enterprises committee's inquiry into state capture at Eskom.
She caused a stir when she explained how she first met Ajay Gupta, one of the three Gupta brothers, in mid-2017.
Daniels told the committee she had been asked to meet with Essa, a friend and close business associate of the Gupta family, at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg on July 29, 2017. She said that, after meeting him at the reception area of the African Pride Hotel, they together walked to a set of nearby apartment blocks.
“We went into one of those apartments. As we walked into the lounge area there were four people, of which I was introduced to Ajay Gupta, Duduzane Zuma, Deputy Minister [of Public enterprises] Ben Martins and a Chinese lady whose name I could not remember,” she said.
Daniels said Ajay Gupta was wearing a grey tracksuit, a T-shirt and no shoes. “My view is he looked worse than if he was at a shebeen,” she said. “The purpose of the discussion was around the process of the [former Eskom CEO Brian] Molefe court proceedings. Mr Gupta wanted to know how far they were.”
The court application relates to Molefe's bid to have the Labour Court overturn Eskom’s decision to rescind his reappointment.
Daniels said she informed Ajay Gupta that Eskom was to meet with a Deputy Judge President to discuss when to set down the matter as the DA, the EFF and trade union Solidarity had joined the application.
She said that Ajay told her that he would speak to someone at the Deputy Judge President’s office to have the hearing take place after December 2017.
Push the hearing back
Daniels said that it appeared that the purpose of the meeting was to push out the date of the hearing so that it would look more "favourable" than it does now.
“Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was mentioned. I could not follow what he was saying because I could not believe where I was, and what I was hearing,” she added.
Daniels said that after the meeting she then drove home. “I locked the door and poured myself a stiff whiskey and went to sleep.”
Former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who is also a member of the committee, advised the committee chairperson Daphne Rantho that the Gauteng judge president should be notified that the Deputy Judge President’s office came up in the hearing.Former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said that the gauteng judge president should be informed of the "abuse" taking place with the deputy judge president's office. (Picture: Youtube).
Daniels also spoke about the first time she met Essa.
She said that suspended Eskom executive Matshela Koko had called her to meet at Melrose Arch on March 9, 2015. Koko met her at the restaurant JB Rivers, and then they walked to what she now knows is Essa’s office.
She said Essa asked her how disciplinary procedures work. She explained that if an employee was to be disciplined, they should be given a hearing.
“He got specific and asked what must be done to suspend people,” she said.
Daniels then explained that a valid reason is needed to suspend employees, and that employee should be given a chance to respond.
“Then he proceeded in the presence of Matshela Koko to sketch out what will happen in the next couple of days,” said Daniels.
Essa had informed her that four of Eskom executives would be suspended, including former CEO Tshediso Matona and Koko.
There would also be an investigation and that the board would communicate this in due course. “Little did I know that this was going to happen the next day,” said Daniels.
"It actually happened the day after [March 10]."
Later in October 2015, Daniels said she again met Essa at Eskom, where he congratulated her on her position as company secretary.
Claims Molefe influenced Gupta deals
When asked by evidence leader Advocate Nthuthuzelo Vanara of Molefe’s role in influencing an Eskom meeting which took place in April 2016 regarding a prepayment made to Gupta-owned company Tegeta, Daniels said: “Based on what I know, as what happened at the time, and based on what has subsequently come out in the media, I am convinced that there must have been some undue influence.”
She said had been called by Zethembe Khoza - now acting Eskom chairperson and at the time the chair of the tender committee board - to set up the meeting late in the evening.
Daniels claimed that, had the meeting taken place two days later, Tegeta would not have received the R659m it did and would not have had time to pay the R600m shortfall it had for Optimum by April 14, 2016.
Koko one of four ‘brazen thieves’
Speaking about the controversial deal between Eskom, Trillian and global consultancy McKinsey, Daniels called the payments made “brazen theft”.
Trillian and McKinsey were paid just over R1.56bn for the contract.“In my view, based on what I know and what I have discovered, there is only one way to describe this to people of SA, this was brazen theft.”
When asked by one of the committee members to identify the "thieves" implicated in this matter, Daniels said: “The people implicated and who I identify as thieves [are] Matshela Koko, Anoj Singh, Edwin Mabelane and Charles Kalima.”
McKinsey has previously said it would only pay back Eskom its R1bn fee on a court order.
Daniels explained that the Eskom board had an obligation to recover the money, but a court case would stretch out the process to beyond the time frame of the letter of demand Eskom issued to McKinsey and Trillian.
“I find McKinsey’s commitment to pay R1bn quite disingenuous,” she said. Daniels suspects McKinsey’s lawyers advised the court case as the time horizon will expire. “Eskom will not get that court order in a hurry to actually get the money back.”
Daniels said she believed that the board was also trying to discredit her report on Trillian. After presenting the report in October 2017, she was suspended the next day, she said. “Anecdotally I think the board is trying to discredit my report and discredit the veracity of Bowman’s report.”
She also said that there was an unprofessional relationship between acting board chairperson Khoza and Koko. This is seen by the way in which his disciplinary hearing is being dealt, she argued.
Koko’s disciplinary hearing, which will recommence on November 23, 2017, has to do with his alleged failure to declare a conflict of interest regarding Eskom contracts awarded to the firm International where his step-daughter was a director.
But Daniels called the hearing a “sham”. By this she said she meant that there has been “considerable board interference” in the investigation.
Charge sheets so far had been changed twice.
Daniels said that she was surprised by the final published charge sheet. The chance of Koko being exonerated from the set of charges is “quite high”, she said. Daniels believes that Khoza has interfered with the charges.
During the briefing Daniels also spoke about threats to her life for speaking up. Apart from telephone calls she said she had been intimidated on the road.
In a statememt issued on Wednesday evening, Parliament's oversight committee on public enterprises expressed "expressed concern on the death threats that Ms Daniels is receiving".
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