'We've said goodbye to hundreds' – Eskom's de Ruyter on corruption clean-up

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Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter in January, 2020.
Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter in January, 2020.
Gallo Images/Business Day/Freddy Mavunda
  • Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter says work is being done to return the power utility to the world-class institution it once was.
  • Part of this involves instilling accountability - which has seen it part ways with several employees.
  • De Ruyter says similarly, elected officials at municipalities must be held accountable to paying their bills to the utility.

Not holding people to account opens the doors to a "free for all", and that's why Eskom has parted way with several staff, the power utility's CEO Andre de Ruyter has said.

De Ruyter was on Friday speaking at a fundraising event hosted by the SA National Editors Forum (Sanef).

The power utility, along with the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), earlier this year lodged a civil claim to recover R3.8 billion from former Eskom officials for breaching their fiduciary duties in allowing the power utility to suffer losses as funds were funneled to the Gupta family, on their watch.

Commenting on the matter, De Ruyter said that civil claims were far better to pursue than criminal cases, as the "wheels of the criminal justice system" turn slowly.

In an effort to establish a culture of accountability at the organisation, Eskom has let go of 30 senior executives and managers and "said goodbye to hundreds of others," said de Ruyter.

"The sad part is that as a consequence of state capture, as important an institution as Eskom has been hollowed out to a large extent," he said. This is reflected in the poor maintenance of power stations and the rising debt owed by municipalities, he explained.

However, he assured work is being done to restore Eskom to the world-class institution it was more than a decade ago. Eskom was the top global utility in the world, in 2001, he said. "That is the mountain we have to climb."

He said that part of the accountability project was to get municipalities to pay up their outstanding debts – now more than R34 billion. Eskom has had to cut off power supplies to some towns. For some, that's nine hours per day. This has unfortunately contributed to poor service delivery. In others, Eskom has had to attach bank accounts and moveable assets such as vehicles.  De Ruyter said without this "assertive approach" it will be difficult to get the attention of elected officials who are responsible for paying the bills.

Political interference

De Ruyter also commentd that he has not experienced political interference, particularly from Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. "Maybe SAA has helped a bit," he quipped. Gordhan's department also has oversight of the airline, which is currently in business rescue.

"I think that I have really been given a free hand to do what I think is best from a business perspective, in conjunction with the Eskom board," he said. De Ruyter has not had pressure to appoint certain people to certain positions, nor award contracts to certain vendors.

He remarked that Eskom has received support from deputy president David Mabuza, who heads the Eskom Task team. "He is a tough taskmaster," De Ruyter added.

Speaking on Eskom's growing debt burden, De Ruyter stressed that it should become financially sustainable, as it is now approaching half a trillion rand. "It is a challenge we are engaged with at this point in time."

While Eskom has received fiscal support, De Ruyter said this takes money away from other key national priorities from feeding schemes, or roads and hospitals. He said the only way forward is for Eskom to be able to charge cost-reflective tariffs.

As for the wins, Eskom has had 40 days without having to burn diesel to keep the lights on, while it conducts much needed maintenance of plants. Diesel costs Eskom about R10 million per hour, said De Ruyter.

He added that Medupi is on track to becoming fully operational by the first quarter of next year as design defects are being addressed. A similar process is taking place at Kusile.

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