THE ESKOM FILES | Editorial: If Eskom fails, South Africa fails

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The Eskom Files is an ongoing investigation by News24.
The Eskom Files is an ongoing investigation by News24.

In December 2001, Eskom was awarded the prestigious title of "Global Power Company of the Year" at the Financial Times Global Energy Awards in New York. The judges praised the parastatal’s technical excellence, maintenance, and operation while at the same time providing affordable electricity to its customers.

"Eskom, which generates more than half of the electricity on the African continent, has quite effectively demonstrated itself to be a leader worthy of the title – Global Power Company of the Year," the commendation read.

Twenty years later, and Eskom is a broken company. It is saddled with a debt of R411 billion. National Treasury regards it as the single biggest threat to the South African economy, constant breakdowns at its aging fleet of power stations lead to load shedding, and corruption and thievery riddles the whole of the organisation.

READ | Exclusive: Power utility’s R178 000 000 000 dodgy tender tsunami

If state-owned enterprises were at the heart of state capture, Eskom was the company at the heart of South Africa’s state-owned companies. Eskom has an annual procurement budget above R140 billion and has since 2008 initiated some of the largest and most capital-intensive projects in the country’s history.

The so-called "mega-build" projects of Kusile, Medupi, and Ingula Power Stations sought to modernise Eskom’s electricity generation division and was supposed to eliminate any uncertainty about sustained electricity supply for decades.

Instead, these projects became the scene of literally hundreds of crimes as bent Eskom executives colluded with private multinational firms to fleece billions of rands from the company and the taxpayer. While Gupta enablers, like Malusi Gigaba and Lynne Brown, were busy stacking the Eskom board with pliant directors, a spider web of corrupted Eskom officials at all levels of the company helped themselves to hundreds of contracts and thousands of payments.

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And this while a succession of allegedly corrupt chief executives and their lieutenants helped bankrupt the company, this spider web of corruption flourished. They demanded and received millions of rands in kickbacks. They authorised overpayments to contractors to the value of billions of rands. They wangled payment for the bulk supply of milk for 10 times the market price and signed off on the bulk purchase of toilet paper at R29 for a roll of single-ply.

But it was at the big projects, like Kusile, where the real money was stolen. Executives manufactured excess payments for the procurement and installation of boilers, turbines, and infrastructure like ash dams and water treatment plants and pocketed millions in silly money.

The Eskom Files, an investigation by News24’s award-winning team of investigative journalists, reveals the enormity of corruption at the company. It is pervasive at all levels; it has become entrenched in Eskom’s culture, and is so rampant that any attempt to defeat it is met by counterattacks and ferocious resistance.

But it also illuminates the dogged attempts by forensic investigators and law-enforcement agencies to expose and prosecute criminality.

It’s a fight that must be won. South Africa’s future depends on it. 

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