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Eskom’s Leadership Vacuum: The power utility is now leaderless

Business Report
FORMER Eskom chairperson Ben Ngubane hurriedly resigned with immediate effect, leaving behind the fate of acting chief executive Matshela Koko among his unfinished business at the power utility.

In a shocking move on Monday evening, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown announced Ngubane’s immediate departure, promptly appointing board member Zethembe Khoza - a former head of customer services at Telkom - as interim chairperson “until I am able to take new board appointments to the cabinet for approval.”

Under normal circumstances, Eskom would be expected to pronounce on the new board at its annual general meeting, which, according to Brown’s department, would be held later this month. Yesterday, neither the department of public enterprises nor Eskom could confirm if the legal and forensic investigation into Koko’s conduct had been finalised.

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The board instituted the investigation in March after reports that Koko’s step-daughter, Koketso Choma, had raked in more than R1billion in Eskom deals over the span of a year.

At the time, Choma was a director of engineering and project management company, Impulse International.

Brown initially instructed the board to finalise the investigation within 30 days, but Eskom extended it to mid-June to give the investigators more time to wrap up the probe. Ngubane’s sudden exit also comes in the wake of the power utility’s messy handling of former chief executive Brian Molefe’s departure from the organisation.

Brown’s spokesperson Colin Cruywagen would not be drawn into the reasons that Ngubane gave for his unexpected departure. “That is between him and the Minister (Brown),” said Cruywagen.

Ngubane and Molefe’s exit, however, deepens leadership problems at the utility and has shone the spotlight on Brown and her oversight role over Eskom.

She had initially supported the decision to reinstate Molefe after the Eskom board went to great lengths to justify it. In a press conference immediately after the decision Brown confirmed that the board had briefed her and said reinstating Molefe presented “a better value proposition for the South African fiscus.” She had initially blocked the board’s proposal to pay R30bn pension payout.

But relations between Brown and the Eskom board appeared to be under strain last month after Brown intimated that she had not been fully appraised of the circumstances of Molefe’s initial departure from the utility last year.

“When Molefe quit Eskom in November 2016 I was under the impression that he had resigned. I was not aware that he had applied for early retirement,” Brown told Parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises last month.

Since the Molefe debacle, Brown has been under pressure to dissolve the Eskom board. She told the parliamentary committee that she would rotate the board, “if appropriate.”

Brown also undertook to appoint an acting chief executive within 48 hours. But, two weeks later, the board is yet to announce its chief executive.

Ngubane was not immediately available for comment.

Criminal complaint

Meanwhile, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) yesterday said it had laid a criminal complaint against Ngubane on Monday. The criminal complaint includes charges of fraud, forgery, uttering and contravention of provisions of the Companies Act, and arises from Ngubane and his wife, Sheila, borrowing R50million from a state-owned Ithala Development Finance Corporation and failing to repay it.

“We have obtained evidence to substantiate our claims and are confident of the strength of our case against Ngubane,” says Ted Blom, portfolio director for energy at Outa.


BUSINESS REPORT

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