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Ngubane hits back at his critics

Business Report
ESKOM’s chairperson Ben Ngubane yesterday hit back at his critics, daring the government to dissolve its board on the spate of corruption allegations levelled against senior executives and charging that the directors had done a marvellous job so far.

Ngubane also lashed out at former Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi's claim that he and Molefe tried to pressure him to cancel Glencore licences as “preposterous.”

He said Eskom officials could never prescribe to ministers what to do.

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Chairperson of the Eskom board, Ben Ngubane

“He claims something that is impossible. We cannot tell a minister what to do. We take orders from ministers. We ask for help,” Ngubane said.

“For a minister to now claim that we actually made him take a decision about something is preposterous.”

Ngubane’s rebuttal comes in the wake of fresh allegations that he and reinstated chief executive Brian Molefe pressurised Ramatlhodi to swing the now infamous Optimum deal in favour of the controversial Gupta family,

He said that the board served at government’s pleasure and if the government wanted to disband it, the directors would not object.

“The call for the dissolution of the board is just an opinion. I am proud of the difference we made. We saved the country from blackouts,” Ngubane said.

The sale of the Optimum mine to a company owned by the Gupta family, Tegeta, has been an albatross on the power utility’s neck, and was the major focus of former the public protector's State Of Capture report released last year, which made adverse observations on Molefe’s role in swinging the deal to favour Tegeta.

The report triggered Molefe’s resignation, leading to his brief stint as an ANC parliamentarian before returning to Eskom this week.

Ramatlhodi’s allegations were also given weight by the timeline of the reshuffle, that saw him removed to the public service and administrative sector at the time when the Gupta family were in the middle of the aggressive purchase of Optimum, the coal mine that supplies Eskom’s Hendrina power station.

Glencore, which used to own Optimum, had placed the mine into business rescue in August 2015 after Molefe refused to renegotiate the price of a long-term supply contract and reinstated a disputed R2.17billion penalty that Optimum supposedly owed for supplying sub-standard coal.

The allegations were the second damming to surface in the space of two weeks.

Last week the National Treasury’s deputy director-general and acting chief procurement officer told parliament that a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that Eskom’s coal contract with Tegeta was hastily and poorly drafted, and quality requirements were treated in a cursory manner.

The Standing Committee on Public Accounts resolved to call Eskom later this month to discuss its concerns over the PwC report.

The ten-year, R3.7bn contract was signed in 2015. Ngubane said Molefe was an asset to Eskom and the nation and expected him to stay focused on his duties, which included paying back the government guarantees and creating significant cost savings.

“It is going to be for the good. He is going to carry on where he stopped - making electricity affordable for our people.”

There have been growing calls for president Zuma to accede to the recommendation made by Madonsela to establish a commission of inquiry to look at allegations of state capture in the country.

The scandal-prone power utility has on numerous occasions been forced to fend off one embarrassment after another. Last month, reports emerged that then acting chief executive Matshela Koko’s stepdaughter had benefited handsomely from contracts amounting to R1bn dished out by Eskom to a company in which she held a directorship.

Koko has denied being directly involved in the awarding of the tenders. He agreed to go on leave as an investigation by law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr ensued to probe a possible conflict of interest on Koko’s part. Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe said Molefe would not be available to talk to the media this week.

Yesterday Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane also dismissed Ramatlhodi’s claims, charging that it was unthinkable that a minister could be coerced into doing something he did not want to do.

“I think we must dispel this notion of revolutionaries being pressed to do things they don’t want to do,” he told a media briefing ahead of his budget vote speech. “I will allow the former minister to answer on what he says.”

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