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Eskom’s Brian Molefe comes full circle with his return to power

Opinion
When he gets to his office today, there are many things that Molefe will have to deal with, writes Siseko Njobeni.

IT FEELS like he never left. From this morning, Brian Molefe will take over the reins at the state-owned utility under circumstances that are as controversial as his departure in November last year.

Molefe had hardly warmed his seat as a Member of Parliament when the Eskom board last week dropped the bombshell. In a revelation that left many dumbfounded, it turned out that Molefe had not resigned from the power utility.

When the heat from the Public Protector’s report on state capture became unbearable, Molefe applied for early retirement. It seems very few people outside of Eskom were aware of this arrangement. Public Enterprises Minister, Lynne Brown, threw the spanner in the works when news surfaced that Eskom had approved a R30million pension payout for Molefe. She asked Eskom and Molefe to come up with an appropriate pension payout proposal.

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Brian Molefe will be back at his office today

But after the utility and Molefe failed to agree on a pension payout, he was left with two options - either he rejoined the organisation or resign. He has decided to go back to Megawatt Park, much to Eskom chairperson Ben Ngubane’s delight.

But his unexpected return has sparked a whirlwind of outrage, with several organisations - including the ANC - condemning the move. Ngubane and Brown have leapt to Molefe’s defence, shifting the focus to his achievements since the joined Eskom in April 2015. It was under his watch that Eskom ended load shedding. Brown on Friday said Molefe was an innocent man. “He must be seen as innocent until he is proven guilty,” she said.

Brown and Ngubane want Molefe to start where he left off at Eskom.

When he gets to his office today, there are many things that Molefe will have to deal with, and most of them will be very familiar. For instance, he will learn that the stand-off with the renewable energy industry over the signing of 37 independent power producers remains unresolved.

Secondly, Eskom’s relationship with the Treasury remains frosty. The two organisations have clashed over Eskom’s handling of coal contracts, which is a matter that Molefe will be very familiar with. In his absence, the Treasury released a report in which it cornered Eskom for, among others, flouting supply chain rules in favour of Tegeta Exploration and Resources, a company owned by the Gupta family and President Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane.

Eskom has accused the Treasury of underhandedness after the department released the report to various institutions, including the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa).

In a statement last week, Scopa said it was concerned about how the Tegeta coal contract was managed and structured. The committee said it had resolved to call Eskom in two weeks’ time to discuss the report. Molefe could soon find himself answering tough questions from his former colleagues at Parliament about Tegeta.

So, in the few months that he was away, perceptions of the Gupta family’s influence in the organisation continue to loom large.

Molefe will also learn that, while he was away, the man who has been warming his seat, Matshela Koko, got into trouble. Koko is currently on leave while the investigation into allegations that his stepdaughter scored contracts worth R1billion. Ngubane said the investigation was in its final stages and was expected to be wrapped up next month. Brown on Friday said Eskom would discipline Koko if he was found guilty of wrongdoing.

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