Eskom has learnt nothing since its wet coal of 2008

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Are the rolling blackouts of last Thursday the beginning of the end for South Africa’s national power grid? At the very least, Eskom owes us a reliable answer to that question while, in all previous explanations for failure, we have had nothing but a web of evasion.

In case its incompetence is irreversible, it’s high time that business is properly informed and able to take appropriate steps.

If memory serves, the latest excuse for the failure is the first one trotted out in 2008 – wet coal. If this is the case, then Eskom admits to having learned nothing from its 2008 failures: surely, a major rainstorm in an area notorious for major rainstorms cannot shut down a country’s economy? Over the past six years Eskom has come up with a series of scarcely credible excuses, apart from wet coal:

n Generally constrained generating capacity – read poor planning of new capacity.

n Lack of capacity margin over demand – directly relates to Eskom’s “gift” of much of its supply margin to BHP Billiton.

n Backlog of planned maintenance – means inept maintenance planning and/or execution.

n Unplanned generator outage – translates to inept plant operation, typified by the Hendrina turbine disintegration during routine testing, or the tripping of three units at Kendal last week.

n High cost of coal – relates to incompetent contracting of coal supplies.

n Aged power stations – misleading as most of Eskom’s capacity is relatively new.

n Poor access to capital to build new capacity – means loss of credit rating and ability to borrow.

n Major delays in completing Medupi – equals poor plant specification and inept project management.

n Excessive power demand – refers to the inability to supply at demand levels of three years ago.

Last month Eskom had four almost simultaneous generator failures, which roughly equates to the capacity of an entire power station as operated by this benighted entity, and the emergency declared last week was initiated by the tripping of three units at Kendal power station.

It is no accident that every major power station operated by Eskom has six boiler/generator units: in simple numbers, this design philosophy “allows” every station to have one unit (17 percent of installed capacity) under planned maintenance at any time, while any unit should be able to run continuously for two years.

That explains the margin of installed capacity over maximum demand, although each outage for planned maintenance should not exceed three months (12 percent outage).

Eskom is apparently happy to operate with an outage of about 25 percent of installed capacity, ignoring its plant design philosophy and far exceeding industry norms, while unplanned outages are accepted as everyday occurrences.

Wet coal might be a problem but it’s a smokescreen for Eskom’s incompetence. What is alarming is its inability to attract and/or retain competent staff while the average pay package well exceeds R500 000 a year.

For those of Eskom’s staff able to read, would the last person to leave his/her cushy employ at Megawatt Park, please turn off the lights, or blow out the candles!

Roger Toms

Hout Bay

Time to apply ubuntu to all in government

The application of the noble principle of ubuntu in the corrupt business world has been raised before by Matome Modipa (Business Report, February 6).

His latest contribution “Ubuntu is what local executives really need” (March 5) repeats the same sentiments.

Next time, he could serve the concerns of the nation by widening the applicability of ubuntu to our politicians and public servants where it is generally acknowledged corruption and shady dealing is rampant, and getting worse.

It is common knowledge that from President Jacob Zuma down, corruption is a thriving business within the ANC government and has been since the Armsgate and Travelgate exposures revealed the growing rottenness in the government.

On the same page of his recent contribution, there is an article which inter alia illustrated how Zuma escaped 783 counts of corruption through manipulation of the NPA and closing down the Scorpions.

The call is for the principle of ubuntu to be applied equally. For Modipa to quote the case of Glenn Agliotti without mentioning the role of then police commissioner Jackie Selebi, the one time president of Interpol, illustrates the point.

Mandy Wiener, in her detailed research for Killing Kebble, describes how high and how deep the evil has penetrated.

One may have hoped our politicians would have been driven by ubuntu and not use public office as a means of self-enrichment for themselves, their families and their cronies.

The moral and ethical imperatives inherent in ubuntu should be the guide to clean, honest and transparent government. It is significant that Professor Paulos Zulu in his recent book A Nation in Crisis: an Appeal for Morality (2013) draws attention to the guiding principle of ubuntu in shaping a nation’s moral values.

Dr Alex Boraine’s recent book What’s gone wrong? also shows the depth of the moral and ethical failure.

Perhaps Modipa would like to apply his mind and knowledge to appeal to our politicians and public servants to live by the ubuntu principle through applying it to their daily conduct.

Maybe then the R30 billion we lose each year to corruption would become available for schools, medical services, rural roads, potholes and the endless list for urgent service delivery needs.

Perhaps the R22bn the auditor-general recently referred to as “wasteful and irregular expenditure” by government departments could be responsibly managed and applied by caring public servants.

Public “servants” imbued with ubuntu would see their role as service “deliverers” viewing each day as an opportunity to assist in making a contribution to a vibrant and vigorous nation uncontaminated by corruption.

Ron Legg

Hillcrest


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