Maria Ramos. Photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)
JOHANNESBURG – The process to unbundle Eskom is heating up, with Finance Minister Tito Mboweni confirming this weekend that former Transnet chief executive Maria Ramos was in the running for the newly created position of chief reorganisation officer (CRO) at the utility.

Mboweni denied weekend media reports that Ramos had already been offered the post, and insisted the process was underway and she was one of the candidates being considered.

Ramos, who previously served as National Treasury director-general, left her position at the helm of Absa in March after a torrid decade at the bank.

News that the government was close to appointing a chief executive comes weeks after the Institute for International Finance said its discussions with Eskom and the Treasury had failed to give an indication of a clearly defined restructuring plan.

The institute advised that, to have clarity on Eskom’s restructuring plan, a CRO would have to be appointed, who would then likely unveil plans and a timeline for splitting Eskom into three subsidiaries.

Meanwhile, parliamentary documents came to light on Friday showing that Eskom received an emergency bailout through the Treasury earlier this month, and it would need further financial assistance at the end of the month.

According to a letter from Mboweni to Speaker Baleka Mbete and a report by the minister to Parliament, R5billion was released to the troubled power utility after an expected instalment on a loan from the China Development Bank was delayed.

The delay meant that Eskom was unable to meet obligations that became due at the end of March, Mboweni wrote, plunging the company into liquidity difficulties.

He therefore resorted to invoking section 16 of the Public Finance Management Act to prevent Eskom defaulting, which would have triggered a call on government guarantees.

Mboweni said the first tranche of financial relief for Eskom of R69bn over three years, announced in his Budget in February, had not been available, because Parliament had risen ahead of the May 8 elections before a special appropriations bill could be processed. This meant these funds would likely be paid over to the company only between August and October.

Mboweni said the problem arose because Eskom was not able to draw down R7bn from the China Development Bank loan because of “central bank exchange control requirements”. The money was expected on March 25, and it is not clear whether it had since been released.

The minister did, however, reveal that the government had, in order to avert a crisis, asked the Corporation for Public Deposits to release R4.6bn to tide Eskom over, but the request was declined.

It then turned to Absa for R3bn in bridging finance, against a government guarantee. The R5bn released from the National Revenue Fund was used to refund this emergency loan.

Eskom referred all queries on the matter to the Department of Public Enterprises, which was not immediately available to respond to questions.

It is understood, however, that the money availed to Eskom to cover its obligations earlier this month and further such payments Mboweni foresaw would be redeemed against the R23bn he allocated the company in additional funding for the year.

Eskom has debt of R419bn, of which R28bn is guaranteed by the government.