Minister Malusi Gigaba says radical economic transformation must be defined. Picture: David Ritchie/ANA
JOHANNESBURG - Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba has vowed to take unspecified action against beleaguered Eskom, saying the problems facing the power utility were huge and needed urgent steps.

Addressing the breakfast briefing yesterday ahead of next week’s World Economic Forum (WEF) in Sandton, Gigaba and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa were candid about the risks Eskom’s woes posed to the country.

“There would be no currency, and no economy for the country if Eskom went belly-up,” said Gigaba.

Eskom's financial problems and alleged poor governance have come under the spotlight recently. The utility is under pressure to release long-delayed interim results for the six months ended September last year. The JSE has threatened to suspend the Eskom bonds if the utility fails to publish the results by month-end.

Addressing the media at the pre-WEF briefing, Gigaba said: “The urgency to act with speed has been magnified by the problems brought to our attention recently.”

He said the new information, which he did not disclose, was brought to him on Wednesday.

“We have been trying to deal with these issues. We have reached a stage where we cannot continue to be gradualist in addressing the problems that Eskom is facing,” he said.

He said there were Eskom board members and senior management who did not grasp the seriousness of the problems the power supplier was facing “or who live in their own world with regard to those challenges,” he said.

Ramaphosa reiterated the government's concerns about Eskom.

“The challenges that Eskom is facing are huge and the Minister of Finance is seized with this on an hourly basis. If there is anything that is top of mind, not only for the Minister of Finance, it is Eskom. The Eskom issue and story is being addressed as we speak now,” he said.

Urgently

Ramaphosa said the government wanted to reform state-owned companies urgently.

He said the government also wanted to root out the rot at some of the state-owned companies.

“It is unacceptable, totally unacceptable that state-owned enterprises that are owned by the nation and were set up to advance the interest of our people have been hijacked and captured by certain interests.

"We are going to see action, firstly on the reforms of the SOEs and getting rid of the rot. That is the message we are taking to Davos because we have been asked by rating agencies and a number of investors. When do we want it to be done? Yesterday,” said Ramaphosa.

Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) chief executive Bonang Mohale said the government should “urgently” prioritise the reform of key institutions, including state-owned companies. Mohale said next month's national Budget should contain strong measures to ensure cost containment.

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