Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has vowed that his department will launch an investigation into the role of former Eskom board member Busi Mavuso in an intelligence-driven investigation of the power utility while she was a board member.
Mavuso, who is the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), pumped R18 million of her organisation’s coffers into a controversial R50m investigation dubbed ‘Project Ostrich’.
The clandestine probe was conducted early last year by George Fivaz Forensic and Risk (GFFR), a firm owned by former police commissioner George Fivaz, at the behest of former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter without the board’s approval.
It is on this report that De Ruyter based his allegations during a TV interview in February that criminal syndicates were siphoning at least R1 billion a month from Eskom with the help of senior ANC Cabinet members and some politicians.
Appearing before the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) in Parliament yesterday, Gordhan was pressed on what the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) was doing to protect Eskom’s interests against the allegations.
Scopa chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the fact that this report was not in possession of the Eskom board nor the DPE was “a threat and a risk to national security”.
Hlengwa told Gordhan that an investigation into how this report came about must take priority and that the report must be found and be handed over to relevant authorities.
He said Parliament also needed to understand how private funding had been used to conduct intelligence gathering around a state-owned enterprise and who the report implicated, or it would be a dereliction of duty to not investigate.
“I do feel that it is of particular importance, on the part of the department as the shareholder representative, and Eskom to investigate the circumstances of this forensic intelligence report,” Hlengwa said.
“It touched a key strategic space, which is Eskom. What did they do with that information? Does it concretise State Capture version 2? Does it fall into the hands of private donors and private interests who have now got an insight into Eskom because information has been sought?
“I fundamentally believe that the existence of this report is a threat and a risk to national security. This is state information in the hands of unvetted people, in the hands of private interests.
“You can’t have board members running a private operation (at Eskom). It’s in breach of fiduciary responsibility. And they must be investigated about their own competency of being directors.”
Gordhan concurred with Hlengwa, saying that they would investigate everything around this intelligence-driven exercise because there might also be “several reports” instead of a single report.
“I agree with your concerns. We have to disentangle this web, and what are the implications for any conflict of interest and for fiduciary responsibility,” Gordhan said.
“We are going to need a bit of time, but I can give you the assurance that that will be pursued. Because we need to disentangle that and see what its implications are.”
Two weeks ago, Mavuso defended the BLSA’s decision to fund this controversial report, saying that De Ruyter’s need for donations to fund the probe aligned with their belief of helping to end the electricity crisis and supporting institutions of law and order.
Mavuso was not immediately available yesterday to comment whether she would co-operate with the investigation as she was in private meetings.
Hlengwa and Mavuso have a very interesting relationship as they had a public fallout in April last year following their clash when Mavuso absolved the board and De Ruyter for Eskom’s failures, saying it was the ANC-government that had “messed up” the power utility.
Although Hlengwa apologised a few days after their fallout, yesterday he connected the dots as to why Mavuso had defended De Ruyter during the Scopa’s oversight meeting at Eskom’s headquarters last year.
“That public spat and ‘Andre will not be the fall guy now makes sense’,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gordhan vehemently denied allegations that he had urged De Ruyter to conduct such an intelligence-driven operation at Eskom or that he had informed him about it in detail.
“As far as the so-called De Ruyter project is concerned, he did not discuss the project with me at any length. He merely told me in passing,” Gordhan said.
“He was operating on his free will, so to speak, on this project and of course, at the same time it seems he was writing a book as well, other than focusing on his job of keeping power stations going and providing electricity.”