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BLSA defends funding Eskom investigation

Busi Mavuso is the chief executive of Business Leadership South Africa. Photo: Bhekikhaya Mabaso African News Agency (ANA)

Busi Mavuso is the chief executive of Business Leadership South Africa. Photo: Bhekikhaya Mabaso African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 9, 2023


Business Leader SA (BLSA) CEO Busi Mavuso in her weekly newsletter yesterday defended the organisation undertaking an assessment of the risks to Eskom from criminality on the request of the former power utility’s CEO André de Ruyter.

The Black Business Council last week said the move by BLSA was inappropriate and teetering on serious interference in the affairs of Eskom.

BBC president Elias Monage said: “It has been revealed that De Ruyter (at the end of 2021) solicited funding from private businesses for an (intelligence fraud and corruption) investigation into corruption at Eskom. “More worrying is that the BLSA CEO, Ms Busisiwe Mavuso, was an active board member of Eskom and was seriously conflicted.

“This clandestine and covert investigation is both unlawful and in breach of the law as Eskom is a national key point. We also view this as a serious security breach for South Africa that cannot be left unattended,” he said.

However, Mavuso defended her actions and the organisation.

“BLSA exists to support the creation of a conducive environment for business. That is essential for inclusive eco- nomic growth, investment and jobs,” she said.

“There is no bigger issue for that environment than Eskom,” she said.

“Electricity insecurity has damaged many of South Africa’s businesses, made many investments impossible and destroyed jobs. It affects businesses both big and small while damaging the quality of lives of ordinary South Africans.”

She said perhaps the next biggest challenge was law and order.

“That is why when BLSA was approached by Eskom CEO André de Ruyter in 2021 to fund an assessment of the risks to Eskom from criminality, we were happy to consider it. In De Ruyter’s view, corruption and organised crime were a material part of the problems afflicting Eskom.

“This intractable problem required skilled external resources to investigate and understand, resources that Eskom itself could not provide and which the criminal justice system, including the police, had not provided to a sufficient degree,” she said.

Mavuso said she was acutely conscious that BLSA acted to serve the interests of its members.

“My colleagues and I believe that we can do that by helping to end the electricity crisis and support institutions of law and order and that is why these are our top two priorities in our strategy,” she said, while explaining that “De Ruyter’s request aligned with both of those priorities,“ she said. Mavuso said De Ruyter’s request was a natural extension of these pro- grammes of support and so the organisation agreed to the request.

“As in the other cases, we were at pains to not involve ourselves in the scope or people involved. But we were comfortable that the resources were necessary for De Ruyter to deliver on his mandate of improving electricity availability. Given it also would help confront a major area of organised criminal activity, our judgment was that it would be an appropriate use of our resources,” she explained.

She said efforts at combating crime had not been fruitless and in January, 25 arrests were made in connection with sabotage, theft and fraud at Eskom, and several more were made last year.

“These were supported by the intelligence gathered from the various investigations De Ruyter oversaw, including, we understand, that partly funded by BLSA. In time, much more could be achieved from our intervention,” she said.

The attack on De Ruyter and the risk assessment that BLSA part-funded must be seen in terms of who stood to benefit, she said.

There are powerful actors, with strong motives both to stay out of jail and to maintain their access to resources, who can push narratives to serve their interests.

Ultimately, Mavuso said BLSA could not shirk its responsibility to do what it could to improve the business environment and the lives of ordinary South Africans.