Minister Lynne Brown

JOHANNESBURG - Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown and her deputy Ben Martins on Tuesday issued two separate statements - hours apart - in which they lashed out at the parliamentary inquiry into Eskom.

Brown specifically took offence at the inquiry’s venture into state capture, warning that it ran a risk of becoming a “kangaroo court” after it heard testimony that she was a liar an “atrocious minister” and responsible for the problems in Eskom.

She said she did not take instructions from anyone and that Eskom officials had misled her intentionally on the Trillian matter. Martins said he was concerned about the manner in which the hearings were being conducted.

Revelations at the hearings have put Brown and Martins on the spot, with a number of witnesses pointing to their role in the “capture” of Eskom.

Brown was never entirely happy with the inquiry from the beginning. Even before they commenced, she wrote three letters to the portfolio committee on public enterprises, Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete and evidence leader of the inquiry Ntuthuzelo Vanara, in which she raised several “procedural issues”.

Specifically, she questioned the role of Vanara, saying he had failed to act ethically and professionally.

Despite her objections, the hearings are going ahead and have lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding Eskom’s governance problems and corruption.

Role in rot

Appearing before the inquiry this week, Eskom board spokesperson Khulani Qoma was forthright in his criticism of Brown’s role in the rot at Eskom. Qoma called Brown a liar. Not just any liar, but an incompetent liar. Now that Qoma has belled the cat*, it is opportune to interrogate Brown’s tenure as public enterprises minister.

What has Brown done to steady the Eskom ship since her appointment in 2014? What is her legacy? Under her watch, Eskom has been extremely unstable, both at board and executive level.

Brown has been at the helm of the public enterprises portfolio since May 26, 2014. In December 2014, she approved a board which included individuals with links to the Guptas.

For instance, Mark Pamensky, a chartered accountant, was also a board member of Oakbay Resources and Energy. He resigned from Eskom when the stench from former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report became unbearable.

It was under Brown’s watch that former board chairperson Zola Tsotsi suspended four Eskom executives from the utility under questionable circumstances in March 2015.

The power utility reached settlement agreements with three of the executives, former chief executive Tshediso Matona, former group capital executive Dan Marokane and financial director Tsholofelo Molefe. Matshela Koko returned to Eskom. When Tsotsi eventually resigned weeks later, Brown elevated Ben Ngubane, himself a dubious character, to the position of interim chairperson.

Ngubane was appointed to the full chair in October 2015. Under his wing, disgraced former chief executive Brian Molefe rose into an untouchable at Eskom.

It was Ngubane who told us in an affidavit that Molefe definitely never resigned as Eskom chief executive after his hilarious claims of a mythical shebeen in Saxonwold.

Ngubane backed his ridiculous claim with board minutes, which suggested that the entire board always knew Molefe had never resigned.

He said those who say he was five months away from the utility needed to have their heads thoroughly examined.

It seems there is a lot that has happened at Eskom without Brown’s knowledge.

For example, she did not know that Molefe had applied for early retirement.

She only became aware of this in April this year when media reports surfaced that Molefe was in line for the handsome payout while Ngubane offered one farcical justification after another.

Most recently, it was under Brown’s stewardship that Eskom controversially removed interim chief executive Johnny Dladla last month and replaced him with Sean Maritz.

Six days into the job, Maritz had to concede that, while he was Eskom’s information technology manager, he had hired a friend and fellow church member without declaring their friendship.

Financial ruin

And so while she continued to star in her see, hear and speak no evil monologue, Eskom continued to limp from one controversy to another.

Just this week, South Africa heard that Eskom’s coffers were running dry and that the power utility was on the verge of financial ruin.

In a statement that confirms the utility is knee-deep in trouble, Eskom says it had so far secured about 56percent of the funding requirements for the current financial year.

That is just over half of its funding requirements with a little more than four months to go.

According to Eskom, the execution of the remaining funding requirement is largely dependent on it being able to address, among others, the constitution of a new board, the resolution of internal governance-related matters and the appointment of a permanent chief executive and chief financial officer, as well as other executive positions.

At the moment, some of Eskom’s key executives are under suspension.

These include chief financial officer Anoj Singh, group executive for generation Matshela Koko and executives Prish Govender, Charles Kalima and Edwin Mabelane.

Executive for group capital Abram Masango also faces suspension.

Is it any wonder, in Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s words, that the utility is government’s single biggest liability?

This story tells the tale of a group of mice who were terrorised by the house cat. One of them suggests that a bell be placed around the cat’s neck to warn of his arrival.

-BUSINESS REPORT