Lynne Brown
Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown told MPs she had received a report from Eskom about its dealings with Trillian and McKinsey which she had demanded after it emerged that the power utility had lied to Parliament, but made plain she would not act against the leadership of parastatals on the basis of leaked e-mails.

Brown told Parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises she had received Eskom’s report on Tuesday evening, after several delays when the company failed to provide sufficient clarity, and would ask her department’s legal department to scrutinise it.

She added that she deplored Eskom’s misrepresentation about payments to Trillian, a company tied to the Gupta business empire, saying: “I regard Eskom’s lies as an assault on our democratic system.”

Brown then faced questions from MPs, including former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, about ensuring the independence of the boards of state-owned enterprises and dealing with a wealth of allegations that have emerged about parastatals being milked by politically-connected businessmen.

Gordhan noted that in the case of Eskom, these were not limited to Trillian, which is reported to have received R1.6billion from Eskom for no clear benefit, after it was brought in by McKinsey as an empowerment partner on a contract with the utility.

“What can we expect from the minister? What process is being followed to appoint the new board? The appointment of boards is tainted both by her predecessor and herself,” he said.

“How clean is this board going to be?”

A weary Brown replied that she intended to vet future board members as best she could, but that as far as the present board was concerned, she had read allegations in the media and not seen evidence.

“I will not appease those baying for heads of those on the basis of leaked e-mails. It is not as simple as a board game; when last I looked, people were still considered innocent till proven guilty,” she added.

Gordhan then asked how, in a context of state capture pervading state-owned enterprises, other institutions and law enforcement agencies as well as government, would it get to a point where those implicated were charged and finally found guilty.

“State-owned enterprises have become the feeding troughs for all sorts of interests; billions of rand have disappeared. The department cannot be pleased about that,” he said.

Brown again replied that she saw Eskom’s biggest challenge as a failure to adhere to proper governance, and hoped that the probe by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) into its business contracts would resolve remaining questions about the entity.

Mondli Gungubele, acting chairman of the committee, said wider action was required than a single investigation.