Johannesburg - The decision of a committee of ministers to fire Brian Molefe as Eskom boss, just hours after he appeared in Parliament to explain one of the Gupta deals, has put the board of the utility in the firing line.
Knives are out for the troubled power utility’s board, led by former SABC board chairperson Dr Ben Ngubane, with the governing ANC’s alliance partners leading calls for it to be dissolved.
SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo said the board must fall on their swords. “We have been calling for Molefe to be removed from that position. Molefe didn’t reappoint himself, he was reappointed by the board,” he said.
“The fact that they chose to reappoint him proves the board’s incapacity to hold office, and it should be disbanded. The minister must dissolve that board urgently,” he added.
Ngubane and Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown have been under heavy pressure from Luthuli House to reverse the Molefe decision. This is after they flip-flopped from saying Molefe resigned, took early retirement, or went on unpaid leave.
So angry was the ANC over the matter that spokesperson Zizi Kodwa accused Brown and Ngubane of perjury.
The party’s study group on public enterprises in Parliament said the various explanations raised suspicion that there was fraud when Molefe suddenly became an ANC MP after he publicly and tearfully quit as Eskom boss in November.
Molefe’s removal as Eskom boss was a blow to the Guptas and part of President Jacob Zuma’s initial plans to make him finance minister to replace the embattled Pravin Gordhan, who was axed in a cabinet bloodbath in March. Some ANC officials, including secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, confirmed publicly that they had blocked Zuma from appointing Molefe as finance minister.
The ANC’s national executive committee’s decision at the weekend that the reappointment should be rescinded hastened Molefe’s demise.
Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the union federation welcomed the decision to reverse Molefe’s reappointment as Eskom chief executive.
“It means the ANC is paying particular attention to what is being done in its name. However, we no longer trust that board. It should be dissolved because if, as a board, you fail in such a manner that an inter-ministerial committee is put together to scrutinise your failures, you can’t be trusted with the responsibility of taking the organisation forward,” said Pamla.
Kodwa said the ruling party welcomed the decision on Molefe. “Our view was the government must deal with the matter. What it does with the board, it’s their issue,” he said.
Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association chairperson Kebby Maphatsoe said although they respected the ministerial decision on Molefe, the board should not go. The veterans are staunch backers of Zuma.
DA public enterprises spokesperson Natasha Mazzone said her party had written to the acting chairperson of the portfolio committee on public enterprises, Zukiswa Rantho, demanding answers for the delay in constituting a full-scale parliamentary inquiry “into the rot at Eskom”.
“Only a full-scale inquiry has the capacity to get to the bottom of the rot. It must be constituted and scheduled immediately,” she said.
When asked to comment on the future of the board, Rantho said: “We will review the inter-ministerial committee’s decision on the matter; if it is necessary that further steps should be taken, we will seek legal advice on what to do next.”
Brown’s spokesperson Colin Cruywagen could only say the minister had made it clear that the board must provide her with two names of executives who can act as group chief executive. He would not be drawn on who was likely to succeed Molefe.
However, Brown referred some Eskom contracts to the Special Investigating Unit for investigation, setting the stage for further scrutiny of the board and Molefe’s links to the Guptas, whose company Tegeta supplies coal to the utility.
Molefe, Ngubane and Eskom board spokesperson Khulani Qoma could not be reached for comment last night.
On Wednesday, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, who formed part of the ministerial committee, said it was in the best interest of the country that Molefe left Eskom.
Gigaba said the events of the past three weeks had been painful and could have been avoided by the utility. “It has caused government a lot of harm, a lot of reputation damage,” he said. He added that the fiasco also caused harm to Eskom and Brown.
Justice Minister Michael Masutha said the board had admitted it made a mistake in reappointing Molefe.
He also confirmed what Eskom told Parliament last week that Molefe’s position had already been advertised when he was reappointed, and a shortlist of candidates had already been selected.
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