Former Chief Executive Officer of Eskom Brian Molefe. File Image: Independent Newspapers

Parliament - Eskom administrator Anton Minnaar on Tuesday told the parliamentary inquiry into Eskom that he insisted Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown be informed of the plans to grant former CEO Brian Molefe early retirement shortly after he left the company.

"I knew there is risk in this whole thing, and we can see today what that is," Minnaar replied to a question from Inkatha Freedom Party MP Narend Singh.

"So I thought if we did those particular arrangements, we at least had to inform the minister."

Minnaar said the letter explaining that provision was being made for Molefe to retire a month shy of his 50th birthday was sent to Brown's department. It was dispatched on November 24, about a fortnight after a tearful Molefe announced his departure.

Singh followed up by asking whether this meant that Brown had for some months been aware of the extraordinary arrangement which allowed Molefe to retire with full pension benefits after only 18 months at the state-owned company.

Brown has claimed that she remained in the dark for months about Molefe's application for early retirement, and had believed he simply resigned when he announced his departure after he was fingered in former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's report on state capture.  

Late last month, she told the inquiry she had believed he had resigned and that he had not contradicted that interpretation at the time. Brown testified that she was of the view the retirement narrative may well be "an ex-post facto fabrication".

Singh asked Minnaar: "Are you saying she was informed long before she was surprised?"

Minnaar submitted that  he knew her department had sight of the letter, but could not say if that was true of Brown. 

"I don't know if the minister was aware but the department was aware."

He was emphatic though that at a meeting on April 19 this year, after the payout became public knowledge, Brown objected to it.

"The minister was very clear that she was uncomfortable paying out R30 million."

Brown gave an instruction a few days later the payout be blocked, prompting Molefe's short-lived return to the helm of Eskom before a government task team nudged the minister to remove him.

Minnaar spent hours before the committee defending Eskom's decision to allow Molefe to join the company's provident fund. He maintained that it was possible both to be appointed for a fixed term, and to be considered a permanent employee, thereby gaining the right to a pension.

"It was not a mistake, it was done by the book," he said.

Several MPs, rubbished this view, with the Democratic Alliance's Natasha Mazzone saying labour lawyers considered the two conditions mutually exclusive.

The chairwoman of the inquiry, Zukiswa Rantho, scathingly asked Minnaar whether Salim Essa, a business associate of the Gupta brothers alleged to have siphoned billions of rands off state-entities, had given an order that Molefe be given a large golden handshake.

"I take it Mr Minnaar that the money you calculated, all you people at Eskom, was a golden handshake for Mr Molefe who had resigned or was on unpaid leave."

The inquiry has repeatedly returned to the issue of Molefe's pension, while hearing testimony from former top officials implicating Brown, board members and suspended Eskom chief financial officer Anoj Singh in the illicit dealings involving companies owned by the Guptas.

It was expected to question Singh on Tuesday afternoon.

African New Agency