Matshela Koko took ’personal interest’ in resolving Optimum mine’s R2bn penalties
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Johannesburg - Former Eskom head of legal and company secretary, Suzanne Daniels, has told the Zondo Commission of Inquiry that then CEO Matshela Koko took a personal interest in resolving the R2 billion in penalties imposed on Optimum coal mine when it was owned by Glencore.
Daniels, making her second appearance at the commission, said Koko had wanted to withdraw the claim and offer a settlement of R500 million after Tegeta took over the mine.
Daniels said that in December 2016, Koko was appointed acting group chief executive of Eskom, after Brian Molefe's resignation.
In September last year when Daniels appeared before the commission, she disclosed information relating to the Gupta family, stating that she continued meeting Gupta associate Salim Essa even after she turned down his alleged attempts to bribe her.
She also described a meeting at Trillion Capital’s offices in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, which was allegedly attended by Ajay Gupta, Duduzane Zuma and former minister Ben Martins.
At the time, Daniels' testimony focused on her meetings with Essa, which she said were initiated by her then boss Koko.
The first meeting is said to have been held in March 2015 with Daniels indicating that Essa introduced himself as then public enterprises minister Lynne Brown’s adviser.
She revealed that Koko introduced her to Essa who in turn informed her of the impending suspension of a senior Eskom manager. Daniels was fired in 2018 following a disciplinary hearing after she was found to be negligent in the signing of controversial contracts at the power utility.
On Tuesday, Daniels told the commission that Koko took a particular interest in the Optimum matter and that she was requested to brief him on a weekly basis on progress in the matter.
She said Koko then began the discussion towards settlement of the matter rather than proceeding with the arbitration. She said at this early stage, he was already mentioning that it would be acceptable if Eskom settled at the amount of R500 million.
Daniels said she cautioned or advised Koko that arbitration proceedings had already been recommenced and that it would be prudent for Eskom to continue with those proceedings.
She said during the arbitration proceedings, Optimum's attorneys approached Eskom's attorneys with proposals for a possible settlement of the claim.
Daniels said she requested an assessment of the merits of the Eskom claim during November 2016 pursuant to the recommencement of the arbitration proceedings, as a result of Optimum's request to Eskom to consider a potential settlement.
She said law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr (CDH) prepared a preliminary assessment on the merits of the Eskom claim in December 2016 which highlighted various concerns and challenges with the claim.
Daniels said these assessments were shared with Koko and Eskom’s then chief financial officer, Anoj Singh, as her direct superiors in her capacity as acting head of legal and compliance.
Daniels said she pointed out to Koko that their claim could be even higher than the recalculated amount of just over R1.7 billion. She said this conversation took place in and during January 2017 when arbitration proceedings had formally commenced again.
She told the commission that while she had the necessary delegation of authority to recommend settlement of matters, she did not feel comfortable doing so in this matter. She thus advised Koko and Singh that she would take the matter to the Eskom Board Tender Committee (BTC), which she did on February 8, 2017.
Daniels testified that based on further meetings between Optimum and Eskom, they arrived at a settlement figure of R577 million in full and final settlement of the Eskom claim.
Daniels said that even around early February they still had not yet received the full documentation that was required.
To this Judge Zondo said: "It seems the BTC didn't apply their minds properly on what they were doing before approving the authorisation.“
Daniels is expected to return to the commission on Tuesday.