Lynne Brown is the Minister of Public Enterprises. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi
Parliament - Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown took instructions from the Gupta brothers and earlier this year ordered the Eskom board not to suspend Matshela Koko as chief executive of the power utility, a witness on Tuesday told the parliamentary inquiry into allegations of state capture at the company.

Khulani Qoma, the now suspended spokesman for the Eskom board, said he had earlier this year urged chairman Zethembe Khoza to suspend Koko because of the reputational damage he believed he was inflicting on the company.

Qoma said Khoza agreed fairly readily that it should be done, but cautioned that former chairman Ben Ngubane had also wanted to move against Koko but was blocked by the minister.

"He says to me because Minister Brown is captured, Minister Brown reports to the Guptas and then he tells me about the new board members. He says on June 23, which would have been the date of the AGM [annual general meeting], four board members are going to be announced and those board members have been appointed by the Guptas," he told the parliamentary inquiry conducted by the portfolio committee on public enterprises.

Qoma said Khoza then switched to Zulu and added that the board members were so young that they looked like school children.

"He then tells me that actually Dr Ngubane came very close to suspending Koko but was stopped in his tracks by Minister Brown."

He said Ngubane had persuaded the rest of the board that this was the correct course of action. Koko had already left the office for the day and was summoned back.

But the Gupta brothers were called to inform them of the decision and they called Brown, who in turn called Ngubane and ordered him not to do it, Qoma added.

He said Khoza conceded that he had "called one of the G [Gupta] brothers" and that this prompted Brown's intervention.

"I went to make a call to a G brother and told them that Koko was about to be suspended," he quoted Khoza as saying, adding: "He inadvertently implicated himself."

Qoma was scathing of Brown's track record as public enterprises minister and of her claims that she was unaware or had been lied to about key events in Eskom's turbulent affairs. 

He said it was Khoza who first put it to him that the minister is "captured", but his observations had borne out the theory that she is entangled in the dealings between Eskom management and the family reported to have skimmed billions off the State's balance sheet.

"She has gone to the ends of the earth to say she is not wet, yet she is right in the middle of the water," he said.

"The problem here is the minister. The minister needs to sit here and account because this mess would not have been possible if she was capable. She is totally incapable," he said.

Qoma said Brown needed to take responsibility for bringing disgraced former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe and now suspended chief financial officer Anoj Singh to the power utility after questions had been asked about their conduct at Transnet. She also needed to account for the calibre of board members at Eskom, he added, describing them as "people below the surface".

Qoma described the debacle in which Eskom allowed disgraced Molefe to retire on a full pension of R30 million at the age of 50 after he was implicated in state capture by former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela as a "well-orchestrated Ponzi scheme".

He said Ngubane told him that he knew that there was "an arrangement with Molefe but did not know the quantum". The relationship between the chairman and the former CEO could be illustrated, he said, by Ngubane's decision to drop in on him to see how he was doing after he was forced out of the company shortly after Brown allowed him to return as CEO.

Qoma, who was hired to improve Eskom's dire public image, said he had managed to get Ngubane to agree to release the Dentons report, which outlines the causes for the company's financial trouble, including overpaying for diesel and coal, letting staff handpick suppliers and set themselves up for lucrative deals.

However Singh vehemently objected and insisted that only a redacted version be made available and only through successful application under the Promotion of Access to Information Act. It was also at Singh's insistence that journalist Chris Yelland was blacklisted from Eskom's information systems, he told the committee.

African News Agency