Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

PP asked to protect Eskom whistle-blower

By Bongani Hans Time of article published Sep 18, 2020

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Johannesburg – The employee who blew the lid on an improper payment of R42 million to a construction company at Eskom is allegedly being victimised by senior officials linked to the maladministration at the state-owned utility.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) approached Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to intervene after Eskom launched an investigation against its general manager of special projects, Mark Chettiar. It seeks to determine if he is incapacitated and unable to continue with his work in the company.

Independent Media understands that since Chettiar reported instances of corruption at Eskom to Corruption Watch, he has allegedly been victimised within the company.

The alleged authorisation of a R42m payment to construction company Aveng for work not done was reported by Chettiar last year.

He was due to appear at an incapacity assessment hearing at Eskom last Friday. Despite being on sick leave, Chettiar went to the hearing only to be told that it had been postponed.

Independent Media has seen a letter, dated August 6, 2020, summoning Chettiar to an incapacity assessment on September 11.

According to the letter, Chettiar, because of ill health, had been away from work for up to 14 days. As a result, the company wanted to establish if he was still capable to hold his position and perform his duties.

“Whilst the reasons for your long sickness absence may be medically acceptable, its duration calls for an investigation into incapacity due to illness.

“Therefore, if necessary, the last purpose of the investigation will be to determine the manner in which Eskom will have to terminate the employment relationship with you,” read part of the letter to Chettiar written by Eskom group executive for human resources Elsie Pule.

Corruption Watch’s legal and investigations unit head, Karam Singh, said Chettiar had been victimised because of the disclosures he had made.

“If you look at his 20 years of service, and his performance record over that period, he has an impeccable record, and at different stages in this process Eskom has deliberately made statements in the press to impugn his character, including calling into question his performance.

“We feel that this is being exercised in deflection by Eskom (to divert) attention to him when there may be others who have got cases to answer to,” said Singh.

Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of Saftu, who is assisting Chettiar with labour representation at Eskom, had, on September 5, penned a seven-page letter to Mkhwebane requesting an investigation into Chettiar’s victimisation.

Mkhwebane’s spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, confirmed that she had received Saftu’s letter and that it was being assessed for jurisdiction and merit.

On the incapacity assessment, Vavi said Eskom had postponed the hearing because of their disorganisation.

Spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said Eskom did not discuss personal issues, including medical conditions with the media, as they “remain confidential”.

When asked about the complaint to the public protector, Mantshantsha said: “Eskom will obviously co-operate with the public protector’s processes.”

Vavi said Eskom chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer had pressed for the payment of R42m to Aveng by Eskom, despite the latter not fulfilling its contractual obligations.

Vavi called for Oberholzer to be placed on immediate suspension and subjected to disciplinary action led by an independent person appointed through a transparent process.

He said Chettiar should be allowed to return to his original position.

Chettiar declined to comment, saying that talking to the media would be breaching company policy.

Political Bureau

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