545 The Star Building experiences load shedding this afternoon. 060314. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Wet coal seems a somewhat lame excuse for what is in effect a lack of proper planning by the state and Eskom, says Judith February.

Here we go again with talk of rolling blackouts and inconsistent power supply causing chaos around the country.

The one thing we cannot accuse our government of is panic.

A post-cabinet meeting saw Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa meeting a rather hostile and inquisitive media contingent determined to seek answers for the power cuts.

No president, no minister of public enterprises, no minister of energy, just Molewa, exposed. First, Molewa said there would be no “negative impact” as a result of the blackouts – then came the famous “wet coal” explanation.

It seems a somewhat lame excuse for what is in effect a lack of proper planning by the state and Eskom. Not that this can solely be laid at the door of this administration.

As far back as 1998 there have been reports that our power supply was fragile. Yet, in 2002, then minister of minerals and energy Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said there was no looming power crisis.

And then came 2008 and the new era of rolling blackouts.

Since then the problem has had to be managed or “spun” in such a way as to avoid general panic.

Of course the building of Medupi power station has been mired in controversy, from labour issues to questions about patronage politics.

After all, the ANC’s investment arm, Chancellor House, owns a stake in Hitachi, which supplies the boilers for the Medupi and Kusile power stations.

And so, as the middle classes rant about power cuts and business issues dire warnings, what one can say about this unsatisfactory state of affairs is that at the heart of it all is a lack of accountability by those in power.

What few explanations are given seem wholly unsatisfactory.

It takes us back to the recent past, with the security cluster and Minister of Public Works Thulas Nxesi’s ludicrous explanation for the excessive expenditure on Nkandla.

We were told that the pool was a fire-pool, a much-needed security feature. Then we were told the cattle needed to be secured in a particular way. And so the farcical explanations went on.

Next Wednesday the public protector will release her final report, and hopefully more convincing findings will present themselves.

It also feels like the time the ministers in Thabo Mbeki’s cabinet tried to convince Parliament – and us – that the arms deal was worth the expenditure because of the offsets programme.

This past week was just not a good week for accountability. Annelize Van Wyk, chairwoman of the National Assembly portfolio committee on police, lost all patience with the police reporting to Parliament on various issues. The meeting started badly when Deputy National Police Commissioner Stefan Schutte, clearly having to take the fall for his boss Riah Phiyega, said she was “abroad”.

Van Wyk rightly saw red. The meeting had been set down months ago and Phiyega ought to have been there.

“This is Parliament!”, Van Wyk said, visibly angry. What followed was described by committee members as a waste of time, as the SAPS provided basic answers to crucial questions such as the number of firearms lost and stolen, leases on buildings and the role of the inspectorate. The answers simply restated facts the committee already knew.

Van Wyk and her committee are asking all the right questions and deserve to be commended for their thorough grasp of issues.

The “missing link” of accountability and answerability can be restored only if citizens demand it.

An election year, perhaps, provides an opportunity for extracting some levels of accountability from those in power.

Last week a former colleague died too soon. Nathi Nomatiti joined the then Idasa as an intern, later becoming a political researcher. More recently he worked in government. Nomatiti had, like so many, risen above the difficulties of his circumstances through the expanded public works programme.

He was perspicacious, and his love for politics consumed him.

This week’s thoughts on accountability are therefore dedicated to Nomatiti, who never lost his ability to question and, as he so often said, to be a “disciplined force of the Left”.

The Left sorely needs young Nomatitis, people of promise and integrity.

Your former colleagues at 6 Spin Street salute you, Nathi, for the person of promise that you were and for your commitment to the battle of constitutional values.

* Judith February is a senior associate at the Institute for Security Studies.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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