WHY BEN QUIT
Interim leadership of Eskom was subject of between public enterprises minister and former chairperson
Ben Ngubane resigned as Eskom board chairperson this week because Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown rejected the man he wanted as acting chief executive officer (CEO) of the power utility. At a heated meeting on Monday, held shortly before Ngubane quit in a huff, he punted Zethembe Khoza as acting CEO, a job left vacant after the controversial departure of Brian Molefe.
Two sources with intimate knowledge of the meeting alleged that Ngubane also threatened to report Brown to President Jacob Zuma if she did not accept the man he wanted.
“He threatened to resign if the minister didn’t appoint this guy; the minister told him to go ahead,” said one. “He then threatened to report her to the president; again the minister told him to go right ahead.”
Instead, Khoza, a nonexecutive Eskom board member, was appointed interim board chairperson “until I am able to take new board appointments to Cabinet for approval”, said Brown’s late-night statement on Monday confirming Ngubane’s resignation.
The other person on Ngubane’s list of two, according to other sources with inside knowledge, is believed – but not confirmed – to be Ayanda Noah, Eskom’s executive in charge of power distribution. Noah has been involved in trying to recoup the billions of rands municipalities around the country owe the power utility.
The sources said that, after the fraught meeting, Ngubane returned to Brown’s office after 3pm with his lawyer to hand in his resignation. Brown announced Ngubane’s resignation in a statement issued by her spokesperson Colin Cruywagen after 11pm on Monday.
Ngubane declined to speak to City Press when contacted for comment on Friday. “No, I’m not talking to the press,” he said before ending the call.
Eskom’s top governance structures have been in turmoil for weeks. Molefe returned as CEO on May 15 after an absence that was variously described as early retirement and unpaid leave, during which he served a three-month stint as an ANC MP. His reappointment was overturned on May 31, Brown announced, after a recommendation by a specially established interministerial committee.
At that media briefing, Brown said the board would give her at least two names from within Eskom’s executive to act as group chief executive, and that an appointment would happen “within the next 48 hours to ensure continuity”. She also said she was looking at “rotating” the board.
But 18 days later, Eskom still has no CEO, acting or otherwise.
The reason Ngubane pushed for Khoza to be acting CEO is unclear. If Brown agreed, it would have been his second stint in the acting post he previously held between March and April 2015, after CEO Tshediso Matona was suspended and left. Khoza was followed as CEO by Molefe.
Two days after his appointment as interim Eskom board chairperson, Khoza, a former Telkom customer services boss who heads his own investment company, filed an affidavit in the Labour Court saying Eskom would not oppose Molefe’s challenge to his dismissal, and that Brown had to defend it alone.
Court papers filed on Thursday show Eskom supports Molefe’s story of how he mistakenly went on early retirement that was linked to a R30 million pension payout.
But in her papers, Brown appears to have changed her tune about Molefe’s resignation, unpaid leave and the legality of his reinstatement.
Brown states that while the interministerial committee’s recommendation may be influenced by political considerations, Molefe’s reinstatement agreement was not legally valid.
“I submit that Mr Molefe has, therefore, not been dismissed as he claims. His reinstatement as CEO was premised on an invalid agreement. I directed the board to rescind the illegal reinstatement. There was no dismissal as there had not been a valid appointment after Molefe’s resignation on November 11 2016.”
In her affidavit, Brown says that, since Molefe was the one who concluded that early retirement was the best way to protect his interests, it was unthinkable that he would not consider this option carefully and earnestly.
“To do so, he would have to satisfy himself that he met the requirements for early retirement. This required him to consider the rules ... The notion that the [CEO] of Eskom, a corporation with a budget of several billion rand, would be so reckless in protecting his own interest, with respect, beggars belief,” she said.
Brown also questions how Molefe proceeded from the point where he sought to protect Eskom’s interests, to where he would receive R30 million.
“It was clearly not in Eskom’s best interest that a person who had been employed for just 13 months should receive, in addition to his ordinary salary and other benefits including a substantial bonus, an amount in excess of R30 million…”
Brown also argues Molefe’s application was not urgent. Continued on page 2
Do you think Lynne Brown’s interventions and Ben Ngubane’s resignation will pave the way for capture at Eskom to be reversed?
SMS us on 35697 using the keyword NGUBANE and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50 JANET HEARD MONDLI MAKHANYA DINEO MORE
LAID-BACK CHIC Singer Rihanna attends the LVMH Prize for Young Designers at Fondation Louis Vuitton on Friday in Paris, France. She handed the award to French designer Marine Serre
STERN Lynne Brown