WHY BEN QUIT

In­terim lead­er­ship of Eskom was sub­ject of be­tween pub­lic en­ter­prises min­is­ter and for­mer chair­per­son

CityPress - - News - ANDISIWE MAKINANA andisiwe.makinana@city­press.co.za

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

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

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

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