Eskom’s lead­er­ship woes deepen as Ngubane bails

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - Siseko Njobeni

FOR­MER Eskom chair­per­son Ben Ngubane hur­riedly re­signed with im­me­di­ate ef­fect, leav­ing be­hind the fate of act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive Mat­shela Koko among his un­fin­ished busi­ness at the power util­ity.

In a shock­ing move on Mon­day evening, Pub­lic En­ter­prises Min­is­ter Lynne Brown an­nounced Ngubane’s im­me­di­ate de­par­ture, promptly ap­point­ing board mem­ber Zethembe Khoza – a for­mer head of cus­tomer ser­vices at Telkom – as in­terim chair­per­son “un­til I am able to take new board ap­point­ments to the cab­i­net for ap­proval.”

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, Eskom would be ex­pected to pro­nounce on the new board at its an­nual gen­eral meet­ing, which, ac­cord­ing to Brown’s depart­ment, would be held later this month. Yes­ter­day, nei­ther the depart­ment of pub­lic en­ter­prises nor Eskom could con­firm if the le­gal and foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Koko’s con­duct had been fi­nalised.

The board in­sti­tuted the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in March af­ter re­ports that Koko’s step-daugh­ter, Koketso Choma, had raked in more than R1 bil­lion in Eskom deals over the span of a year.

At the time, Choma was a di­rec­tor of en­gi­neer­ing and pro­ject man­age­ment com­pany, Im­pulse In­ter­na­tional.

Brown ini­tially in­structed the board to fi­nalise the in­ves­ti­ga­tion within 30 days, but Eskom ex­tended it to mid-June to give the in­ves­ti­ga­tors more time to wrap up the probe. Ngubane’s sud­den exit also comes in the wake of the power util­ity’s messy han­dling of for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive Brian Molefe’s de­par­ture from the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Brown’s spokesper­son Colin Cruy­wa­gen would not be drawn into the rea­sons that Ngubane gave for his un­ex­pected de­par­ture. “That is be­tween him and the Min­is­ter (Brown),” said Cruy­wa­gen.

Ngubane and Molefe’s exit, how­ever, deep­ens lead­er­ship prob­lems at the util­ity and has shone the spot­light on Brown and her over­sight role over Eskom.

She had ini­tially sup­ported the de­ci­sion to re­in­state Molefe af­ter the Eskom board went to great lengths to jus­tify it. In a press con­fer­ence im­me­di­ately af­ter the de­ci­sion Brown con­firmed that the board had briefed her and said re­in­stat­ing Molefe pre­sented “a bet­ter value propo­si­tion for the South African fis­cus.” She had ini­tially blocked the board’s pro­posal to pay R30bn pen­sion pay­out.

But re­la­tions be­tween Brown and the Eskom board ap­peared to be un­der strain last month af­ter Brown in­ti­mated that she had not been fully ap­praised of the cir­cum­stances of Molefe’s ini­tial de­par­ture from the util­ity last year.

“When Molefe quit Eskom in Novem­ber 2016 I was un­der the im­pres­sion that he had re­signed. I was not aware that he had ap­plied for early re­tire­ment,” Brown told Par­lia­ment’s port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on pub­lic en­ter­prises last month.

Since the Molefe de­ba­cle, Brown has been un­der pres­sure to dis­solve the Eskom board. She told the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee that she would ro­tate the board, “if ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Brown also un­der­took to ap­point an act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive within 48 hours. But, two weeks later, the board is yet to an­nounce its chief ex­ec­u­tive.

Ngubane was not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment.

Crim­i­nal com­plaint

Mean­while, the Or­gan­i­sa­tion Un­do­ing Tax Abuse (Outa) yes­ter­day said it had laid a crim­i­nal com­plaint against Ngubane on Mon­day. The crim­i­nal com­plaint in­cludes charges of fraud, forgery, ut­ter­ing and con­tra­ven­tion of pro­vi­sions of the Com­pa­nies Act, and arises from Ngubane and his wife, Sheila, bor­row­ing R50 mil­lion from a state-owned Ithala De­vel­op­ment Fi­nance Cor­po­ra­tion and fail­ing to re­pay it.

“We have ob­tained ev­i­dence to sub­stan­ti­ate our claims and are con­fi­dent of the strength of our case against Ngubane,” says Ted Blom, port­fo­lio di­rec­tor for en­ergy at Outa.

Eskom’s Ben Ngubane hur­riedly re­signed late on Mon­day night.

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