Cape Argus

Eskom a public bad and not a public good for SA

- DAVID ROBERT LEWIS David Robert Lewis is the publisher of the Medialtern­atives website.

IN A piece published in the Daily Maverick, Public Enterprise­s Minister Pravin Gordhan appears to respond to an earlier piece written by myself and published in it and the Cape Argus.

The example of Telkom deregulati­on, which I have raised on more than one occasion, is most certainly taken verbatim, and it is no coincidenc­e Gordhan’s response occurred on the day my piece was published by IOL.

Electricit­y may be a public good, but when the only source of electricit­y for the majority of South African households is a government department or city billing system, the results will always favour the producers not the consumers.

Peter Fabricius reports that Gordhan responded to a question put to the Financial Times Africa Summit on Tuesday on “why South Africa needed Eskom at all?”

He says: “A member of the audience put it to him that South Africa had been ahead of the curve in 1993 and 1994 in licensing mobile telephone companies and that had changed the country’s telecoms landscape.

“Given that history of trailblazi­ng, why do you need Eskom?” was the question for Gordhan, who was participat­ing in the London summit remotely.

Gordhan responded that “Eskom is necessary because providing electricit­y is a public good and the state should be involved in the provision of public goods”, doubling down on his party’s statist rhetoric.

Gordhan then goes on to suggest, without any evidence, that “placing the provision of electricit­y into private hands in other parts of the world had not worked out well, including because it had increased prices”, and this by falsely listing the UK as an example. Either he is a willing idiot, or totally oblivious to the accepted wisdom and economic consensus surroundin­g the rise in UK fuel prices.

It is no secret that Europe’s plan to deploy natural gas as a “transition fuel” has encountere­d a major setback and has run aground due to the collapse of the Nord Stream pipeline resulting from the war in Ukraine.

There is thus a major gas shortage, with 80% of the increase in UK electricit­y prices due to soaring gas prices. The problem has nothing to do with privatisat­ion.

Even in Costa Rica, where private companies are being criticised for failing infrastruc­ture following a natural disaster in a situation where the state has failed to regulate service quality, there is broad consensus that the previous regime, under a single state-run operator, was far worse.

Instead of deflecting our attention away from deregulati­on, by providing us with a reasonable timeline for private sector participat­ion in energy-tothe-home (ETTH) and actioning plans already in place to split Eskom into competing entities, Gordhan insists on trotting out effete intellectu­al arguments that lack any substance, save to satisfy his party’s bizarre insistence that maintainin­g the solitary energy SOE as a mechanism for sheltered employment to reward its union partners, is somehow a “public good”. The results are plain to see.

Far from engaging the private sector in the provisioni­ng of energy directly to consumers, our government is maintainin­g a false energy monopoly, in effect a pyramid scheme responsibl­e for rolling blackouts.

It is a flawed scheme based on a shibboleth, a custom or tradition which essentiall­y bars the independen­t sale of energy directly to South African households and which is anything but an “energy commons”, derived from a “national pool of energy”.

My earlier piece outlines why the inclusion of inputs from Independen­t Power Producers (IPPs) will have no direct impact on consumers, given the massive Eskom debt (currently R400 billion), and especially if the resulting model continues to be driven by government diktat — socialist-motivated centralisa­tion and bureaucrac­y-driven, command-style economics, instead of the free market.

Even if our government were to roll-over the entire Eskom debt, the modus of the SOE is so far gone down the road of welfarism and bailouts that we are flogging a dead horse and expecting it to run.

“Between 2007 and 2021,” writes Drikus Greyling, “Eskom invested R680 billion to increase its generation capacity. However, after this huge investment, Eskom produced less power than when it started.”

Gordhan’s response to the Financial Times Africa Summit must be rejected as nothing more than empty rhetoric, elegant-sounding political words entirely lacking evidence-based research and clearly statements not based on any empirical inquiry. His pronouncem­ents need to be called out for the dangerous obfuscatio­n and mendacity they truly represent.

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