8 March 2020
At the time of this appointment, Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter inspired confidence, hitting all the right notes by promising to bring a culture of transparency and accountability to the troubled power utility.
By all accounts, De Ruyter inherited an ailing power utility, plagued by corruption due to years of state capture; a state-owned enterprise (SOE) that is not only the reason why our economy is not growing, but also behind the disruption of ordinary lives because of rolling blackouts.
To his credit, De Ruyter has been talking the necessary language — engendering the culture of payment for electricity and maintaining the utility’s aging power stations while fixing the flaws at the news ones, Kusile and Medupi.
But yesterday, Eskom spokesman Sikonathi Mantshantsha, who is known to be forthright and brutally honest, was clutching at straws when called to answer a simple question on the four companies De Ruyter had recommended to Eskom as possible suppliers.
De Ruyter got into hot water this week after he admitted in Parliament that he handpicked for companies to be included in the pool of service providers for the entity. This was done without following processes outlined in the Public Finance Management Act or any recognisable piece of legislation.
Pressed to reveal the names of these companies, Mantshantsha refused to reveal the names of the companies. Therein lies the crux of the matter — hardly three months into the job, De Ruyter and Mantshantsha are throwing out the principle of transparency and introducing a culture of secrecy, which breeds corruption.
It is common cause that at the heart of state capture was this modus operandi of politicians, senior bureaucrats and fixers introducing business to senior managers responsible for awarding of tenders.
They justify this as networking. But state capture has taught us better.
Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas told the Zondo commission how former president Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane Zuma, had introduced him to the Guptas, who promised to give him R600m if he did their bidding.
Former CEO of Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) Themba Maseko also told the Zondo commission that Zuma had tried to broker a meeting between him and the Guptas, who wanted a share of government advertising.
It was the same name-dropping culture that saw former chief of protocol Bruce Koloane using Zuma’s name to pave way for more than 200 Gupta wedding guests to land at one of the country’s sensitive security points, the Waterkloof Airforce Base.
The public service is replete with examples of how politicians and senior bureaucrats used modus operandi of introducing service providers to institutions as an indirect way of ensuring they secured contracts.
This style of scoring contracts cut across all levels of government – from local government, provincial to national government; and from departments to state-owned enterprises.
De Ruyter has the daunting responsibility of turning around this crucial SOE that has become the biggest threat to the country’s future. His handpicking of service providers and resorting to secrecy does not bode well for Eskom and us all. It has all the hallmarks of state capture.