Singh must get his day in court

 

23 August 2020

Adecision to strip former Transnet and Eskom finance boss Anoj Singh of his South African Institute of Charted Accountants (Saica) membership for his flagrant violations of the accounting profession’s codes sends a message that must immediately be followed by criminal action.

Part of the 12 of 18 charges for which Singh was found guilty include that he willfully or consciously disregarded his work, leading to overpayment of R15.9-billion for the procurement of locomotives while at Transnet.


Eskom had initially negotiated a R38.6-billion cost for 1 064 locomotives without regard to potential effects from hedging, forex and other escalations. A view taken by the institute was that there was a difference between “ordinary” and “gross” negligent conduct and Singh’s was gross because it was conscious or wilful disregard.

Singh also misled the Transnet board to believe that in spite of the R15.9-billion addition to the cost of acquisition, the transaction was still profitable for the state entity.

As Eskom’s finance chief, Singh was guilty of assisting Gupta-linked company Trillian in circumstances where no contract was in place and the company had no employees in place yet. Singh also ensured Tegeta Exploration Resources was awarded a R1.6-billion performance guarantee.

In addition, Singh also became a central figure in advancing Tegeta R659-million at a time when it struggled to raise R600-million required by Optimum Mine business rescue practitioners.

His justification for the lump sum payment to Tegeta was that this was a pre-payment for the supply of coal. The problem is that at the time of payment, Tegeta was not yet the owner of Optimum Mine, let alone have a working relation or contract with Eskom.

It is plain that Tegeta was, at taxpayers’ expense, given a fiscal lift so it could pay the consortium of bankers R600-million to acquire Optimum mine.

While Singh did travel, at least twice, to Dubai on trips suspected to have been funded by the biggest beneficiaries of his largesse, the Guptas, it is worrying that a possibility exists that such gross acts of violation of public finance laws were undertaken simply because of a trip.

The lengths to which Singh jumped to help Tegeta to get a contract at Eskom is breathtaking. The Gupta apologists always argue that the so-called evergreen contracts that Eskom has had always enriched white firms and individuals.

This is true and ought to be corrected with urgency. However, this does not mean the likes of Singh must unleash such adventurism in the name of transformation. If anything, Singh just took the cause of transformation many years back. He seemed to operate with
impunity for many years.

Given the extent of the rot, it is insufficient to deregister Singh even though we understand that’s what Saica can only do. The ball now falls squarely in the hands of the criminal justice system.

It is important that where criminal conduct, or misconduct, can be established, Singh must expeditiously be given his day in court.

 

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