ESKOM on outstanding matters (meeting postponed)

Public Accounts (SCOPA)

26 August 2020
Chairperson: Mr M Hlengwa (IFP)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was scheduled to have a virtual meeting with ESKOM on outstanding matters related to investigation of the Chief Operation Officer; cases handed over to law enforcement agencies as well as contracts and lifestyle audits for 2018/2019.

However, the Eskom board chairperson informed the Committee that morning via SMS that the board would not be available as they would be attending another meeting at the same time.

Members decided to postpone the meeting to the following week and expressed unhappiness with the conduct of the board, describing it as unprofessional and disrespectful.

The Chairperson also notified the Committee that the Minister of Public Enterprises had not been invited to the meeting as was practice. This was an error on the part of the Committee administration; this would be looked into and would not be repeated.

Meeting report

The Chairperson said that this morning he had received a message from the Chairperson of the Eskom board indicating that the board would be having a critical meeting to discuss human resources and legislative matters within Eskom. That board meeting clashed with this Committee meeting. The Board Chairperson and board members were not present in this meeting. He asked the delegation from Eskom to indicate who was present in this meeting.

Mr A de Ruyter, Group Chief Executive of Eskom, introduced the delegation. Those present were Mr A Maharaj, Mr B Hewu, Mr B Nxumalo, Mr B Sookrajh, Mr C Cassim, Mr D Mashigo, Mr J Oberholzer, Mr M Manjingolo, Mr M Bala, Ms N Sithole, Mr S Tshitangano and Mr V Tuku.

The Chairperson said that there was no member of the Eskom board present. He also noted an administrative error on the part of the Committee administration. The Minister of Public Enterprises had not been invited to the meeting. Ministers’ of state entities are usually present for this type of meeting and the Committee administration was at fault for not corresponding with the relevant Minister.

The Chairperson stated that the board was compiling a report about the court case against the COO and would present this to the Committee and the Department. He asked Members for their opinions on how the meeting should proceed.  

Mr M Dirks (ANC) said that it was a failure on the part of the Committee that it did not send a letter inviting the Minister. The Minister was not present. The board was not present and the Chairperson of the board was not present. He asked if there was another meeting slot available before the next constituency period. He suggested that the Committee adjourn this meeting for another date. He did not think it would be fruitful for the Committee to continue with this meeting when there were so many important people missing.

Mr A Lees (DA) said that this was an unfortunate set of circumstances. He agreed with Mr Dirks that the Committee schedule another meeting as soon as possible. Given that Eskom officials did not use any travel expenses to get to the meeting there would be no wasteful expenditure if the meeting was rescheduled.

Mr B Hadebe (ANC) agreed with Mr Dirks and Mr Lees. He said that such unfortunate circumstances should not happen in the future. He did not know what the reason was for the board having two meetings that clashed. Either the Committee did not inform the board on time or the Committee did inform the board on time and it opted to continue with the board meeting. Ideally the Committee should send correspondence to avoid situations of this nature. He was also unsure what led the administrative side of the Committee not to invite the Ministry. The Committee needed to specify who was to be invited and not take it as a forgone conclusion who must be invited. The situation was quite disappointing and the Committee needed to make sure it does not happen in the future. He supported the view that the meeting should be postponed.

The Chairperson said that the correspondence from the Chairperson of the Eskom board was sent via SMS this morning. He took full responsibility of not sending a letter inviting the Ministry to be a part of the meeting. He would be investigating with the administration as to why the Ministry was not invited and would report back to the Committee on the matter. The standard operating procedures of the Committee was that the invitation should have been sent out. He would provide the Committee with an explanation from the administration. He took the matter seriously and it must not happen again. The Committee can not flounder on due process that it expects everyone else to comply with. He agreed with the sentiments of the Members. He would be meeting with the administration on the matter. He was advised that the Committee was able to schedule a meeting for next week Wednesday.

Mr Hadebe asked for clarity. Did the Eskom board send an SMS to say it was not able to attend the meeting?

The Chairperson confirmed that the board Chairperson had sent an sms that morning.

Mr Hadebe asked if it was professional that the entire board of Eskom decided to recuse itself from the meeting through an SMS. In terms of good corporate governance and ethical leadership, such tendencies were unacceptable and could not be tolerated. The Committee could not be reduced to receiving an SMS as if Eskom were communicating to their boyfriends or girlfriends at the eleventh hour when they schedule a date and then cancel. It was completely unacceptable. It was disgusting and disrespectful to the Committee. He thought that the Eskom board had sent a formal correspondence to the Committee in the form of a letter and that a follow up was sent via SMS.

This board was entrusted to oversee billions of rands. This board was supposed to keep the lights of this country on at all times. Now when this board was supposed to appear before the Committee and account it has the audacity to send an SMS. Is this the way the board treats the issue of accountability to the country while it has been facing the issue of load shedding? He said that this was unacceptable and that the Chairperson should subpoena the board to appear before the Committee.

Mr S Somyo (ANC) agreed that the meeting could not be continued. He said that the administration of the Committee needed to make sure it was focused at all times. He agreed with Mr Hadebe that although the Committee was postponing the meeting, in the next meeting it should be emphasised that their behaviour was unacceptable. During lockdown he watched how the Zondo Commission dealt with those individuals who absent themselves. The same attitude should be applied to Parliament. The Committee should not take kindly to instances of sending apologies at the last hour. There must be some form of respect in how entities dealt with Parliament. That needed to be addressed with Eskom when the Committee met with them next Wednesday.

Mr Lees agreed with Mr Hadebe that the Committee should not be surprised. The Board Chairperson was appointed in an acting capacity late last year. This was the same person who was responsible for doing tremendous damage to the Universities of Wits and KZN. The problem was more of appointments to the board. The board needed a strong and permanent appointment in the Chairman position and other positions. He thought that treating the Committee with contempt was as a result of the bigger problem of the appointments made to the board.

The Chairperson agreed with the points raised by the Committee. The Committee had had issues with the board before. He believed that there were serious shortcomings in the operations of management at Eskom. The processes of protocol had not been observed. He was disappointed in the desired professionalism that was at such an entity. Whether it was a letter or an SMS, for it to arrive this morning is the fundamental issue because they know in the absence of the board the Committee can't proceed because they are the accounting authority

The Committee was disappointed with the set of events that had taken place. He took full responsibility for the Minister not being invited. The absence of the Minister, however, would have not necessitated a postponement. It was the board that must account to the Committee. The issues that have arisen in the meeting will be dealt with and he would report back to the Committee.

Mr Hadebe said that the appointments to the board is an issue that must not be lost sight of. The previous board Chairperson had once told the Committee that he did not ask to be appointed to the position. Perhaps this was the same attitude with this board. Maybe this board does not want to perform the role it is currently performing. Maybe the members of the board were asked and are unwilling. The Committee should not lose sight of this issue. The appointment of members to the board was an issue that needed to be addressed.

The Chairperson said the he would engage with the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprise and see the Department’s processes for appointing a permanent board. The issue of an interim board also impacts on the stability within the organisation. He agreed with the points raised by Mr Lees and Mr Hadebe on the management and governance within Eskom.

Dr P Molokwane, a member of the Eskom board, said that she had been sent a link to the wrong meeting and that is why she joined this meeting late. She and Professor T Mongalo were present in the meeting now.

The Chairperson said that the correspondence he had received was that the Eskom board would be meeting today. At the beginning of the meeting Mr de Ruyter had read out the delegation from Eskom and no board members names were read out. 

Mr Dirks said that this matter should not be debated. The Committee has decided to postpone the meeting till next week Wednesday. Next week Wednesday the Committee would want the whole board present including the board Chairperson.

The Chairperson agreed and said that he cannot accept that only two board members were present at this meeting.

Mr Lees asked the Chairperson to send the Committee members a copy of the SMS the Eskom board sent this morning.

The Chairperson said he would forward the SMS to the Committee members.

The meeting was adjourned.


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