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Five takeaways from Koko's testimony at the Eskom inquiry

Jan 25 2018 09:55
Lameez Omarjee, Fin24

Cape Town – Top Eskom executive Matshela Koko started his testimony at the Eskom inquiry in Parliament on Wednesday with a speech about his 31-year relationship with the power utility, which helped him through high school and ultimately employed him.

“My blood is Eskom blue,” he told members of the portfolio committee of public enterprises, who are conducting an inquiry into the mismanagement of state funds at the state power utility.

He also said he wouldn't be resigning. 

In his opening address, Koko spoke of how he was part of the team, under the leadership of former group chief executive Brian Molefe, who put an end to the load shedding situation, and managed to ensure the lights in South Africa would stay on for the next five years.

But members of the oversight committee were not so easily satisfied. They asked repeated questions about his links with Gupta business associates Salim Essa and Nazeem Howa, and a trip to Dubai which was allegedly paid for by Gupta-owned Sahara Computers.

Here are five key takeaways from the hearing. 

1. The Gupta connection 

“I do not know and have not met any of the brothers,” Koko said.

He said that he knew Howa, who was the CEO of mining group Tegeta, and Essa who was a shareholder of financial services group Trillian. He told the committee he had met Essa a “couple of times” to discuss the Trillian transaction with global consultants McKinsey.

The National Prosecuting Authority has argued that the payments made by Eskom to Trillian and McKinsey were criminal.  

When responding to a question by Democratic Alliance MP Natasha Mazzone, Koko said at the time the payments were made he had no indication that something was wrong. 

“I had nothing before me to suggest an element of criminality or improper conduct; if I had something to that effect I would have done what you asked me."

2. The trip to Bali 

Koko also gave an account of a trip with his family to Bali in late 2015. Koko said that he, his wife, son and three daughters flew to Bali on December 23 2015 on holiday. Returning to South Africa in January 2016, Koko said his daughters flew via Doha, while he, his wife and son flew via Dubai.

When asked if Sahara Computers paid for the trip, Koko said that he himself had funded the holiday.

“I am happy to present passports of all six members of my family. I did direct payments myself, you can contact the hotel,” he said.

“Sahara Computers did not pay for my travels at all.”

3. The McKinsey-Trillian contract

Koko also gave evidence about the controversial McKinsey-Trillian contract, saying Eskom’s suspended company secretary and head of legal Suzanne Daniels was the one who recommended that McKinsey and Trillian be paid R460m.

“I have been called a thief by people I trust, by people I still trust. I have been called a thief by Suzanne Daniels who I believe is an extremely competent lawyer. I will not call her names,” he said.

Approached by Fin24 this week, Daniels said she stands by her testimony to Parliament. “Suffice it to say, I stand by my testimony in Parliament insofar as it pertains to Matshela Koko. I will reserve further comment."

In early November, when giving evidence before the inquiry, Daniels had claimed that Koko was a a "thief". 

4. The disciplinary hearing

Mazzone also brought up Koko’s disciplinary hearing.

He returned to work at the power utility as head of generation in early January, after being cleared of any wrongdoing in his disciplinary process. 

It was revealed that Koko only answered to five out of the 10 charges against him during the inquiry.

Koko had faced the hearing over allegedly not declaring a conflict of interest while his stepdaughter Koketso Choma was a director at Impulse International, a firm which benefited from about R1bn worth of contracts awarded by Eskom over 11 months.

He told the inquiry that the hearing was not a "sham", saying he had written to Business Leadership South Africa, Business Unity South Africa and Tiso Blackstar Group to desist from labelling it as such. “I am happy to make my documents available to you. If you are still unhappy you can take it for review, I think it is fair,” he said.

Advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara had questioned Koko on the charges he had to answer to during his disciplinary hearing last year. Vanara asked Koko to give an account of the original charge sheet he received and what he actually had to answer to during the hearing.

5. Koko says he is not going anywhere 

There have been growing calls for Koko to resign, especially after government made changes to the Eskom board over the weekend. So far chief financial officer Anoj Singh and acting head of group capital Prish Govender have resigned.

Koko, however, told the inquiry that believes he still has a crucial role to play at the power utility. His lawyers have written to Eskom indicating that if the power utility wants to dismiss him, it should do so in accordance with the law.

Singh, meanwhile, told the inquiry on Tuesday that he resigned to accede to government’s request.

Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan took aim at Singh for being evasive in his testimony to the inquiry on Tuesday evening.

Gordhan pointed out to Singh that even South Africans following his testimony could tell that he was not being honest. “What you are saying to South Africa and to your family, is that you will continue (to) deny that you are guilty, rather than open up and help the country cleanse itself of corruption,” said Gordhan.

In response Singh said all the information he presented was fact-based, supported by evidence he had. Gordhan however said that at no point in his testimony did Singh take responsibility for what has happened at Eskom.

“If I was wrong, and [there is] a need for me to take accountability for it, I will do so,” said Singh. He added that if there are areas where he held no responsibility, he made that clear.

“You never took responsibility for anything,” Gordhan retorted.

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