Koko hearing halted again, while Eskom scrambles for witnesses | Fin24

Koko hearing halted again, while Eskom scrambles for witnesses

Oct 19 2017 07:51
Yolandi Groenewald

Johannesburg -  Suspended executive Matshela Koko said he only became aware of his stepdaughter’s involvement in a company who conducted business with Eskom in August or September last year, as his disciplinary hearing slowly got underway. 

In his plea document, Koko argues that it was unnecessary for him to make any disclosure to Eskom at that stage, because he believed he could manage the conflict of interest from becoming an issue, and recuse himself when necessary.

Koko also stated that in February, when he became aware that his stepdaughter had put her stake in a trust, he then made the necessary declaration. This was accepted and signed off by then Eskom chairperson Ben Ngubane.

"Dr Ngubane was satisfied with Koko’s explanation of the history of the events," Koko's plea stated.

Koko stated he had asked his stepdaughter to relinquish her interests, but after she failed to do so,  he submitted a declaration in February because of the potential of situations that could arise because Koko, "as an employee or director of Eskom could be placed in a position to make a decision that is not fair and objective."

Pleads not guilty

On Wednesday, Koko pleaded not guilty to six charges Eskom had brought against him.

His disciplinary action relates to about R1bn in contracts awarded to Impulse International in 11 months while Koko’s stepdaughter Koketso Choma was a director at the firm. He was first placed on special leave in May and was later suspended as Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr probed his conflict of interest.

Koko's counsel started off the hearing by insisting that the charge sheet be checked against the original charge sheet Koko had been presented with in August. 

The sheet confirmed that the former acting Eskom boss would face four charges relating to his stepdaughter’s stake in Impulse and Koko's possible conflict of interest, but also that Koko allegedly failed to declare his wife's business dealing with Pragasen Pather, the majority owner of Impulse.

The fifth and sixth charge accuses Koko of improperly interfering in Kusile by firing companies and choosing tender. The charge accuses Koko of giving an instruction in February to Eskom’s project director at Kusile, Frans Sithole, to remove consultancy Arup Tata’s project manager, Gobal Kambi, the company GTC and an Eskom senior manager from the project, without giving a proper reason. 

The last charge relates to Koko's alleged undermining of the Kusile tender committee with his interference in a cable contract.

Koko argued he acted according to his duty and obligations as acting group CEO at the time and justified his actions by stating he always acted in "what he regarded as the best interests of Eskom in relation to the matters at issue."

Koko counsel dominates hearings

From the outset Barrie objected to Koko's witness list. He also queried Eskom counsel Sebetja Matsaung's questions he put to the first witness, saying that the questions were not related to the charges Koko was facing. 

But Matsaung defended himself, saying that he did not draft the charge sheet. "I am now bound to it."

Barrie's objections regarding the suitability of witnesses unsettled Matsaung, and the hearing was halted on Wednesday evening, when Eskom failed to contact witnesses that could testify in the investigation, done by Nkonki Incorporated.

The investigators from Nkonki had switched off their phones, Matsaung said. 

The meeting was also adjourned on Monday because chair Mzungulu Mthombeni, who was only appointed on Friday, had not sufficiently prepared. The hearing was also moved to the evening, because Mthombeni had a scheduling conflict.

On Wednesday evening, only one witness was able to testify, while another witness was dismissed without a single question asked. 

It also became clear that Matsaung had his work cut out for him in facing the vastly experience Barrie, who dictated how the hearing was progressing. 

Barrie questioned Eskom's list of witnesses, asking whether they would be able to testify on the substance of the case, instead of merely pronouncing on the state utility's documents and policies.

Conflict of interest declaration

Eskom's chief advisor of assurance and forensics, Daphne Morwalle, who was Wednesday' sole witness, testified on the conflict of interest document that Koko had submitted in February. 

She said the documents that Koko submitted did not exist in the electronic system as a rule. But Barrie objected to the line of questioning, saying that it was irrelevant. He stated that the witness should not testify on the declaration, as the charges did not involve the authenticity of the declaration. 

The hearing's stops and starts took place among allegations aired over the weekend that the hearing had been rigged to favour Koko.

Business Day reported on Monday that the board asked Koko to choose the presiding officers for the hearing, after he rejected candidates because they were white. Matsaung was also contracted by Eskom to lead evidence, despite qualms about his experience, the paper said.

The power utility has been accused of dragging its feet in taking action against Koko.

While this week's disciplinary hearing focuses on his conflict of interest regarding his stepdaughter, Koko is also implicated in using his position at Eskom to help the Guptas buy Optimum Coal Holdings and its Optimum and Koornfontein coal mines from Glencore.

The #GuptaLeaks emails highlighted Koko's role, but also revealed that in January 2016, Koko took a trip to Dubai where he stayed in the Oberoi Hotel at the Guptas’ expense.

Koko was appointed as interim CEO of Eskom in December, after Brian Molefe's tearful resignation. He had been an Eskom executive since 2014 and in October 2015 he became the executive in charge of generation, which included oversight of coal contracts.

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