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Koko involved Gupta associate in staff decisions, Eskom Inquiry hears

Feb 28 2018 12:04
Lameez Omarjee

Cape Town – A suspended top Eskom executive told Parliament on Wednesday that Matshela Koko appeared to have conferred with Gupta business associate Salim Essa when making staffing decisions at the power utility. 

The Eskom Inquiry, which resumed on Wednesday, was hearing evidence from suspended Eskom executive Abram Masango.

Masango, the power utility's former group executive for group capital, was suspended last year. 

On Wednesday he testified that he was requested to attend a meeting in March 2015 with Koko at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg. Masango said here they met with Essa, a friend and business associate of the Gupta family, and discussed the suspension of four Eskom executives. 

Koko, who previously served as power utility's acting CEO and head of generation, resigned from Eskom two weeks ago, while still proclaiming he was innocent of any wrongdoing.  

Responding to questions from the committee's evidence leader Advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara about Koko’s conduct, Masango saidhe got the idea that Koko was working for someone.

“Koko is a runner, or he is working for someone,” he said.

“There seems to be a certain system. If you report to the board or board members, you are reporting to the same person. Or if you report to the ministry, you are reporting to the same person. This is a big concern.

“While Koko was doing some things, it looked like he was receiving instructions he has to execute, which was a problem.”

During later questioning by members of the portfolio committee, Masango clarified that Koko was taking instructions from Eskom's board, which he said was getting involved in daily operations.

Melrose Arch meeting 

At the time of the alleged meeting in March 2015, Masango was a project director at the Kusile power station and Dan Marokane, the group executive of group capital, was his superior.

Masango recalled that he had made a presentation at Eskom's head office Megawatt Park to Koko, who was filling in for Marokane who was on annual leave at the time.

After the presentation ended, Masango said Koko requested that he attend a meeting at Melrose Arch.

“I had never been to Melrose Arch and Mr Koko provided directions,” he said, adding he did not question the instruction because Koko was his superior.

Masango went on to describe how he arrived at Melrose Arch and saw Koko at the balcony of a building. Koko requested that Masango hand over his cellphone, which Masango said made him feel uncomfortable.

He said he was then led into a small office, where Koko introduced him to Essa.

In the meeting, which did not last longer than 10 minutes, Masango said he was informed by Koko that four Eskom executives would be suspended.

These were Marokane, the group's then CEO Tshediso Matona, its finance director Tsholofelo Molefe and Koko.

Koko informed Masango that he himself would be returning to his previous position, but not the other three executives.

Masango said no reasons were given for the executives' suspension. While he could tell that something bigger was happening, "we left it there". 

He said Koko also made a comment to Essa so say that Masango had the potential to be the power utility's acting group chief executive.

Masango said he then attempted to inform Marokane, but he was unavailable. He then called Nhlanhla Kraai, finance manager at Kusile power station, to tell her what happened. He was concerned for his safety.

The four Eskom executives were suspended by March 12, 2015, as Koko is alleged to have said at the Melrose Arch meeting. They were cleared of wrongdoing

Only Koko returned to Eskom

Connecting the dots

Masango told the committee that his relationship with Koko became strained when he became aware of Koko’s unprofessional conduct.

“Initially we had a very good relationship, but I started to be suspicious as we carried on. I was careful not to expose myself,” he said.

Masango said he did not think to analyse why Essa was present at the March 2015 meeting, because he still trusted Koko at the time. He only later connected the dots once all the information was on the table, he said.  

He compiled a whistleblower report in March 2017, which he believes led to the investigation of fraud and corruption at the power utility.

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