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Ngubane: I was a good, honest chairperson #EskomInquiry

Mar 09 2018 10:26
Lameez Omarjee

Cape Town – Former Eskom board chair Ben Ngubane told the Eskom inquiry that he believes he was a good, honest chairperson.

He presented evidence before the portfolio committee on public enterprises on Wednesday, where he spoke on a number of issues during his tenure at Eskom. This includes Former CEO Brian Molefe’s resignation, the prepayment contract with Tegeta, the suspension of former Eskom executive Matshela Koko and his relationship with the Gupta family and their business associates.

Ngubane was appointed board chair in 2015 and resigned in 2017, for personal reasons he told the portfolio committee. This followed the fallout of Molefe’s resignation. When asked to weigh in on his role as board chair, he said: “I was a good honest chairperson who did his best.”

Soft spot for Molefe

Ngubane was also probed on his view of Molefe as CEO. Ngubane said that it was disastrous for Eskom and the country when Molefe left.

“When we came in, the problems were already there and they were big,” he said. Eskom was on the precipice of disaster.

“Here comes Molefe. The funders, people who buy Eskom bonds go back to buying Eskom bonds,” he said. Ngubane added by the time he left the power utility, its finances were “shooting up” because of the buy-in by bondholders. “Molefe leaving was a disaster for Eskom and the country.”

Ngubane also gave details on the situation relating to Molefe’s pension payout. He told the committee he did not believe that Molefe would not recuse himself from a committee meeting where his remuneration as discussed. He also denied that there was a collapse of corporate governance at the power utility.

He was asked by evidence leader Advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara why he had not checked with Public Enterprise Minister Lynne Brown for her approval of the pension payout. Ngubane said that he thought she was aware of what was happening with regard to Molefe’s payout given the acknowledgement of receipt of letters sent relating to the package.

He also said that the Eskom board acted on the advice they were given regarding the matter. If the advice was “contrary” then they would have handled the matter differently.

Koko’s special leave

He was also interrogated on the special leave Koko was granted, when the board made a u-turn on a decision to suspend him in March 2017. Koko was implicated in a whistleblower report and the board wanted to suspend him on the “collectiveness of the issues raised”.

Eskom gave Koko 48 hours to respond, and then referred the matter to the audit and risk committee.

“To suspend directly on a whistleblower note without going through process would be illegal,” he said. “He would have taken us to the CCMA and Labour court and won if we took steps not in law or policy.”

Ngubane also said that he did not solely make the decision not to suspend Koko, it was a matter that the board and the people and governance committee had engaged on.

“I did not just say ‘no suspension anymore’. It was a product of our consultations.”

Ngubane also disputed suspended Eskom executive Abram Masango’s testimony that Brown halted the suspension.

“The minister called me often, particularly after work at Parliament,” he said. There were issues such as stability of Eskom, which Brown was concerned with. “She phoned me, but it was not about Koko. It was about Eskom business. It was about a whole lot of processes that dealt with Eskom stability.”

Ngubane explained that the allegation presented in the whistleblower report was defamatory and unsubstantiated. Before suspending Koko, it was decided to place him on special leave while he was to be investigated. 

Meeting with Guptas

Ngubane also admitted that he had met with the Guptas during his tenure at Eskom. He was responding to a question from EFF MP and member of the portfolio committee on public enterprises Marshall Dlamini.

Ngubane said that he had met most of the Gupta family and that he engaged with them at social events, such as weddings. He had also met with them at their home for “special occasions”.

When asked on his views on the Gupta leaked emails and the state capture inquiry, Ngubane said he would await the commission of inquiry to happen to know all the facts about the Gupta leaks.

He also had a business relationship with Salim Essa, a business associate of the Guptas. “I came to know Essa around 2013. It was about oil business in West Africa. It is a long story,” he said.

Essa was interested in being part of Ngubane’s business Gade Oil and Gas.The project was cancelled because of the violence in the Central African Republic.  

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