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OPINION: Time to replace the Eskom board

Oct 26 2019 10:57
Lupert Chilwane

The commitment made by the Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan to the Presidential Working Committee meeting at Nedlac that Eskom is on top of the situation was a lie to the nation and that, on its own, justifies why President Cyril Ramaphosa should replace Eskom board members with credible engineers and community representatives.

South Africans were recently taken by surprise when Eskom, through its Twitter page, announced the decision to institute Stage 2 load shedding. That was a clear indication that the power utility is experiencing a dearth of leadership.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) predicted a long time ago that South Africans would be exposed to more spells of load shedding since the power utility was run by a board lacking in engineering skills.

The current board members were nominated to unbundle Eskom and not to save the ailing power utility. It is this board that sanctioned the use of oil in some power stations and diesel at the peaking plants, which caused damage to the power plants and the Open Cycle Gas Turbine (OCGT) which were designed for boiler start-up and peaking, respectively.

The current board is focusing on unbundling the power utility and attracting private capital instead of strengthening base load in the form of coal fired power stations and nuclear.

Erosion of trust

The ongoing wasteful expenditure, mismanagement of the nation’s limited resources, including the illegitimate appointment of Jabu Mabuza as both a CEO and a Board Chairperson has all contributed to the erosion of trust in the power utility.

Mabuza recently became a laughing stock when he publicly said he did not want his job and never applied for it. At a media briefing to explain why load shedding had returned and what were Eskom’s plans to deal with it, Mabuza responded by saying he was there due to the decisions of Ramaphosa and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

The power utility is still haemorrhaging money, struggling with exorbitantly corrupt contracts and is still unable to ensure enough electricity capacity to meet the demand. The economy and workers cannot afford this mediocre performance, when considering the fact that load shedding contributed to our economy shrinking by 3.2% in the first quarter of this year.

No CRO - we need a CEO

The NUM is on record calling on Ramaphosa to reverse the appointment of the chief restructuring officer (CRO) and instead appoint a permanent chief executive officer.

Among others, the union called on the President to replace the board with credible engineers, community representatives and trade unions through the review of the 2001 Conversion Act, stop the unbundling of the power utility, cancel the IPP’S contracts and allow Eskom to manufacture, construct and operate renewable technologies.

Lastly, the union called on the President and Minister to institute a forensic audit on the R480bn debt accumulated by Eskom.

This must include all coal contracts where it is clear that systematic profiteering is taking place. All those who have looted must be held accountable and the incompetent managers should be dismissed.

This, according to Eskom workers - mostly NUM members, is not the New Dawn that was promised and President Cyril Ramaphosa now needs to act decisively. Things that were unacceptable under the fifth administration cannot be normalised and tolerated by the sixth administration.

Lupert Chilwane is the National Union of Mineworkers' media officer. Views expressed are his own. 

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