The Covid pandemic has negatively impacted Eskom’s turnaround plan, Deputy Minister of Public Enterprises Phumulo Masualle told the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Tuesday.
He was answering questions on behalf of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, who was absent for undisclosed reasons, at Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).
While Gordhan will clearly be on the red carpet should he honour his Scopa appointment next week, it was Masualle who had to field the tough questions in his absence as the minister ducked question time in the NCOP on Tuesday.
The deputy minister confirmed that his department and National Treasury had agreed that Eskom be divided into three parts and that the soon-to-be-established transmission company be operational by the end of this calendar year, with the other two new companies operational by the end of 2022.
However, he confessed that Eskom’s turnaround plan had been very negatively impacted by the Covid pandemic and resultant partial shutdown of the economy.
Regarding continued loadshedding, he said on an average day 11 500 megawatt of Eskom capacity is unavailable due to unforeseen breakdowns and scheduled shutdowns for the type of routine maintenance which had not been undertaken for years.
Such maintenance will continue despite resulting in loadshedding, Masualle said.
Read: Eskom CEO: Power shortfall could increase as economy grows
Listen: Eskom’s Phillip Dukashe on the utility’s maintenance catch-up plans (or read the transcript here)
He also maintained that operational challenges at the new Kusile and Medupi power plants were being sorted out and that strict corporate governance rules were being implemented at the electricity supplier to prevent the abuses currently being exposed at the Zondo Commission into state capture from recurring, and to combat malfeasance.
To EFF criticism that too many white males were being appointed to key positions, Masualle answered that both merit and transformational goals were to be realised when appointments were made.
According to the deputy minister, electricity payment levels in Soweto are improving, although he did not provide any specific details.
Aside from Eskom, he also shed some light on the country’s state-owned airline, SAA.
He did express deep concern over the fact that SAA has been in business rescue for more than a year now. Voluntary severance packages have been paid to 3 094 employees, while 3 885 employees have received three-month salary packages.
Masualle expressed unhappiness about the plight of SAA employees, and said the government cares very much about what happened to them.
He, however, confirmed that three possible equity partners are in the running and that South African taxpayers are going to have to continue paying for bailouts for the airline.
SAA’s business rescue practitioners and management failed yet again to account to Scopa, when on Tuesday morning both Siviwe Dongwana and Les Matuson failed to pitch for a scheduled meeting due to Matuson suffering a family bereavement.
DA MP Alf Lees said that while it is absolutely understandable that Matuson was unable to attend due to the loss in his family, it is puzzling that Dongwana and the SAA executives also stayed away.
“There were two business rescue practitioners appointed for the SAA process which has now taken 16 months with absolutely no sign of a rescue, and there is no reason why the business rescue practitioner not affected by the bereavement could not have appeared before Scopa,” Lees said.
He pointed out that the business rescue practitioners and their associated businesses have raked in fees in the region of R300 million, but they stand ready to make even more money from the failing entity.
“Not only have they taken massive fees from the taxpayer without achieving the rescue of the SAA, they are now proposing that one of them, Dongwana, (once the director general of public works during the Zuma/Nkandla scandal) and his business associate, Bongani Nkasana, be appointed as the so-called receivers for SAA,” Lees said.
He reiterated that the business rescue practitioners are being paid handsomely even as the taxpayer is bailing out SAA at a rate of R32 billion over two years, while millions of South Africans remain jobless and starving.
Lees said critical answers would be demanded of Gordhan when he appears before Scopa next week. These include:
- What further taxpayer bailouts are intended to attempt to get SAA operational?
- When will the bailouts stop?
- What are the identities and details of the purported potential SAA equity partners?
- What are the exact fees payable to the business rescue practitioners and their business associates?
- Which tender process was followed in the appointment of SAA receivers?
- Who is conducting the regulatory required pilot training for SAA and Mango pilots given that the pilots qualified to do so have been locked out by the business rescue practitioners?
- Under which circumstances will the lockout of SAA pilots be lifted?
- Will full retrenchment packages be paid to SAA staff?
Luister na Ryk van Niekerk’s se onderhoud met Jan Oberholzer, oor Eskom se bedryfsvertoning: