Suspended Eskom interim chief executive Matshela Koko on Thursday testified at his disciplinary hearing that his efforts to fight corruption at Kusile made him the target of a smear article in the Sunday Times, which directly led to his suspension.
Koko, a chemical engineer who has spent his whole working life at Eskom, testified that Eskom staff and executives colluded to manipulate contracts at Kusile and took massive bribes in the process.
This resulted in huge cost overruns that the public has to pay for. He said National Treasury did not pick up on it, because it accepted “the story” Eskom told it.
Koko said he is the only executive at Eskom who was involved in the construction of the Majuba power station, which was Eskom’s last big building project before Medupi and Kusile.
The designs for Medupi and Kusile are similar to that of Majuba, he said. Majuba was built with a peak labour force of 5 000. How on earth could the comparative number at Kusile be 19 000, he asked. At worst, Kusile could have a peak work force of 8 000, he said.
The Kusile project was however not under his authority. He was group executive for generation and commercial, while Kusile and Medupi resorted under the group capital division, headed by Abram Masango.
Koko said he went to see then Eskom group chief executive Brian Molefe and told him that “competent contractors at Kusile are rendered incompetent”. Their contracts are then de-scoped and given to the friends of Eskom executives, he told Molefe. Molefe asked for proof.
Koko said Siemens was one such company that fell victim to the scheme. “These guys take Siemens. They create strikes and unrest that cause Siemens not to perform….” He said there was a series of de-scopes at Kusile, resulting in delay upon delay and ballooning staff numbers. “And nobody has the balls to stop it!” he testified.
On December 1 last year he was, however, appointed interim group chief executive after Brian Molefe’s departure and became responsible for Kusile.
He went to see Masango and said since he now has the authority, he is going to solve issues at Kusile “now”.
Koko said he received information by mid-January this year from whistleblower Patrice Tiberi. Tiberi is a former employee of Tubular Construction Projects, a contractor at Kusile. Tiberi supplied him with proof of a bribe of R400 000 paid into the account of Kusile contracts manager France Hlakudi’s Hlakudi Translation and Interpretation, a closed corporation with Hlakudi as the only member.
He reported it to General Rakau, the head of security at Eskom.
On February 1 he gave an instruction to have Hlakudi and Gopal Kambi immediately removed from Kusile. Kambi did employment planning at Kusile and he therefore blamed him for the overstaffing. He wanted Hlakudi removed while the investigation into the alleged bribes was underway.
One of the charges against Koko is that he undermined Masango when he by-passed him with this instruction.
Koko said the irony is that while he was suspended, no steps were taken against Hlakudi. Eskom only took steps to suspend him recently, after media reports about the alleged bribes. Hlakudi resigned from Eskom on November 13, before he could be suspended.
According to Koko, the R400 000 bribe that the whistleblower disclosed to him, was paid on the same day the board tender committee gave Hlakudi the green light to negotiate with Tubular about a contract at Kusile worth more than R1 billion. Moneyweb earlier reported that the work was de-scoped from Alstom.
Koko testified that Tubular paid a total of R61 million in bribes to Hlakudi. This, he said, is the subject of a police investigation. The police subpoenaed the bank statements, he said. The police earlier confirmed the investigation to Moneyweb.
Koko alleged that R38 million cash was withdrawn from the account of Hlakudi Translation and Interpretation in the last two years and current and former Eskom employees received retainers from Hlakudi.
In this regard he named Mbasa Mantashe, the daughter of ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe who is a project manager at Eskom. According to Koko, she received a total of R978 000.
Moneyweb was unable to reach her for comment. Her comment will be published when she is reached. According to reports, she has earlier responded to the allegations to Eskom.
Koko said it was after he acted to remove Hlakudi that confidential information about his declaration of interest was leaked to the Sunday Times newspaper. “We are where we are as a result of my firm intention to remove Hlakudi,” he said.
He said he had no doubt that suspended Eskom company secretary and corporate legal advisor Suzanne Daniels leaked his declaration of interest regarding his stepdaughter’s involvement in Impulse International to the Sunday Times.
After the first report by forensic investigators Nkonki exonerated him, general manager in the Eskom chairman’s office Khulani Qoma argued in a report that in dealing with Koko the focus should be on public sentiment, not legal rational.
Qoma reports to Daniels and she circulated his report to members of the Eskom board while Koko was on leave, he testified.
Koko said he wants his job at Eskom back.
Koko’s legal team closed their case. This concludes the hearing and the two legal teams will present arguments in writing.