/ 12 November 2009

Eskom’s board insists Maroga quit

The board of power utility Eskom insisted on Wednesday that CEO Jacob Maroga has resigned despite his denial, raising more questions about the leadership wrangle at the firm.

Maroga, who quit last week, returned to work on Monday after apparently winning out in a power struggle with chairperson Bobby Godsell, who resigned the same day.

But spokesperson Andrew Etzinger said Maroga has not been back to his office since Tuesday, adding that the board has not changed its stance on the chief executive’s resignation.

”The board is of the view that Jacob offered his resignation, that they had accepted it and that he is no longer the chief executive … that’s been their position since October 28th,” he said.

Maroga’s tenure has been marked by power shortages, a record loss of R9,7-billion in the year to March and electricity price rises criticised for stoking inflation as South Africa battles recession.

The leadership battle could further unnerve mining firms and foreign investors, uncertain whether Eskom will be able to supply enough power to run their operations after a low reserve margin brought the national grid to a near halt early last year.

Godsell resigned saying the government failed to support the board’s bid to oust Maroga after the two clashed over issues of how to run state-owned Eskom.

The former chairperson said Maroga offered to resign during the latest board meeting and the board had accepted his resignation.

Acting chairperson Mpho Makwana, appointed after Godsell quit, declined to elaborate on the recent developments.

Perceived political manoeuvring in resolving the power struggle has raised questions about South Africa’s ability to run state-owned firms and could backfire with investors hesitant to commit new funds, analysts said.

Key roles at state-owned firms, including logistics group Transnet , have been left unfilled as the companies struggle to resolve internal battles.

Both Transnet and Eskom struggle to raise funds to pay for their vast expansion programmes needed to feed fast-rising demand, especially as credit markets remain tight.

”These are crucial organisations for South African business, they’re often in a monopoly situation … government needs to ensure that these companies are managed effectively,” said Mike Davis, an analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia.

”That’s hugely important in terms of the export-led growth in the country and the strategies that various people are calling for in terms of trying to create labour absorbent markets … and ensuring that Eskom keeps the lights on.”

In a separate report, the board of state-owned Armscor on Wednesday asked its chief executive to resign, who in turn refused to do so, the South African Press Association reported. — Reuters