Letters to the editor: August 15 to 21 2014

Due process: Trevor Manuel says an Eskom chief executive should be appointed on merit. (Skyler Reid)

Due process: Trevor Manuel says an Eskom chief executive should be appointed on merit. (Skyler Reid)

Eskom job is not for me

The article by Matuma Letsoalo on the existence of some lobby group that wants to see me appointed as head of Eskom (” Powerful lobby group wants Manuel to head Eskom”) merits a response.

I am not aware of such a lobby group, nor have I been approached by such a group. I was once approached by a search agency to express interest, and I immediately declined their offer.

I cannot reconcile myself to the fact that an important appointment such as that of the Eskom chief executive can be lobbied for, because this is distinctly not a political appointment.

It is necessary for the existence of due process that it must include an expression of interest by an applicant, the applicant must be equipped with all the requisite skills, and the applicant must be willing to be evaluated against others by a competent panel.

In respect of the expression of interest, it should be clear that, unless a person wants to tackle an assignment, they are unlikely to be successful at it. The most basic expression of interest is to apply for the position.

Unlike Cabinet appointments, for example, that are at the pleasure of the president, the chief executive of a large utility must be an individual who demonstrates the desire, even before the aptitude.

Then the issue of the requisite skills arises.
The applicant has to understand how to run a large, complex organisation (which is what Eskom is), must understand the functioning of capital markets because borrowing large sums of money (and repaying it) is a necessary competence, and must understand the business of electricity generation, transmission and distribution.

The applicant should also possess the appropriate values to manage myriad relationships with workers, suppliers, large consumers, municipalities, the regulator and Parliament. The values ought to include a commitment to both emissions reduction and price stability.

In respect of the willingness of the candidate to be evaluated by a competent panel, I have serious reservations about whether my appointment as a Cabinet minister by four successive presidents would not cast too great a shadow over such a panel, rendering the process unfair for both Eskom and other applicants.

A chief executive must have the freedom to take the necessary decisions, and indebtedness to a lobby group is likely to undermine this freedom. The electricity supply will be restored to health if South Africa has the stomach for a number of tough decisions. So the chief executive’s freedom has to be unfettered.

I have gone to great lengths to describe fair processes for the appointment of competent executives in our state-owned companies. To do anything less would be to undermine these enterprises. – Trevor Manuel

Give Eskom its due

The debate about whether or not Eskom should be privatised should not be taking place only among the political and business elite. The public should engage the issue thoroughly as the woes that Eskom faces today are largely because of its own doing.

We have been at the receiving end of Eskom’s problems, with a lot of load shedding taking place over the years. But one cannot only blame Eskom for that. The public has contributed by not buying electricity and turning a blind eye to the izinyoka (electricity thieves). On the other hand, you have municipalities that owe Eskom billions of rands.

This has put Eskom and the government in a very difficult position. The company is struggling to raise funds for its survival, and the government and other companies that use large amounts of electricity must intervene to save it.

We are all responsible for what is happening at Eskom, directly or indirectly.

It would be a bad idea to privatise Eskom. It should be profit-driven, but better management is needed to root out incompetence. It should be able to collect the money owed to it without hindering its service to the people.

But, importantly, law enforcement agencies should assist Eskom in dealing with issues such as the izinyoka. We also need an active citizenry that is committed to building a better Eskom by paying what is due to it, otherwise we run the risk of experiencing more load shedding and paying higher prices for electricity. – Tom Mhlanga, Braamfontein

Thank you, M&G, and for the record …

I’d like to thank Jane Rosenthal for her largely positive critique of my book, The Side of the Sun at Noon, in last week’s Mail & Guardian (Quest for a mythic people ”). Without critics like Rosenthal, writers like me could slog away for years without readers ever hearing of our finished work.

I would, however, like to set the record straight on one point. Rosenthal contends that I overlooked Jeff Peires, who was “instrumental” in finding Dr Andrew Cowan’s lost journal. In fact, Peires was not involved in the search. After I had found the journal in the Belfast Public Records Office, he arranged for Rhodes University to purchase a copy for the Cory Library, of which he was then acting director, and for that I have thanked him both personally and in the book. – Hazel Crampton, Grahamstown

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