“M&G sees controversy where none exists – Eskom”

Dear Editor

In a week when the country in general and the media fraternity in particular commemorated Black Wednesday, it is disappointing to read an article that goes against the spirit and letter of the South African Press Code. The Press Code commits journalists to reporting news “truthfully, accurately and fairly.” It further states that: “News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omission, or summarisation.”

In a desperate and confusing attempt to conflate two unrelated issues, the writer (Lionel Faull) says the R23bn cash injection and a R60bn loan write-down by the government “has come into sharp relief this week with the seismic #FeesMustFall student protests.   Government’s decision to support was announced during the Finance Minister’s Budget Speech in February already, followed by the tabling of the Eskom Special Appropriation Bill and the Eskom Subordinated Loan Special Appropriation Bill in June this year. Since he could not find fault with the appointment of qualified and experienced engineers as part of the executive management committee, Mr Faull and his sources somehow decided to lament the fact that these executives have been part of the management team for over 20 years.   

Eskom is by and large an engineering company, and it should naturally be led by experienced and qualified engineers. We also have young engineers at our power stations, who together with the “old timers” as you call them, have been able to manage the power system without loadshedding for the past 76 days.   

Mr Faull also claims that the appointment of retired major general Tebogo Rakau has “raised eyebrows”. He quotes sources as saying that “a securocrat’s primary task will be to sniff out whistleblowers at the company who have been responsible for bringing recent high-profile scandals to the public’s attention.”  

On the contrary, Eskom and South Africa need more whistleblowers so that we can clampdown on corruption on where it rears its ugly head. Mr Rakau actually has bigger and a more complex mandate than ‘sniffing out’ whistleblowers. If amaBhungane had actually investigated Eskom’s business, or at least asked Eskom for a comment on this matter, they would have found out that Eskom owns and manages a transmission grid that stretches over 31 000km across the country, 160 substations, over 281 000km of reticulation lines, 7 436km of underground cables, as well as over 100 000MVA of installed transformer capacity. These assets are critical to the country’s security of power supply, and they therefore need to be protected. But as Free State University’s Rector and Vice Chancellor Prof Jonathan Jansen once said, ‘If you really want to believe something you will do so regardless of the evidence.’   

The article ends off by repeating a factually incorrect article by the Sunday Times which is currently receiving the attention of the Press Ombuds. In the article, the Sunday Times had alleged that the then head of Technology and Commercial, Mr Matshela Koko, had suspended experienced staff members who had questioned the quality of the coal being supplied to Eskom’s Majuba power station by a Gupta-owned mine operating in the area.  

If amaBhungane had wanted to know the truth, or at least verify its facts, they would have learned that Eskom suspended these employees after discovering that they were in cahoots with workers of a third party laboratory in demanding bribes from Tegeta in order to pass the coal quality tests. On the basis of this information, Eskom immediately suspended all coal collections from Tegeta as we needed to be assured of the quality of coal that we were receiving.   

In the interest of objectivity, Eskom then asked the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) to independently analyse a sample of the coal from Tegeta. The quality audit by the SABS, which took a period of five days, came back confirming that the quality of coal from Tegeta met Eskom’s specifications. It was against this backdrop that the suspension of Tegeta’s coal supply contract was lifted. It is further incorrect to allege that Mr Koko had bypassed company protocol. Within Eskom, all matters of a forensic nature are referred to the accountable executive to deal with. Mr Koko was the Group Executive for Technology and Commercial at the time, and the Primary Energy Division reported to him. In fact, it would have been remiss of him not to be involved in addressing this matter.   Since the secondment and now confirmation of Mr Anoj Singh as Eskom’s Chief Financial Officer, the company has begun the process of improving its liquidity. He will be responsible for driving all aspects of the company’s finance strategy, including the R250bn funding plan.   

In closing, it would be appropriate to quote the Press Council Appeals Panel’s chairperson, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, who issued a media statement today saying: “Journalists and editors should take on board the criticism that comes their way. They should work constantly to ensure accuracy, fairness and adherence to the Press Code. They should focus – more than ever before – on training, fact-checking and improving the quality of journalism.” I rest my case.

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