All eyes were on ANC MP Pravin Gordhan as he pushed the Eskom board to answer for its controversial re-appointment of Brian Molefe as its chief executive.
Gordhan, who is a member of Parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises, grilled the Eskom board on Tuesday during the committee’s meeting with the board and Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown on the issue of Molefe’s return to the power utility.
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At the heart of Gordhan’s searing indictment of the Eskom board was the allegation that bosses at Eskom are in the process of “capturing” the parastatal for the “benefit of a few”.
“Who instructed you to re-hire Molefe?” Gordhan asked of the board.
The former finance minister maintained that people in government and Eskom had diminished to an attitude of “I don’t care”. He accused them of being protected and asked who was protecting them and at what cost.
Gordhan seemed to suggest that the Guptas were responsible for the reappearance of Molefe in Eskom’s offices, saying that individual board members should disclose their interactions with Oakbay, the Gupta-own investment holding company.
In a move that might raise eyebrows in the portfolio committee, Gordhan asked that minutes and tapes from the Eskom board meetings be made available to the committee and legal advisers to determine whether the board’s public statements match what is said behind closed doors.
Gordhan told the board that the public is becoming increasingly aware that state resources and property are being abused by the utility’s bosses.
Brown has defended herself, saying she did not know until April that Molefe had applied for early retirement. She had thought that Molefe had tendered his resignation in November last year, when he left Eskom after the public protector’s State of Capture report accused him of having close ties to the Gupta family.
Brown told the committee: “I said I would support the board’s decision [to reappoint Molefe], providing it was legal. As I told the media, I believed that Eskom would obtain more value from having Mr Molefe at work than simply paying out R30-million.”
The minister said she was not surprised by the public’s reaction to Molefe’s return, but she had “not anticipate the level of vitriol”.
Public outrage against Molefe’s reappointment was renewed yesterday after he and Brown submitted in a sworn affidavit that he had never resigned from Eskom but was on “unpaid leave”.
The affidavits were submitted in response to a case lodged by the Democratic Alliance with the high court in Pretoria against Molefe’s reappointment as Eskom chief executive.
Ben Ngubane, chair of the Eskom board, has said he cannot say too much on the matter because it is before court.
ANC, DA and Economic Freedom Front MPs have challenged Ngubane’s response, saying the Eskom board and the minister must be held to account.
He is at the portfolio committee meeting and will have to answer questions posed by Gordhan and other MPs