On the second day of the Eskom inquiry, the power utility’s former chief executive Brian Dames said that he could not with confidence deny meeting with a member of the Gupta family and that interference in the state-owned power utility has been noticeable since 2011.
Dames, who resigned from Eskom in March 2014 for personal reasons, has said that the Eskom inquiry is “too late”.
State capture, he testified, began when Eskom executives were bypassed in the procurement process from around 2011. In that year, Eskom’s former chairperson Zola Tsotsi, a non-executive, acted with the power of an executive.
The irregularity appeared when Tsotsi identified two Eskom people to work in his office — a change from normal procedure where the Eskom chairman and chief executive normally shared an assistant. Tsotsi would also arbitrarily cancel the procurement process for auditors, stalling the audit rotation for a few years while Dames was chief executive.
According to Dames, the role of the board was to approve strategy and direct, nothing more.
Dames did not investigate any of the irregularities by the time he left, saying that he did speak up about issues, but did not articulate his concerns correctly. He left before a new auditor was appointed. It took three years for another auditor to be instated.
A foggy memory of Gupta links
MPs at the parliamentary inquiry suggested that Dames must have met with a member of the Gupta family during his tenure as chief executive. Dames was adamant, however, that he could not recall any meeting, saying that he definitely did not meet the two brothers, Ajay and Atul, who appear often in media reports.
If he had met a member of the Gupta family, Dames said that it would have been in Midrand at the Gupta-owned Sahara tech company. The meeting would only have taken place, he said, if Minister Malusi Gigaba’s adviser Siyabonga Mahlangu suggested he “meet some people”. He recalled meeting “one other individual: I assume it was one of the brothers.”
“I was very angry after this meeting. I told Mr Mahlangu not to bring these people to me again,” he said.
Dames said they wanted to discuss coal contracts as well as The New Age breakfast deal. In 2014, the Mail & Guardian reported that Eskom signed a R43-million contract to sponsor the former Gupta-owned media house’s breakfast briefings.
When asked about two of Eskom’s big power projects, namely Medupi and Kusile, Dames confessed that there had been problems: labour issues and poor contracts which had ran over time. “It was like other big projects; [it] took too long and cost too much”, said Dames.
On answering questions about Eskom’s rolling blackouts, Dames said that he and his team had foreseen the crisis from 1998, saying that they could see the economy would come to a halt and it took Eskom 13 years to solve.
“We worked very hard,” said Dames.
Although he claimed the Eskom inquiry had come too late, Dames said that all is not lost. Dames suggested the parastatal remove its board entirely and appoint two or three people to govern. He insisted that he does not believe in restructuring but articulated the fact that Eskom needs good governance.
“We have a unique choice to keep investing in South Africa’s energy future. We can do that with less risk” said Dames, suggesting that the private sector invested in the new technology. But, the new possibilities are not nuclear.
Dames had a 27 year career at Eskom, where he started his career as a nuclear physicist at Koeberg nuclear power plant and worked his way from heading up coal power stations to becoming chief executive.