Editorial: Eskom’s liars obfuscate the truth

The very first thing Anoj Singh said to Parliament’s public service portfolio committee was a lie.

“[This] is thus far the only opportunity that I have been afforded to present my version of the events,” Singh told the committee looking into state capture on Tuesday.

In reality, the media has begged and pleaded with the now former Eskom finance head for his version of events for months — one of those times being under the glare of camera lights, when he promised answers within weeks. Those answers never came, until Singh faced the choice of appearing before Parliament or going to jail.

Then he expressed his gratitude for the opportunity.

Like one-time Eskom acting chief executive Matshela Koko, Singh stuck to his script with astonishing tenacity. Much as the committee did not believe either of them, and pummelled them relentlessly, neither could be moved.

Former finance minister and now ANC MP Pravin Gordhan lost his cool with Singh, telling him not to treat the committee members as if they were little children. That, too, made no difference. Singh remained blankly unaware of things such as how the name of Gupta company Sahara Computers ended up on an invoice for a hotel stay in Dubai, and inexplicably incurious about it.

“Advocate, I think at the end of the day, the invoice that you present, I’m not too sure [about] the authenticity thereof,” Singh told evidence leader Ntuthuzelo Vanara. “When I was presented with the invoice, I’m not too sure whether Sahara Computers was on the invoice or not. And, as I said, I have not inquired of the common acquaintance whether he is associated with Sahara Computers or not.”

The “common acquaintance” is the man who, Singh now says, paid for that trip to Dubai, which is well documented as Sahara-sponsored in the #GuptaLeaks emails.

Singh would not make any admission of fault. Yes, he had provided the information that saw both Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown and Eskom lie in claiming the entity had not made a payment of some R600‑million to Gupta-linked company Trillian, then working alongside global management consultants McKinsey at Eskom.

And yes, Brown thinks she was lied to. But that is all a misunderstanding; Eskom was just trying to be very precise.

“There was a decision that was made to remove some additional information relating to the Trillian and McKinsey contract because the [parliamentary] questions were very specific — relating to a contract between Eskom and Trillian. The factual nature of the response was that there was no contract and, as a result of that, there was a question that led from that, [asking:] Were there any payments made? And, factually, there were no payments made associated with a contract, because there was no contract. The contract existed between McKinsey and Eskom, so that was the response to the parliamentary question. The additional information that was provided was the additional information that would then explain the payments that were then made to Trillian,” Singh told the committee.

“Maybe,” he said, after taking a moment, “we should have provided the information.” His tone was blankly factual, with no hint of apology.

The following day, Koko also had no idea how documents came to show that Sahara Computers had booked his “family vacation” in Dubai. He had, he said, proof that he paid for that holiday himself. But that proof was not at hand at the time.

Koko shrugged off allegations of impropriety, often straight on to the shoulders of nameless evildoers who happened to be in a position to impersonate him in such a way as to lay a trail of false evidence.

When Koko was suspended from Eskom for downloading porn using official equipment, it was someone else’s fault. “I travelled with a colleague of mine. I lost … the 3G card, which was later found to have visited pornographic sites,” he said.

It was the same story with the Yahoo! email address, which the #GuptaLeaks showed was used to conspire with the Gupta family and their network to their great benefit, and to the detriment of Eskom.

Yes, that was his email address at one time, Koko confirmed, although it had been suspended for security reasons in between his use. No, he never sent the emails that show the conspiracy.

Emails sent from his private address include official documents, apparently drawn from his official Eskom email account, sent to Gupta associates. Some of the emails, apparently sent by Koko, referred to Ajay Gupta as “boss”.

“I think there is a way to verify them and they must be verified,” said Koko.

Indeed, the emails must be verified, and we have every hope the upcoming state capture commission, with its wide powers of search and seizure, will be able to do just that: authenticate each email individually, through corroboration with other records.

Meanwhile, we are left with two sides of a story.

On the one side is a body of #GuptaLeaks emails that is internally consistent, and that has checked out against external facts. The emails are unbelievable only to the extent that they paint a picture we would rather not believe, of a concerted effort to loot the state, with the enthusiastic participation of the likes of Koko and at least the connivance of the likes of Singh.

On the other side stand Koko and Singh. They claim coincidence and ignorance. They speak of misunderstandings and plots. They deal in technicalities and convenience.

We know which side we believe.

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