Eskom’s whistle-blower case: Daniels fights back

Suzanne Daniels. (Freddy Mavunda)

Suzanne Daniels. (Freddy Mavunda)

Newly appointed Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe offered the utility’s suspended head of legal Suzanne Daniels a cash settlement to walk away and not fight for her job – and threatened to “tie her up in processes” to tire her out.

READ MORE: Eskom slaps whistle-blower Suzanne Daniels with fresh charges

This is revealed in Daniel’s plea explanation in her ongoing disciplinary hearing, which reconvened in Sandton on Friday morning.

No less than five separate charge sheets have been presented to Daniels since her initial suspension in October last year.

Eskom’s latest salvo of charges, leveled in March, include allegations that Daniels was a key facilitator in the Gupta family state capture scandal that has rocked not only Eskom, but South Africa.

According to Eskom, Daniels acted in unison with other executives to facilitate irregular payments to Gupta linked Trillian and global consultancy McKinsey. It accuses her of leaking sensitive information to the email address [email protected] that Eskom charges belonged to key Gupta lieutenant and business associate, Salim Essa.

Essa was at the time also the owner of Trillian, which raked in nearly R600-million from the power utility’s R1.6-billion McKinsey contract.

Daniels has denied these and other charges, accusing Eskom of conducting a witch-hunt against her as a result of her blowing the whistle over irregularities at Eskom since June 2017.

In a bombshell move, Daniels lists her disclosures, which includes the media, former public enterprises minister Lynne Brown, South African law enforcement agencies including the NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit, the Public Protector and even the FBI.

Eskom, Daniels states, has consistently denied her whistle-blower status.

In a letter of suspension dated 16 March, Hadebe writes that much of the information Daniels claims to have revealed was “already in the public domain” through the leaked Gupta emails, Advocate Geoff Budlender’s Trillian report and former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture Report.

But Daniels has said that she gave information on corrupt dealings between Eskom and Gupta-owned Optimum June 2017 to the Sunday Times, just months after the first reports about the Gupta emails emerged.

In her plea explanation, which is to be bolstered with testimony before disciplinary chair Advocate Nazeer Cassim, Daniels charges that Eskom has failed to substantively prove the allegations against her.

‘Singling her out’

Daniels also accuses Hadebe and the new Eskom board of “singling her out” – arguing that decisions Eskom was laying at her door, such as an agreed settlement payment for the remainder of the McKinsey and Trillian contract of more than R400-million, were taken by a group of Eskom managers. Any part she played was simply acting within her job description at the time.

“As a start, the Bowmans Report on the McKinsey/Trillian issues identified seven individuals implicated in the misconduct, of which only five individuals were proceeded against,” the plea document reads.

“Maya Bhana [general manager in the office of the CFO] and Dave Gorrie [senior procurement manager] have not been charged or taken through any process. These two individuals occupy very senior positions in the organisation and Ms Daniels highlighted the risks of keeping them in their respective positions in a memorandum to the Acting Group Chief Executive on 8 August 2017, supported by the same Bowmans team leading the charge in her current round of suspension and disciplinary proceedings,” she adds.

“The individuals mentioned by the case presenter in this hearing, namely Brian Molefe, Edwin Mabelane, Anoj Singh, Matshela Koko had resigned from the company without any further recourse. It is important to note that during Ms Daniels’ employment at Eskom, these individuals were at one or other time, her immediate superiors to whom she reported.”

Molefe, Singh and Koko have been placed at the centre of state capture allegations at Eskom. All three resigned before any charges relating to Gupta matters were brought against them by Eskom.

Their involvement is however the subject of criminal investigations and will likely feature in the State Capture Commission of Inquiry due to get underway in November.

“Attempts have been made by the case presenter to portray Ms Daniels as part of this clique as a key player and facilitator, central to the activities yet Eskom doggedly fails to recognise the direct reporting relationship by virtue of her function, at the relevant times, to these individuals.”

Eskom has not brought any witnesses to give evidence before the hearing – adopting a similar strategy to the one taken during CCMA proceedings initiated by Daniels against a previous suspension.

The CCMA ruled in Daniels’ favour, awarding her compensation and ordering Eskom to allow her to return to work on 19 March but Eskom slapped her with another notice of suspension on 16 March, which was again amended to include new charges.

Tiring her out

Eskom’s pursuing of charges against Daniels she says, is proof that Hadebe and the new board were following through on threats to tire her out.

According to Daniels, she met Hadebe on February 15 and they spoke at length about her relationship with other former executives and the McKinsey/Trillian fiasco.

Towards the end of the meeting, Daniels claims, Hadebe brought up the issue of “options available to her”.

“Hadebe’s point of departure was that organisations the size of Eskom can tire someone like her out by keeping her tied up in processes. He attempted to distance himself from such practices, but nonetheless put it to her.

“Hadebe further indicated that the employee would be coming into a mixed environment and that investigations would continue and she would have to respond to new allegations.”

“Hadebe further emphasized that the offer would not be on the table after the discussion.”

News24 understands that Daniels would have been given a golden handshake, the details of which Eskom would allow her to make public and clear that it was Eskom that offered the settlement.

Hadebe also offered that Eskom would release a media statement, stating the suspension was unfair.

Daniels said she refused, demanding to be reinstated saying she did not do what she did “for a cheque, but for her country and the institution she believed in”.

This conversation, Daniels says, set the tone for Eskom’s attitude toward her.

Daniels further argues that Eskom has appointed two individuals into positions she previously held, which was a clear indication that Eskom had no intention of giving her a fair trial.

Who is Business Man?

On charges of the emails to the infoportal email address, Daniels claims she was “introduced” to the email after being CC’d in a chain of correspondence which included the address, simply known as “Business Man”.

It is potentially the most damning evidence against Daniels, as Eskom has revealed several emails where operational documents were shared. But, she argues, Eskom has not proved its claim that the email belongs to Salim Essa.

The identity of Business Man has been the subject of speculation in media reports emanating from the Gupta leaks. Evidence has been found to suggest the email belongs to director general of public enterprises Richard Seleke, but other reports have suggested it was used by a multitude of state capture players.

Eskom is charging that Essa is Business Man – but Daniels disagrees.

“It also needs to be noted that Ms Daniels was only included in a chain of e- mails in which she was cc’d and by being cc’d into the chain, she was introduced to the e-mail address [email protected],” her plea explanation details.

“From the evidence produced by Eskom there is no proof as to who owns the e-mail address [email protected], and the suspicion that Eskom has that it is “likely” to belongs to Essa is totally unfounded and should remain at just that – it is a suspicion.”

Daniels has told the disciplinary she reserves the right to present further evidence in this regard, once an expert had worked through her Eskom laptop and examined the evidence brought by the utility.

“It is nevertheless important to record that the charge is essentially premised on the assertion that the e-mail address referred to is articulated as “likely to be the email address of Mr Salim Essa” without substantiation. The document which is used to do so has no indication of the identity of the owner so that cannot be utilised as evidence of ownership,” she argues. — Fin24

Kyle Cowan

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