Zondo commission testimony: Billions wasted at Eskom

Former Eskom group chief executive Matshela Koko declared himself shocked and angry on Tuesday when confronted at the Zondo commission with allegations linking an email address to which he sent sensitive company documents to Salim Essa, a key associate of the Gupta brothers.

“Chairman … I am shocked, I am flabbergasted, and it angers me if that is indeed the case,” he replied when evidence leader Advocate Pule Seleka asked him to comment on the claim.

It had emerged, Seleka said, from the testimony of Eskom’s former head of legal, Suzanne Daniels, during a disciplinary hearing.

Koko shot back that the address had been supplied to him by Daniels in 2015 and that he was under the impression that it belonged to then Eskom chairman Ben Ngubane.  

The point of forwarding documents and flagging issues in emails to the address [email protected] — tagged as “Business Man” — was to counter a perception within Eskom that he was prone to acting too independently, he said.

The emails included information relating to load-shedding and Eskom’s dealings with Tegeta Exploration, the Gupta-owned company the utility helped to acquire the Optimum coal mine by agreeing to stump up R659-billion in advance for five months of coal supply.

Another email contained a resolution for Eskom to “terminate all contact” with the Mail & Guardian and fellow weekly newspapers City Press and the Sunday Times.

The anonymous email address and the material sent to it are hardly new information, and Seleka’s question could not have come as a complete surprise to Koko. 

The Fundudzi forensic report commissioned by Treasury on irregularities within the power utility dwelled on it at some length and found that Koko, Daniels and Ngubane all sent emails to the address. It suggested that the Hawks look into whether confidential material was leaked and whether criminal charges should follow.

It has been suggested that, as well as being used by Essa, the address had also been used by Richard Seleke, a former director general of the department of public enterprises.

Koko insisted that he stood by earlier testimony that in 2015 he did not know Essa, but insinuated that he distrusted Daniels and had, at the time, become suspicious of her rise through the ranks at Eskom.

“Before my suspension, she was my assistant and overnight she is in the chairman’s office,” he said.

Seleke was not able to conclude his questioning of Koko as the former chief executive took the stand only late on Tuesday afternoon. This was after testimony by Eskom’s former senior manager for fuel resources, Ayanda Nteta on Tegeta’s demand for prepayment of coal supply from the Optimum mine.

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo interrupted Seleka to question Nteta at length about how Tegeta managed to dictate such terms to Eskom, stressing that it seemed strange to him that the company dared to ask for more than half-a-billion rand before delivering an ounce of coal.

The advance payment emerged during a parliamentary inquiry into Eskom three years ago and stands as one of the most flagrant, early examples of the capture of state-owned enterprises by rent-seekers with friendly ties to the Zuma family.

The commission is hearing the testimony of former Eskom chief financial officer Anoj Singh, who facilitated a guarantee of R1.6-billion to Tegeta.

Nteta on Monday told the commission that she felt she came under duress regarding coal contracts with Tegeta, including the deal to supply Eskom from the Brakfontein colliery, but denied that the pressure had come from Koko. 

Both Koko and Nteta will conclude their evidence at later dates. Koko has strenuously denied any involvement in the corruption at Eskom and has accused the commission of bias, saying evidence leaders were ignoring facts that did not fit with a predetermined narrative that implicated him.

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