/ 3 March 2023

State of disaster a good thing, insists acting Eskom boss

Calib Cassim Waldo Swiegers
Acting Eskom chief executive Calib Cassim. (Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Despite fears that the energy state of disaster declared by President Cyril Ramphosa last month would lead to an increase in corruption, acting Eskom chief executive Calib Cassim believes it will give Eskom space to breathe — and to stop load-shedding.

Cassim was speaking at a media briefing on the state of disaster on Friday.

He emphasised that the treasury’s R254 billion allocation to Eskom in this year’s budget for debt relief would help the ailing parastatal.

“That decision by the minister of finance [Enoch Godongwana] that Eskom doesn’t have to borrow for the next three years allows Eskom to release capex [capital expenditure] funds three years in advance, not only for generation, but for transmission and distribution.

“[With] the flexibility that we now have on procurement within the governance rules, there should be no excuses from an Eskom perspective and from a generation perspective … [I don’t see] why load-shedding [should not be] reduced going forward.

“We must not accept stage six [load-shedding]; we need these stages to come down,” he said.

More generation

Rudi Dicks, the head of the project management office in the presidency, said the debt relief would also allow Eskom to buy more electricity from neighbouring countries and private companies.  

“The changes that we’ve made around new generation capacity, particularly through the IRP [Integrated Resource Plan], are that Eskom is not the only entity responsible for the build of new generation capacity.

“We have the ability to procure new generation through IPPs [independent power producers]. So, it’s important to understand that this is not necessarily new-build by Eskom but the ability for Eskom to procure additional generation,” he said.

Dicks said the regulations allow the government to open a one-stop shop to fast track applications for businesses to register to build new generation projects.

“That one-stop shop is currently being formed at the department of trade, industry and competition for registration of businesses.

“We are in the process of finalising all the necessary requirements for the establishment of that, including alignment with departments, having systems in place and ensuring that we have an agreement across the entire system of institutions, entities and government,” he said.

A proper audit

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said during the pandemic, the government had attempted to ensure funds for emergency procurement were not abused and it would prevent abuse of power in this state of disaster.

“That is why the auditor general will do real-time auditing. We have also said the accounting officers will have to report to parliament, if they have used emergency procurement, according to these regulations, on a monthly basis, so we don’t have anyone abusing these regulations.”

Dlamini-Zuma said the regulations are meant to minimise the effect of load-shedding on the economy, people’s livelihoods and health, agriculture, security, education and water services.

“It is also meant to reduce and manage the impact of load-shedding on the delivery and support of life-saving infrastructure. It also provides measures to enable connectivity and … for Eskom to improve their plant performance and the supply of electricity.”

This comes at a time where the power utility is fighting internal corruption and is facing court battles against the state of disaster, brought by opposition parties and unions.

Dlamini-Zuma confirmed two court cases challenging the declaration had been filed.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Outa group have filed a court case against the government for declaring a state of disaster, which they deem unnecessary.

Legal representative Stefanie Ficks said Outa hoped to get the decision to declare a state of disaster reviewed and set aside by a court.

DA spokesperson, Solly Malatsi said the party believes they have a strong case against the state of disaster and would wait for the court processes to unfold.

The DA and Outa argue that the state of disaster would be a breeding ground for corruption and stealing of funds.

But Dlamini-Zuma insisted the government had learned its lesson from the Covid-19 personal protective equipment corruption scandals. She admitted the “real-time audits” from Covid-19 procurements had taken place too late, leaving room for the abuse of processes.

“This time, however, the auditing process governing fast-tracked applications will be immediate, with additional monthly reporting to parliament.”

“Accounting officers will have to go to parliament monthly on the work they have done and money they have spent. They will essentially be accounting to the public,” she said.

Mandisa Nyathi is a climate reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa.