/ 22 June 2023

Eskom board squandered chance to question De Ruyter on corruption allegations – Scopa

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Andre de Ruyter. File photo by Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Eskom’s fledgling board squandered a golden opportunity to dig into serious allegations made by former chief executive André de Ruyter, by allowing him to exit the utility without probing his claims of entrenched corruption, the chairman of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) said on Wednesday. 

Mkhuleko Hlengwa made the remarks while addressing board members at Megawatt Park in Johannesburg, on the third day of the watchdog’s visit to the debt-ridden parastatal.

De Ruyter and the board reached a “mutual agreement” to part ways just a day after the stunning revelations he made in a televised interview in February. He told eNCA journalist Annika Larsen during the discussion that the ANC viewed Eskom as a “feeding trough”, and also made other allegations of wholesale theft and graft that, according to an independent investigation he commissioned, was linked to senior ANC politicians. De Ruyter was working his notice period when his immediate exit was announced.

Eskom chairman Mpho Makwana, who was not present at Megawatt Park for Scopa’s visit, had told the committee in May that De Ruyter was released with immediate effect because “some of the utterances that he made [during the eNCA interview] had brought the company into disrepute, and therefore [the board] resolved to agree to a variation of his notice period.”

On Tuesday, Eskom’s head of legal, Mel Govender, told Scopa that she did not believe the interview brought the company into disrepute. The majority of the allegations he made were in the public domain, she said, and De Ruyter had merely re-packaged them in the interview and in the book he subsequently published. She also said the timing of De Ruyter’s early exit was problematic, as it hampered the ability to do an appropriate handover.

Scopa also heard on Wednesday that De Ruyter was asked to hand over all documentation and company assets on the day his leaving was announced. The privately-funded intelligence report – commissioned by De Ruyter and produced by George Fivaz Forensic & Risk – was not handed over.  

Said Hlengwa to the board members: “So you have an investigation and you release your star witness who [made] the allegations? I would imagine he is your point of reference on the allegations being made.”

Dr Claudelle Von Eck, who was the acting Eskom board chair for the meeting, responded: “We would not have assumed that we would have lost our star witness, as Mr De Ruyter would have been CEO over the period of time that he would have been, he would still have been obliged to, in relation to any investigation in regards to Eskom, be answerable in terms of any utterances that he would have made.”

Hlengwa asked if there had been a “trust deficit” between the board and De Ruyter, which was exacerbated by the interview. Perhaps the interview was “the last straw”, he said, or did the board simply have no confidence in the CEO? 

Von Eck said there were no indications of a trust deficit between De Ruyter and the board. “I hadn’t been in any discussions where we would have had conversations about [not trusting] him. The fact that we asked him to stay longer when he resigned [in December] is to me a message [of trust]. There is no way we would have asked him to stay longer if there was a significant trust deficit.”

Board members also claimed ignorance of the Fivaz investigation, telling Scopa that De Ruyter had mentioned on 17 January this year, at an evening board induction gathering, that he had initiated an investigation, without offering further details. It was assumed that the investigation was in-house.

Earlier, DA Scopa member Benedicta van Minnen told the board members that she believed when and how De Ruyter left was being used “as a red herring”.

“It’s good and well to say he was bringing the company into disrepute, [but] I still don’t know how he could have [done that] through the [eNCA interview]. Most of what we have been hearing, we had heard before he handed in his notice…. A lot of this information has been in the public space already.

“When someone starts raising alarm bells, saying he is bringing the company into disrepute, instead of actually listening to what he had said, and investigating what he had said, I think, it is really trying to fudge the issue….”

Board members telling Scopa that De Ruyter’s allegations were “baseless”  – as the committee had heard on Tuesday – were indicative of a lack of will to tackle the claims, she said.

“I don’t know how the board, given they were only in their positions since October, could dismiss the allegations as baseless without even looking into it.”

“I really want to hear from the board that there is going to be a commitment to investigating issues raised. Allegations cannot be dismissed, they actually have to be looked into.”

Von Eck said the board understood “with absolute clarity” that the allegations needed to be probed, which was why an investigation was taking place. “We understand that we are dealing with great complexity, and that we have to move as fast as we possibly can”.