/ 15 November 2023

Government complicit in crime at Eskom, brigadier says

Eskom Holdings Ltd.'s Kusile Coal Fired Power Plant
The IRP 2023, released last year by the Department of Mineral Resources & Energy for public comment, projected ongoing load-shedding until 2027, with no expected improvement in Eskom's coal-fired plant performance. Photo: Waldo Swiegers/Getty Images

The government is undoubtedly complicit in rampant corruption at Eskom, a retired police brigadier, who served as the liaison point on intelligence operations initiated by former chief executive Andre de Ruyter, said on Wednesday.

“There is direct police involvement,” Jaap Burger told parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa).

“Don’t underestimate the amount of support and contamination that there is in the government sector from the organised crime syndicates. You will be amazed, okay,” he said.

“It is not merely a position of arrogance. It is a position of, ‘We know what is going on and how contaminated we are.’”

Burger said one should ask how the national police commissioner was dealing with lapses in stemming the corruption that De Ruyter suggested cost the company, at a conservative estimate, R1 billion a month.

“Because that is where policy direction should be coming from, if there is a failure on the operational level to deal with it,” Burger said.

Responding to questions from MPs, he said it would be a mistake to believe that state capture belonged to the past.

“Typically, everybody sort of assumes that state capture is a legacy state that we are in,” he said.

“It is not. It is not. Many of the organs have not been ‘uncaptured’. Their integrity has not been restored … We have not cleaned out.”

The above comments came in reply to questions from Democratic Alliance MP Benedicta van Minnen on whether the tendency to deal with corruption at Eskom at “docket level”, rather than targeting syndicates, was deliberate.

“We are working against resistance,” he said.

Burger added that the response to organised crime is so fractured as to amount to little more than finger-pointing between the various state agencies mandated to combat it. He said, in his view, the police alone would not, at the moment, be able to deal with the amplitude of corruption within Eskom and the energy sector.

“Where is the collective?” he asked, adding that he had raised this with national security adviser Sydney Mufamadi.

“To put it bluntly, the processes of government are not working.”

He said when he first had a meeting with De Ruyter, he pointedly asked whether the State Security Agency had discussed the security risks to Eskom.

“There was no product or support from the State Security Agency … which is supposed to go to an entity of such importance.”

It raised a question as to whether state security was doing what it should to protect vital institutions.

“What I found is, no,” he said

De Ruyter handed intelligence files on Eskom to Burger in the middle of last year. 

Burger was subpoenaed by the watchdog committee after initially refusing to appear before it, on the basis that it lacked a mandate to investigate corruption at the power utility. He suggested that the matter instead belonged before the joint standing committee on intelligence.

De Ruyter resigned from Eskom on 12 December last year. 

He was released by the board before the end of his three-month notice period after an explosive television interview in which he agreed with the premise that the power utility served as a “feeding trough” for the ruling ANC.

In an appearance before Scopa in April, he denied that he had gone public with allegations about the scope of corruption at Eskom rather than hand relevant information to law enforcement agencies.

De Ruyter said he had given the police far more information, over the course of many months, than that which he divulged in the interview.

Whether he had cover for calling in private investigators, and whether he had made sure that law enforcement agencies, the Eskom board and the shareholders were briefed on their findings, has been a point of bitter dispute in recent months. Much of this war of words has played out in Scopa meetings.

Former Eskom acting chairperson Malegapuru Makgoba told Scopa that Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan had encouraged De Ruyter to mount an intelligence-gathering exercise.

But Gordhan vehemently denied this, telling MPs that Makgoba was “misleading and misinforming Scopa and the public”.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) told Scopa neither it nor the Hawks were aware of the operation and that De Ruyter had moreover initiated it without the authority of the Eskom board. It pointed to “a measure of maladministration”, SIU head Andy Mothibi charges.