Eskom's former board chairperson Ben Ngubane has told the Zondo commission into state capture that the board was not opposed to the appointment of former CEO Brian Molefe - whose appointment had been pre-empted by Gupta family associate Salim Essa the previous year - because he was highly skilled and experienced.
Testifying before the commission on Tuesday, Ngubane said it was former minister of public enterprises Lynne Brown who had suggested Molefe be seconded from Transnet.
However, the commission's evidence leader, advocate Pule Seleka, questioned this, saying that "somebody outside the cabinet, outside Parliament, outside of SOEs [state-owned enterprises]," had prophesied Molefe's appointment a year earlier.
According to evidence before the commission, the first person who mentioned that Molefe was to be appointed as CEO of Eskom was Essa, who allegedly bragged about having had a hand in that appointment.
Former managing director of rail at Hatch transit solutions company, Henk Bester, told the commission that Essa had told the meeting with former Transnet and Eskom chief financial officer and other Hatch executives that they had already decided who would become the power utility's next chief executive before Molefe was appointed.
It is understood that, in order to "make way" for Molefe, four senior Eskom officials, who included CEO Tshediso Matona, director of finance Tsholofelo Molefe, group capital head Dan Marokane and commercial and technology boss Matshela Koko, were removed.
Seleka further pointed out that, based on evidence before the commission, there were at least two meetings held to discuss Molefe's appointment.
One of the meetings was allegedly held at Ngubane's office, but no minutes were taken, and the other was at a restaurant in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, where Essa allegedly did most of the talking.
Glencore and their subsidiaries were just interested in profit [regardless of] whether Eskom suffered damage because of the poor coal quality that was being burnt.Ben Ngubane
However, Ngubane denied that the secondment of Molefe to Eskom was negotiated outside of the boardroom, saying that they had written to the Transnet board, where Molefe was serving at the time, and the board had agreed to the secondment.
"We had written to the Transnet board, they had agreed, so we were just crossing the T's and dotting the I's. It wasn't the original start of that request. Of course, being chairman it was in my office and I introduced the subject of the secondment of Mr Molefe, not that I was initiating that process," said Ngubane.
He said that the decisions made by Molefe during his tenure at Eskom were commendable because he stopped multinational mining companies such as Glencore from exploiting Eskom through supplying low-grade coal while the company reserved its quality coal for the international market.
Brian Molefe. Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press
"There was a period when the export coal price was rocketing in dollars and every coal producer was trying to get into the international market. That time, Optimum Coal mine was washing its coal, taking out the best for export and giving rubbish to Eskom, even that rubbish was below the coal supplier agreement stipulated. This is when the issue of penalties started coming in," said Ngubane.
He said that it was pathetic that big multinational companies were allowed to exploit the country's resources for profit.
"I think this was a really well-felt sensitivity in Eskom. Glencore and their subsidiaries were just interested in profit [regardless of] whether Eskom suffered damage because of the poor coal quality that was being burnt; they didn't care."
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Brown was implicated at the commission by former Eskom chairperson Zola Tsotsi, who said during his testimony that she was allegedly under the influence of the Guptas.
Tsotsi told the commission at the time that one of the Gupta brothers, Tony, had access to conversations between Eskom board members.
He alleged that the Gupta brother has showed him transcripts of messages in which the utility was discussed.
Brown did not deny that she had a relationship with the Gupta family‚ but disputed claims that she was under their influence or worked for them.
She even went as far as seeking to cross-examine former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, who testified before the commission that he was told by Ajay Gupta that the Gupta family "worked closely" with a number of government high-fliers‚ including Brown and Molefe.
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