South Africa
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News24.com | Public Protector clears Gordhan and Eskom board over Oberholzer complaint

Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the Public Protector.

Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the Public Protector.

The Public Protector has found no evidence of wrongdoing by the Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Eskom management over their handling of a complaint against the utility’s COO Jan Oberholzer.

In a failure report, the office of the Public Protector said it had investigated the alleged failure by Gordhan and the Eskom board to investigate a complaint relating to various allegations of maladministration and improper conduct against Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer. 

The complaint was lodged in September by Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) on behalf of Mark Chettiar, an Eskom employee who alleged he had been victimised by Oberholzer and Eskom.

Chettiar made a protected disclosure in June 2019 to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture regarding contracts entered into between Eskom and a number of construction companies, which he believed pointed to corruption, abuse of power, nepotism and corporate mismanagement.

Among Chettiar’s allegations against Oberholzer was that he allegedly participated in meetings and supported the extension of a contract between Eskom and Stefanutti Stocks, but failed to disclose that he owned shares in company.

Oberholzer also allegedly pressed for the payment of R42 million to Aveng Construction by Eskom despite the company’s non-performance in terms of its contractual obligations. Because he had sounded the alarm over Oberholzer’s actions, Chettiar claims he was resultantly victimised and ultimately transferred from operations to human resources.

In his complaint to the Public Protector, Chettiar said the serious allegations he had made against Oberholzer were not dealt with, despite having been brought to the attention of Gordhan.

No evidence of wrongdoing

The Public Protector, however, found no evidence of wrongdoing.

"Our investigation revealed that the allegation that Minister of Public Enterprises, Mr. Gordhan, BoD [Board of Directors] of Eskom and Eskom failed to investigate the complaint relating to various allegations of maladministration and improper conduct against Mr. Oberholzer, and subsequent improper application of the PDA [Protected Disclosures Act] is unsubstantiated," the office of the Public Protector said in its report.

The report further noted that Eskom had investigated complaints lodged by Chettiar against Oberholzer, and issued three reports – one in October 2019, one in April 2020, and another in August 2020 – all of which exonerated Oberholzer of the various allegations levelled against him.

Chettiar has also referred a complaint of unfair labour practice to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

The Public Protector’s report said it does not have jurisdiction to review the ruling of the CCMA and recommended Chettiar refer the matter to the Labour Court if he is not satisfied with the outcome.

Similarly, the Public Protector said it also had no jurisdiction to investigate a court decision by the South Gauteng High Court which, in September last year, ordered Eskom to pay Aveng Construction R40 million, plus interest, in relation to the contract highlighted by Chettiar.  

"In light of the aforegoing, we have therefore decided not to pursue the matter any further and thus finalise it by means of a closing report," the office of the Public Protector said.