South Africa

News24.com | Scopa to probe allegations against Eskom's De Ruyter by suspended procurement chief

The Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) plans to investigate allegations lodged against Eskom CEO André de Ruyter by suspended chief procurement officer Solly Tshitangano.

The committee on Wednesday issued a statement indicating it will proceed with an inquiry on allegations raised following a meeting. Earlier Scopa chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said legal advice will be sought on the structure of such an inquiry as Eskom itself has lodged its own internal probe.

"The committee will be investigating the very serious allegations levelled against the group chief executive officer (GCEO) of Eskom specifically, as well as procurement and contract management in general. The GCEO will be granted an opportunity to respond to those allegations," Scopa said in a statement. 

Scopa members had received a letter from Tshitangano on Tuesday containing the allegations against De Ruyter.

As a result the committee decided not to proceed with a scheduled meeting on Wednesday, in which it was to be briefed by Eskom officials and the board on the power utility's annual report for 2019/20, an update on probes conducted by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and deviations and expansions related to procurement processes for the year 2020/21.

The committee had learnt that Tshitangano had been suspended, and a number of issues to be probed required Tshitangano to provide answers.

Speaking on the matter, Eskom board chairperson Professor Malegapuru Makgoba said that following his suspension, a disciplinary inquiry, via an independent process, will take place into the matter, which has been dragging on for over a year. According to Makgoba, Tshitangano had written to both him, the office of the president and that of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

He asked the committee to observe the internal process and allow for outcomes to be reached so that Eskom can brief members of Parliament at a later stage.

"My suggestion to the committee is to leave the internal process of Eskom to take its course and [we can] come back to the committee to give the full interpretation and response as to what has happened," he said. He assured that proper grievance procedures were being followed at Eskom.

Members of the committee were divided on how to proceed with the meeting. DA MP Benedicta van Minnen raised concerns that the issue of the letter was a distraction from the work that had to be done by Scopa – as the briefing with Eskom had long been scheduled. While EFF MP Veronica Mente was of the view that because the meeting touches on procurement issues, it could not proceed without the presence of the chief procurement officer.

Gordhan, who was in attendance, took issue with the fact that arrangements had been made for him and others to attend the meeting, and that it would be a waste not to proceed.

Gordhan said that the issues to be aired before the committee go beyond expansions and deviations relating to procurement, but include the annual report. He explained the top executive was available to respond to questions on the annual report. He added that with the CPO being suspended, Tshitangano has "no status with Eskom at this point in time". This means "the board and executive must decide who is to take responsibility for the procurement area in responding to queries".

Treated with 'caution and legal sensitivity'

Hlengwa, however, was of the view that as the matter relates to public accounts, it must be treated with "caution and legal sensitivity" it deserves, not just anyone can be called on to provide explanations.

He said matters raised in the letter were "substantive" enough to require the attention of the committee, and Eskom is to provide clarity so that the committee can respond appropriately.

He said Scopa noted that issues between Tshitangano and De Ruyter had been reported in media. TimesLIVE in February had reported that there were tensions between the two. However, the fact that the letter was presented to the committee in which allegations are levelled by one chief against another, meant that it had to look into it further. "It is a different ballgame when matters are placed before us," he said.

Hlengwa said that it took the committee's own probing at the meeting with Eskom officials last week to find out Tshitangano had been suspended. "The lack of upfrontness (sic) is problematic," he said. "We are now saddled with allegations before us made against the CEO," he said.

Hlengwa said that Scopa will seek legal advice on how to go about arranging an investigative inquiry by the committee on the issue, noting that Eskom had its own independent process on the matter.

"I do not think we can proceed without dealing with the letter when allegations are made against the CEO, and which are made by the CPO," he added. "The seniority of the two persons in the organisation with such a huge budget and one of such national strategic importance – once we receive issues, we must deal with it."

Hlengwa said that De Ruyter should be allowed to respond to the allegations – but processes must be fair for both De Ruyter and Tshitangano. Once the committee receives legal guidance on the structure to investigate the matter – then it will schedule how to move forward, he said.  If necessary, Tshitangano will be subpoenaed if he should respond "negatively" to such a process, Hlengwa said.

He added that the letter Scopa received will also be shared with the department and De Ruyter and Eskom's board.

*The article was updated at 15:53 on 3 March 2021 to indicate the committee intends to launch an inquiry into allegations made against De Ruyter.

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