24/01/2018 04:49 SAST | Updated 24/01/2018 06:41 SAST

Gatvol Gordhan To Singh: 'You Have Brought Eskom To Its Knees'

Former finance minister lays into former Eskom CFO at parliamentary inquiry into state capture.

Former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
Former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

You have been part of bringing Eskom to its knees, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan told the power utility's former chief financial officer Anoj Singh on Tuesday evening.

"There have been downgrades on your watch. There's a liquidity problem on your watch. You've been part of bringing Eskom down to its knees; the biggest utility on the African continent... you've been part of the team that's brought it to its knees."

Earlier, Singh – who was testifying under oath before the parliamentary inquiry into state capture -- presented evidence on Eskom's role in the purchase of Optimum coal mine by Tegeta and the R1.68-billion pre-payment agreement to that company, as well as on the relationship between McKinsay and Trillian, and the state of corporate governance at the utility.

But two hours into proceedings he was warned by evidence leader Ntuthuzelo Vanara to stop being evasive.

"I'm getting a distinct impression from you that you are very evasive on issues you have a direct responsibility for, and where they didn't go right. And you are quick to point to others," Vanara told him.

Singh denied this, saying he took responsibility for things he was responsible for, and referred to others only where the matter was their responsibility.

His apparent evasiveness also provoked Gordhan to raise a point of order.

"Do you think we are little children that each time we ask you a question, you say you don't remember?"

"It is now about four or five hours that we've heard this refrain: 'this was nine months ago', 'that was a year ago', etc. Each one of us is going to say you're lying, you are evasive, you are less than helpful. And there are worse conclusions we are going to come to if you continue this way.

"Do you think we are little children that each time we ask you a question, you say you don't remember? We can't sit through this farce, because that's what this is at the moment," Gordhan declared, calling on chair Zukiswa Rantho to intervene.

Rantho cautioned Singh to give "satisfactory answers".

But it became apparent by 10.30pm, when it was his turn to fire questions at Singh, that Gordhan was out of patience.

"Is self-preservation trumping [your] conscience and ethics? In other words, you have to survive at any cost, including lying, misleading.

"You know, all of us are getting messages from people who are watching this. I'll read you one, which is the fifth one I've got. It reads: 'Anoj is taking you guys for fools'.

"That's the impression you're creating among the public. So you're actually saying to South Africans, and your family by the way... that you will continue to stand there and deny what you've been guilty of, rather than own up and help the country cleanse itself of corruption."

"You know, all of us are getting messages from people who are watching this. I'll read you one, which is the fifth one I've got. It reads: 'Anoj is taking you guys for fools'.

Gordhan then asked Singh if he didn't have any qualms about his testimony.

"You don't want to change your tack? You don't think you've been poorly advised (with due respect to your lawyers)? In the face of all the political changes that are happening, how long do you think your story is going to stick?"

Singh insisted that the information he'd presented was "factually based" and supported by evidence.

Gordhan suggested to him that there was nothing in his testimony that said "I did this".

But the former Eskom executive disagreed.

"I think where it was required for me to say 'I did this', I was happy to say so. As I said [earlier] if there was something wrong, and there's a need for me to take responsibility, I am happy to do so. But where there is clear and unequivocal evidence of it not being in my area of responsibility, I've indicated that."

Gordhan shot back at him: "You've barely taken responsibility for anything!"

He reminded him that a big institution such as Eskom was similar to a big corporation.

"The CEO and the CFO are the two key people in that entity. Nothing moves, even operationally, or in strategy terms, without the CEO or CFO being a key participant in the process.

"The past six or seven hours, all we've heard from you is 'I don't know', 'ask so-and-so', 'these are the facts, I don't have any other facts'. You've only been in the job for two-and-a-half years, and you can't remember anything!"

Gordhan told Singh that as CFO, the financial buck stopped with him.

"You've barely taken responsibility for anything!"

"You know what people like you have done? You've ignored a very strong public view... that corruption is actually eroding South Africa's society, and eroding South Africa's economy. Doesn't it worry you to be part of that?"

Singh responded: "Sir, I think corruption is a bad thing; I agree with that... What I don't agree with is that I have been part of this corruption."

Gordhan retorted: "In fact, people like you have earned South Africa a more recent reputation, that we are a terribly corrupt nation, which is upsetting 50 million South Africans at the moment, if not more."

He then asked Singh whether he thought he had complied with the Constitution in terms of good governance at Eskom, and during his time at Transnet, where he served before moving to the power utility.

"I put it to you -- and you've admitted to us that you were a director at Eskom, before you left -- that you've been a delinquent director, and you should be charged for that."

Gordhan then read out portions of the Companies Act relating to delinquent directors, before asking Singh: "Are you aware you're a delinquent director?"

"Sir, I dispute that I'm a delinquent director," Singh responded.

Gordhan then turned his attention to series of Gupta-leaks emails, which appear to trace a link between one of Singh's Oberoi Hotel (Dubai) bills and Tony Gupta, who -- according to the mail -- agreed to pay it.

"You've actually violated [sections] of the PFMA. You should be charged for that."

"If one actually puts this picture together... of Tegeta, Mafube... and the shenanigans around [the power stations] Arnot and Hendrina. In fact, it's a huge conspiracy to ensure that Oak Bay Resources gets access to this business. And all of you in the top management and the board of Eskom were part of this conspiracy. That's what I'm going to submit to you, and you're going to say no."

"I would agree that we'd say no," Singh told him.

"We expect that of you; and the public out there expects it of you too," Gordhan told him.

"There are a whole lot of other sections of the PFMA that, in terms of the evidence before us, you have actually violated... and I think the committee will have to make up its mind about how it makes recommendations to the relevant prosecuting authorities in terms of this.

"In terms of governance, I want to round up by saying that Mr Singh, and people like him, should in fact be declared delinquent directors, should not hold board positions anywhere, in any company in South Africa, and have a lot to answer for to the State Capture Commission, when Deputy Chief Justice [Raymond] Zondo begins his processes."

Singh, however, insisted that during his tenure -- he served for two-and-a-half years up to September this year, when he was suspended -- there had been an improvement in liquidity and profitability.

"Improved where?" Gordhan asked him. "You went up like that, and came down very fast."

"You are literally taking us for fools."

He left Singh with a final message: "You are literally taking us for fools."

Earlier, the DA's Natasha Mazzone told Singh she thought he was a "technical genius" who had found every possible loophole and made every possible deviation.

"You've been watching this inquiry as it's unfolded. You will have noted many people have told us some very shocking stories. Mr Singh, the one common denominator in all these stories is you.

"They have come in and systematically described your involvement with state capture in a great deal of detail," she said.

During proceedings on Tuesday, in response to a question, Singh revealed that he had earned about R4.5 million a year as Eskom CFO.

Singh resigned from Eskom on Monday evening, a day before he was due to appear before the inquiry.

The inquiry sits again on Wednesday, when it will hear from Eskom executive Matshela Koko.