07/03/2018 16:17 SAST | Updated 07/03/2018 16:22 SAST

Former Eskom Board Chair Defends Molefe

Ben Ngubane, former chairperson of the Eskom board, told Parliament on Wednesday that disgraced former CEO Brian Molefe had "saved" the utility.

Former Eskom board chairperson Ben Ngubane.
Gallo Images
Former Eskom board chairperson Ben Ngubane.

Former Eskom board chair Dr Ben Ngubane on Wednesday hotly denied the huge pension pay-out made to the power utility's former CEO Brian Molefe was a "get-rich-quick scheme".

Testifying before the parliamentary inquiry into state capture, Ngubane also suggested that Molefe's departure as Eskom head was a "disaster" for both the electricity supplier and the country.

Responding to a question from DA MP Natasha Mazzone, he said the arrangement that saw Molefe granted a R30-million pension was made in an effort to stop him leaving.

The controversial arrangement was set aside by a court in January this year.

Mazzone on Wednesday asked Ngubane if it had "constituted a get-rich-quick scheme"

Ngubane, who was appointed Eskom board chair in 2015, responded: "Then you must assume that all of us at Eskom are crooks, and terrible people to think of such things. Why should we want to enrich Brian Molefe?

"The only thing we were trying to deal with was his disgruntlement with the new situation, where he'd assumed he was permanent, and then we tell him he's on fixed [contract].

"In fact, he could have gone. He was very upset about that. So it was a matter of keeping him in, trying to work out a scheme that would be sustainable after five years."

Asked by Mazzone why he had an "obsession" to keep Molefe at Eskom, Ngubane told her she was making a lot of assumptions.

"At that time, we were on the cusp of a national blackout. Molefe had brought such joy to us, and the country... There was no-one who could have, at that stage, turned Eskom [round]... in such a short period of time."

Molefe had reduced the then R1-billion a month spending on diesel fuel, and fast-tracked the commissioning of Ingula power station, the first stage of Medupi, and "the whole build programme".

"It was a fantastic change from the billions that were flowing out of Eskom through poor leadership. So I was excited by this chap."

Quizzed earlier on accusations that he had tried to force former mineral resources minister Ngoako Ramathlodi to withdraw Glencore mining licenses, Ngubane said the minister had done this off his own bat, "because [Glencore] did not do retrenchments in the way they were supposed to be done".

Eskom management had in fact appealed to Ramathlodi not to suspend the licenses because such a move would cause massive load shedding.

In May last year, Ramathlodi alleged that Ngubane and Molefe had pressured him into suspending the licenses.

Ngubane on Wednesday told the inquiry he did not know where this allegation came from.

"How could we do that? We were in the midst of severe load shedding. How could we say, 'Minister, take away Glencore'?"

Glencore supplied many of Eskom's power stations in the Witbank coal basin.

"How could we say, 'Put the lights out!'. Because that's what it would have amounted to. I cannot understand how the minister came up with this idea.

"Because it's not logical. We could not ask to throw this country into a national blackout. So, I can't say he's lying, but I think it is miscommunication."

Ngubane said that at the time he arrived at Eskom, there were already deep problems, and the utility was teetering on the edge of a precipice.

He suggested Molefe had pulled it back from the brink. And when he left, there was "devastation".

"I put it to you, that the devastation that came with Molefe's going... was a disaster for Eskom and the people of this country," Ngubane said.

After his departure, in-fighting had started among the utility's senor people and engineers.

"You remove good leadership, you are calling for trouble."

Mazzone disagreed, telling Ngubane he had been a "delinquent" board member.

"You were the chairperson of the SABC; it collapsed. You were the chairperson of the Land Bank; it collapsed. You were the chairperson of Eskom; it has collapsed.

"I put it to you that you are a delinquent board member. And if I were you, I would certainly hang your head in shame and not make excuses for what is happening at Eskom," she told him.

Ngubane strongly denied this.

"This is a denigration of my service to this country.

"The press may write what they like... but to now come and paint such a picture is ridiculous because load shedding was stopped under our command.

"The fact that Nersa reduced the tariff and caused serious revenue gaps at Eskom is an issue that even this present Eskom board will have to deal with.

"The municipal debt, which is running into billions, is an issue that this present board will have to deal with."

Such problems would continue, he said.

Ngubane resigned from Eskom in June last year.