Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

After a strongly worded statement in which it promised early on Tuesday "to resolve McKinsey/Trillian, other matters", Eskom published a late-night statement devoid of any new resolution or action.

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown had asked "for a report within 48 hours" on allegations the power utility had deliberately misled her, which resulted in her giving false information to Parliament.

The board’s meeting came a day after Eskom admitted it had lied about payments to Gupta-linked financial advisory firm Trillian and global consultancy McKinsey.

The utility, which is plagued by numerous allegations of corruption, on Tuesday morning promised "to find a lasting solution" after its chief financial officer Anoj Singh was accused of deliberately misleading Brown, Parliament and the public. He had claimed Eskom had been cleared by consultancy Oliver Wyman in its irregular dealings with McKinsey and Trillian.

Oliver Wyman had in fact red-flagged the payments as irregular and recommended a further probe, a position Singh is alleged to have deliberately misrepresented, until the firm sent Eskom a demand for correction of its position last week.

In an unsolicited statement, and through acting board chairman Zethembe Khoza, Eskom had said it "is not going to tolerate any proven wrongdoing by whoever is involved". It said "a more detailed statement will be issued to the media post the meeting wherein certain actions and/or decisions will be contained".

But that statement, e-mailed to the media late on Tuesday night, was devoid of any detail on the allegations against Singh, who remains on special leave pending an investigation into his conduct.

The muted language was a clear departure from the earlier bold promise of action.

"Eskom board met today and deliberated on progress in regard to the various investigations and disciplinary processes under way. The ‘Technical Review’ matter will attract a charge against the responsible individuals once the facts have been confirmed," said Eskom. Disciplinary processes against four senior executives "are continuing as the charges have been served to the individuals concerned", it added.

In July, Eskom was forced to admit it had paid Trillian, then majority-owned by Gupta associate Salim Essa, R495m without having contracted any work from the politically linked firm. Nor had it received an invoice. At the same time, the utility admitted paying McKinsey R945m for consultancy work.

Eskom had denied ever paying Trillian "a cent", assuring Brown to that effect. Relying on that assurance, which sources say came from Singh’s office, Brown misled Parliament in June when she denied that Eskom had lavished the Gupta-linked firm with hundreds of millions in unearned payments.

These questionable payments, and other irregular expenditure amounting to R3bn, earned Eskom a qualified audit opinion in the year to March, which breaches some of its debt covenants.

With the help of the finance minister, the utility was in July forced to appease some of its bondholders, who had lent it more than R300bn, by agreeing to put Singh on special leave in a bid to stave off a debt recall that would have triggered a run on the government’s single largest debt exposure.

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