Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

A "fixer team" set up by President Jacob Zuma made up of "pre-eminent" persons, including doctors and lawyers, attempted to loot Eskom in 2009, Parliament heard on Wednesday.

In damning testimony, Ted Blom, an energy director at the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and a former Eskom employee, told Parliament’s public enterprises committee during the inquiry into the capture of the parastatals that he had, in 2009, attempted to alert Zuma in his capacity as the head of the ANC, and a few months before he became president of the country, about the mess at Eskom. He had even submitted a detailed report on corruption and governance lapses to the president during one evening meeting.

Blom left Eskom in 2008. He told the committee that Zuma then set up the team, ostensibly to deal with issues he had raised. A meeting was then organised with the team by former JSE chairman Norman Lowenthal.

"I was informed [that I was] to meet the fixer team in Midrand … during the meeting the fixer team [indicated] that they wanted to ‘join the gravy train at Eskom’."

Blom said he was angry when he realised the team actually wanted to use his expertise and knowledge of Eskom to further loot the power utility. He stormed out of the meeting, and later received a call from Lowenthal expressing his dismay that he had insulted and walked out of the meeting with "pre-eminent persons".

Blom later clarified to Business Day that Lowenthal’s intention was solely to try to sort out the problems at Eskom, and he too had not been aware that the so-called fix-it team had the intention to further loot the power utility.  “He simply was not happy with my rudeness because I was very rude during the meeting,” said Blom.

Blom said he was angry when he realised the team actually wanted to use his expertise and knowledge of Eskom to further loot the power utility. He stormed out of the meeting

“Instead of fighting corruption, they [the fixer team] wanted me to help them eat at Eskom, because I have so much experience [at the power utility] and I would have been able to guide them [to loot],” said Blom in response to questions from EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu.

MPs asked Blom to provide names of the individuals who were part of the team. He said because he had not stayed long in the meeting, he had been unable to get their names, but "there are avenues to find out [their names]". Blom said he would submit the names to the committee at a later date.

Corruption at Eskom was rampant, said Blom, who estimated that this year alone there were up to 1,000 corruption cases at the power utility, many of which went unreported. The corruption was not just at the head office, but at various power stations and involved activities from coal procurement to laundry services, according to his testimony.

The corruption and procurement irregularities were also largely the cause of Eskom’s financial crisis, which led it to require, and receive, government bailouts, said Blom. He added that Eskom had assets valued at about R200bn, but had managed to borrow up to R700bn by inflating the value of its assets to lenders, "and now they are failing to pay". This had further exposed the fiscus.

"The problems at Eskom could cause the entire economy to crash," said Blom. The inquiry resumes on Friday.

This article was amended to highlight that Lowenthal was not part of the “fix-it team” and his involvement in the Eskom matter was solely to address the problems at the state-owned utility. 

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