EDITORIAL: Do your job, for prima facie’s sake ...
How much evidence is enough to at least begin investigations, Shaun Abrahams?
If there is any comfort in the national scandal that is Eskom, it is that the agents of state capture are so blatantly clumsy. They are like cartoon burglars who stumble from a bank robbery in broad daylight wearing black masks and carrying bags marked "booty". They incriminate themselves to the point where even the tame National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), long in captivity, cannot avoid taking action.
As Eskom’s woeful latest annual statements lay bare, the deeply compromised financial director Anoj Singh presided over a qualified audit and irregular expenditure of R3bn — the accounting equivalent of allowing the Gupta wedding party to land at Waterkloof air force base and then giving them a blue-light escort to Sun City.
There’s a strong case to be made that Singh — responsible for a company whose finances seem more chaotic than those of a students’ Rag committee — may indeed be the worst financial director in SA, certainly of a company that size, with revenues of R177bn.
Auditors SizweNtsalubaGobodo red-flagged "material misstatements", procurement practices that fell short of legal requirements, and said Eskom’s accounting officers "did not exercise adequate oversight".
And that is even before you talk about Singh’s links to the Guptas, who paid for him to fly to Dubai five times in 18 months — a family that, let’s not forget, was a supplier to Eskom.
If Eskom’s accounts aren’t enough to rouse NPA boss Shaun Abrahams from his torpor, especially after the leaked Gupta e-mails, nothing will. Finally, with evident reluctance, Abrahams has assembled a team of prosecutors to tackle state capture. Which means we may yet see some of Eskom’s inner circle wearing prison garb.
But Abrahams’ apparent lack of enthusiasm for this case, as against when he wasted no time in concocting (then withdrawing) a spurious case against then-finance minister Pravin Gordhan, suggests you shouldn’t hold your breath.
Really, for prima facie’s sake, how much evidence is enough to at least begin investigations?
Perhaps a worse scandal than the NPA’s suspended animation is that Singh’s suspension was not ordered by the Eskom board or by minister of public enterprises Lynne Brown. Only when the Development Bank of SA (DBSA) demanded that something be done did it finally happen.
Singh must have known a qualified audit would break the loan covenant with the DBSA and entitle it to call in its R15bn loan. As an accounting professional, Singh should have quit.
Besides the cartoonish ineptitude of the crooks, there is another comforting aspect to this dark saga: the private sector has finally realised it can’t rely on the law enforcement authorities, such as Abrahams’ Keystone Cops, to act.
It’s a step change from two years ago when SA’s captains of industry would have said "we’ll wait until an investigation is complete" before moving a muscle. But they’ve realised that would be like waiting for Godot.
Now, even in the absence of criminal charges against Singh, the banks acted — forcing Eskom to do the right thing. The fact that it was the state-owned DBSA that forced its hand shows state capture hasn’t infected the entire body.
Last week, asset manager Sygnia, under CEO Magda Wierzycka, fired auditor KPMG because it could not provide satisfactory answers on why it failed to spot evident money-laundering by Gupta-linked companies. This illustrates how much civic good has come from the state-capture saga. Wierzycka’s example demonstrates that companies must not only promote accountability, they also need to be transparent about it. SA’s citizens, who buy their products, deserve no less.