There seems to be something in the air at Eskom’s Megawatt Park head office that generates an untold number of lies. It certainly did not start with the current management team, or its most recent predecessor. But the propensity to fib has certainly intensified under the present lot.
For now, it is CFO Anoj Singh who is under the microscope. Not long before that, in May, chief of generation Matshela Koko’s falsehoods led to him being put on ice.
After breathing the contaminated air for a while — in the process generating their own stack of untruths — former chairman Ben Ngubane and ex-CEO Brian Molefe got tied up in their own web of deceit, before rushing off into the wilderness with their tails between their legs.
These people seem to lie about the most important of things, be it how much power Eskom generates or how much money they have lavished on their Gupta handlers. As if to be consistent, they carry their fiction into less significant areas, such as whether an investigator’s report lies hidden in the chairman’s vault. Ngubane apparently forgot for two years that he’d locked a crucial report in his safe, until a few patriotic directors yanked it out and handed it to the media.
All sorts of lies will do: lie with a straight face by denying you’ve paid hundreds of millions to your Gupta friends, and then lie again to cover the initial lie when caught.
Lying by omission is also perfectly okay: you lie not by actually saying anything, but by refusing to say anything that might contradict your story. Declining to provide electricity production and demand statistics while claiming to be generating ever-increasing amounts of power satisfies the narrative that you have fixed broken power stations, thereby ending load-shedding.
The most famous lie came from Koko last year, when he denied having paid the Guptas R595m upfront for poor quality coal. It turned out Koko had suffered a temporary bout of amnesia.
Now the virus that causes amnesia at the executive suite of Megawatt Park seems to have finally grabbed hold of Singh.
Under pressure to explain why Eskom was paying a shady Gupta-linked company hundreds of millions of rand, he resorted to that Eskom executive stock in trade, denial: “Eskom has no contract, and did not pay a cent [to Trillian].”
While the media remained sceptical and pressed for the real answer, public enterprises minister Lynne Brown lapped up the lie and repeated it to parliament with a straight face.
It was not long before it turned out that Eskom had gifted the then Salim Essa-controlled entity almost R500m of Eskom’s money. But the first lie was never going to be enough; another was needed to sustain it.
So Eskom commissioned consultancy Oliver Wyman to check if the payments to Trillian were above board — and paid the firm for its services.
No sooner had Oliver Wyman informed him that the payments were not only irregular but possibly also criminal, than it seems a serious urge to fib wrestled with Singh. He allegedly authorised the firm’s communications desk to inform the media that Oliver Wyman had found absolutely nothing wrong with the money his office had paid Trillian: Oliver Wyman had apparently found it normal business practice to pay R500m to a shady entity with which Eskom had no contract, and from which it had received no invoice.
After all, why be entrusted with taxpayer funds if you can’t dish them out to friends?
But it seems Singh did not pay the firm enough to shut up. It took Eskom on and demanded a correction. The rest is still cooking ...