ON MY MIND: A draft is just a draft
Eskom board responds: A case of facts getting in the way of a story
Financial Mail stories about Eskom are based on the contents of an uncorroborated draft report that has no legal status, writes Khulani Qoma
Eskom commissioned Dentons to conduct a forensic investigation into the organisation two years ago, when the economy was taking strain from load-shedding. Dentons’ fact-finding exercise, which was inherited by the current Eskom board, combed the enterprise to establish facts about areas of business concern.
Dentons report was an inconvenience for the preconceived angle of the story
These included poor performance management, delays in bringing the new-generation plan onstream, an overall financial crisis, procurement concerns, contract management issues and questions about Eskom’s capacity to manage contracts in general.
This task was expected to be completed in just three months. Despite there not being time for a long investigation, Dentons had sufficient capacity to tackle Eskom’s complexity and deliver a credible assessment within the prescribed period.
The findings did not depart from the areas of concern initially identified by the board. This, and because the terms of reference had been fully addressed, enabled the board to stem the business concern tide expeditiously.
Consequently, 13 out of the 19 recommendations Dentons had made had been implemented by November 2016. The remainder was at 80% implementation.
Following calls for the report’s public release, which gained momentum in the past few weeks, the board chose to protect the interest of Eskom by making the report public.
A press conference was held to announce the release of the Dentons report. As a crucial part of this exercise, a senior official from Dentons was present to share information about the methodology used in the investigation and its scope and to provide clarity about the versions of the report it presented to the board.
The media had already made claims that the Eskom board had “sanitised” the report because it contained inconvenient facts. Dentons SA MD Noor Kapdi confirmed at that press conference that the version released by Eskom was its final one.
Kapdi further explained that Dentons had produced a preliminary draft report that was presented to the board. This draft, he emphasised, didn’t become its final report, because some of its allegations could not be corroborated. He said some allegations were “spurious”. He also emphasised that Eskom chairman Ben Ngubane did not overtly or covertly seek to influence the outcome of the fact-finding work.
The author of Financial Mail stories about the report, Sikonathi Mantshantsha, was present at that press conference. But it appears that the final Dentons report was an inconvenience for the preconceived angle of his story.
This is a case of facts getting in the way of a story. Mantshantsha ignored the contents of the media briefing and instead focused on what he calls an “uncensored” report. His stories are based on the contents of an uncorroborated draft report that has no legal status due to its contents failing the evidence test. There is only one Dentons report, and it has legal status.
All right-thinking citizens know that a draft is simply a draft. Yet Mantshantsha’s articles have given it legal legitimacy.
When Americans decry “post-truth” and “alternative” facts, we think their claims are unfounded, far-fetched or too far away to concern us. This story hits close to home and makes one wonder about the quality of our national discourse.
Eskom’s board appreciates that its role will always come under scrutiny. But criticising the board through the use of illegitimate information is not only unfair, it severely undermines the noble role played by the media in a constitutional democracy.
Eskom’s board continues to single-mindedly pursue a brighter future for the utility and, by virtue of that, for the SA economy.
* Qoma is a spokesman for the Eskom board of directors