Business Unity South Africa (Busa) has urged government to allow Andre de Ruyter the latitude to do the job of Eskom CEO “without interference”, warning that the country “cannot afford to lose another Eskom chief executive due to interference in its operations”.
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan announced on Monday that De Ruyter had been appointed as the new CEO of Eskom at a salary below that of the current compensation package.
The appointment followed an extensive search for a new head of the troubled State-owned power utility after Phakamani Hadebe’s departure at the end of July, citing personal reasons, including a health scare. Hadebe was the latest in a string of CEOs to leave Eskom, which has had ten CEOs in as many years.
In a statement released following news of De Ruyter’s appointment, Busa highlighted recent concerns expressed by the Eskom board and management that government was placing short-term political interests above the sustainability of the business. “It is precisely this kind of interference under the Zuma administration, which created the crisis at Eskom in the first place.”
When asked by Engineering News Online to provide a specific recent example of when political interests had been placed above the sustainability of the business, Busa CEO Cas Coovadia pointed to the “delay in appointing a professional CEO”. Eskom and government set a self-imposed deadline of the end of October for securing a new permanent CEO and De Ruyter would commence duties only on January 15, 2020.
Busa added that as De Ruyter deals with Eskom’s financial, business and labour challenges, he must be able to count on the support of government, when he makes difficult operational decisions.
“If government is committed to turning Eskom into a sustainable business and maintaining its credibility as a responsible steward of the country’s finances, it must let De Ruyter do his job to the best of his ability and without interference, and in the national interest instead of in the interests of particular constituencies.”
Busa expressed confidence in De Ruyter, who it described as being the “best person for this challenging position”.
Gordhan indicated that his selection followed an intensive process, which initially involved a list of 142 potential candidates.
De Ruyter’s appointment came as a surprise, however, with his name never mentioned in speculative media articles, which identified Andy Calitz as the front-runner for the vacant post.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), meanwhile, said it would not commit to providing its full support to De Ruyter, describing his appointment as a "reversal of transformation gains we achieved since 1994 and a violation of the Employment Equity Act".
The union also express unease at the appointment of a lawyer, which it said implied that De Ruyter had been tasked to use his legal skills to unbundle and privatise – an outcome that the NUM rejected.
"The NUM calls upon government to genuinely and honestly consult with labour at Eskom to develop a turnaround strategy aimed at saving the ailing utility and continue to generate reliable and affordable energy for South Africans."