Members of Parliament wasted no time in trying to get to the bottom of questionable contracts at Eskom on Wednesday, however executives at the power utility seemed less prepared - fumbling answers and even requesting time to regroup.
The Standing on Public Accounts (Scopa) was being briefed by Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe, and acting Chief Procurement Officer Segomoco Scheppers and other senior officials.
The Eskom team had prepared a presentation on the group’s expansions and deviations pertaining to contracts for the third and fourth quarter of the 2017/18 financial year. However, before they could get a chance to present, Scopa chair Themba Godi wanted the executives to address concerns about tenders.
MP Ezekiel Kekana of the African National Congress (ANC) said members of the oversight committee had already done their research, and the meeting was to allow the committee to ask questions for clarity.
Waiting for Eskom to first walk the committee through its presentation would be a waste of time, he said. "Let's zoom into the issues because we have done research into the issues,” he told Hadebe, who had thought Eskom would get a chance to present first.
The remainder of the meeting involved MPs asking questions about deviations related to specific tenders. Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa wanted to understand the processes Eskom follows in determining if a deviation is necessary. Hadebe explained that reasons for deviations differ for each contract.
For one contract, for example, a deviation was sought in an effort to reduce costs.
But Hlengwa raised concerns that deviations and expansions were becoming a norm at State-owned enterprises when they should be an exception.
Godi also stressed the importance of doing the right thing by following due process and even if a deviation was sought for the right reasons these things often open the door for possible mismanagement.
At one point during questioning Eskom executives requested a recess to familiarise themselves with a particular tender. After resuming, Hadebe requested that Eskom meet with the committee at a later stage, now that they know that the committee wants specific details related to contracts.
Hlengwa expressed disappointment at the request, saying that in the four years of being in the committee, Eskom’s ill-preparedness is the worst they had seen. “This kind of preparedness we would not have expected from such a high level of leadership and management of this SOE.”
ANC MP Nthabiseng Khunou added that Eskom could not come to a meeting at Parliament and not be familiar with the contents of the very documents they sent to MPs. It seemed as though Eskom was not sure whether they were coming or going, she said.
Eskom board member Nelisiwe Magubane apologised for Eskom’s ill-preparedness and said that as a board they will have to exercise oversight of the issues raised.
Godi agreed to Eskom’s request to return at a later stage. The meeting will be held next Tuesday at 18:00. Godi also asked Eskom to give the committee details. “We want details. We are not the caricatured MPs who don’t read,” he said.