Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) has put on hold its inquiry into allegations lodged against Eskom CEO André de Ruyter by suspended chief procurement officer Solly Tshitangano.
The committee scheduled a meeting on Wednesday, during Parliament's constituency period, to discuss whether it will proceed with the inquiry. Scopa had been sent a letter from Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan to suspend its investigation to allow Eskom's own investigation to play out. The outcomes of Eskom's investigation will then be reported to Parliament.
"The consensus is that we hold our investigation in abeyance, but for Eskom to understand as a committee, we will continue with our work," said Mkhuleko Hlengwa (IFP), Scopa chair.
The committee had initially considered the probe, after it received a letter from Tshitangano, which levelled allegations against De Ruyter related to racism, and abuse of power.
Scopa had sought legal advice on how to proceed with its probe, after learning that Eskom had been dealing with the matter internally.
De Ruyter has spoken out against the claims of racism in an affidavit to Scopa. During the meeting, MPs raised concerns that they had not had sight of the affidavit while the media reported on it.
Hlengwa said that the affidavit would be circulated. "I was taken aback when I was reading about this in the media, but then I realised we are dealing with a PR exercise, more than a legitimate exercise on the part of some. We did not even process the information or hadn't even circulated to members the issues at hand. That on its own muddied waters," said Hlengwa.
De Ruyter had also said that Tshitangano had been suspended because of poor performance, News24 previously reported.
In deciding on the fate of the probe, African National Congress (ANC) MP Mervyn Dirks said that it would be a waste of state resources to proceed, knowing there is a parallel process or inquiry that the Eskom board has undertaken.
"If we continue with the inquiry - that means the Eskom board is doing the inquiry, and Scopa is doing an inquiry. It's a waste of resources," said Dirks.
Displeasure on Eskom's handling of the matter
Dirks, however, noted that Parliament's displeasure be registered on how Eskom has handled the matter. According to Dirks, Eskom's board had received a letter from Tshitangano 13 months ago, which levelled the serious allegations against De Ruyter, but failed to act.
"No action was taken by the board or minister," said Dirks. Scopa was also displeased with the fact that it had to probe Eskom which it found out that Tshitangano was suspended.
"This committee must express disappointment in the board of Eskom - they failed to take us into their confidence and failed to inform us the CPO of Eskom was suspended. I think it is a serious matter," said Dirks.
"Scopa must keep a close eye on the investigation, not just the outcome but the whole process," said Dirks.
Democratic Alliance MP Benedicta van Minnen also indicated that there are greater issues at Eskom than this particular matter, and the committee should not be distracted.
Mkhuleko clarified that Parliament's probe is strictly about the allegations against De Ruyter, and are not an investigation into Tshitangano's suspension. "The allegations against [the] CEO as Parliament ... pointed out have a material bearing on work we are doing, they speak to financial management."
He also took issue that Eskom "jumped the gun" and launched its own probe as Scopa planned to roll out its own.
"While I may disagree with the approach Eskom has taken, I think what is important is the credibility of the process - whether it is a Scopa-led investigation or an Eskom-led investigation, the issues require attention," said Hlengwa.
"Largely members are in agreement to accede to the request - as a committee we will hold our investigation in abeyance for Eskom to do what they were supposed to do 14 months ago," he added.
While it would have been preferable to continue with its own investigation, there is merit in argument in not duplicating activities, he said. Scopa will assess the outcomes of Eskom's probe - the committee wants the work to be completed in 90 days from the inception of the investigation.
Thereafter, it will be decided if an inquiry by Parliament is warranted, Hlengwa said.