Former Eskom CEO Brian Dames has revealed that he faced a breakdown in communication between the board and management, as well as death threats during his time at the state utility.
He has also told Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises that there is "absolutely no need" for nuclear in South Africa and that the country cannot afford it.
Dames was speaking at the Parliamentary hearings into State capture, which have been instigated following media and Public Protector reports pointing to widespread corruption in State-owned companies, particularly Eskom.
“There was a very clear, distinctive difference around the issues of integrity and probity. It led to a breakdown in relations between board and management,” Dames told the committee.
He said one of the first cases of meddling was when the board instructed Eskom’s audit and risk committee to cancel the tender process for Eskom’s auditors.
He also spoke out about the controversy over the tender for Koeberg’s six steam generators. At the start of 2011 the Eskom board signed off on the Eskom executive procurement committee recommendation that Westinghouse should be awarded the bulk of the tender, with a smaller part apportioned to Areva, of France.
Dames said the Westinghouse suppliers were already in the country to sign the contracts when Dames was told to cancel them.
Dames said he had found a hand-written note on his desk, with minutes of the board tender committee, chaired by Collin Matjila.
“I was amazed that the minutes were hand-written, given that we had a company secretary.” It included an instruction of the board tender committee to change the tender.
He said members of the committee had been flown to France for a ‘nuclear training’ trip funded by Electricite de France, which had a stake in Areva at the time.
Dames said decisions such as these had made things extremely difficult.
“It became very difficult to vouch for the government. I no longer had oversight up, down, sideways or back. I realised information was being fed to the board that I had no knowledge of. It became difficult. That is why I left Eskom”.
Dames said Eskom board chairperson at the time, Zola Tsotsi, was shocked when he told him of his intention to resign, and said Dames could not leave.
Dames said he then listed five things he expected of the board, including being given performance expectations at the beginning of each year and to be given control over executive appointments.
Dames outlined how his wings had been clipped. He said he was not allowed to change the executive committee (Exco) in any way. Nor was he allowed to move executives to different roles or to fire anyone.
He said he did not get feedback on any of his requests.
While on a trip to Korea, he was phoned by an Eskom official to say that a death threat had been left on his desk.
When he returned, he was given Eskom protection.
“I had Eskom protection from that day until I left Eskom. There were always three people with me. I could not go shopping. There were three people on the golf course with me.”
Despite his resignation, the chairperson insisted he stay at Eskom. Dames said he agreed to stay until the end of March 2014, but was then told by Tsotsi, that he intended appointing Matjila as acting CE while Dames was still there.
“I stayed until March, but the chairman and acting CE had exco meetings without me.”
He said he lost respect at the way he was treated.
Dames said he received his pension after 27 years at Eskom, but said in response to a question from an MP that it was not close to the R30-million given to Brian Molefe after 18 months of heading up Eskom.
Dames said that during his time at Eskom, he had met someone he assumed was one of the Gupta brothers.
“I was asked by the Minister’s adviser to meet with ‘some people'.” A meeting was arranged in Midrand. He said it was "a very strange discussion" and included the prospect of coal contracts.
“After this meeting I was very angry. I called the adviser and said he should not send these people to me again.”
Asked what he would do to turn the utility around if he was head of Eskom now, he said he would break up different parts of Eskom, the single reason being its value for governance.
“I think you may also need something completely unusual . . . that you may need to remove the board fully, as well as senior executives, and then get two or three people with full authority to deal with the entity.”
Questioned about renewable energy, he said he fully supported the programme, both during his tenure, and now, particularly as there had been vast improvements in cost and technology over the past few years. Dames said the prospect of nuclear was untenable in South Africa, as it was in countries like Finland and the US.
“Where we are at today as a country, there is absolutely no need for nuclear. We don’t need it. The Americans have stopped it. We have no need for it and I don’t think we can afford it.”