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Oberholzer must go!

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) calls on Eskom Chief Operating Officer (COO) Jan Oberholzer to resign, and, If he refuses to go, Eskom must fire him!

This follows a report that Stefanutti Stocks, an engineering and construction firm, of which Oberholzer is a former managing director and still a shareholder, is the subject of investigations by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the Hawks, into allegations that it allegedly defrauded Eskom of R139  billion in inflated contracts.

SAFTU welcomed the proclamation by President Cyril Ramaphosa for the SIU/Hawks to investigate 11 contractors which were allegedly involved in multibillion-rand tender corruption at several Eskom power stations. The Stefanutti investigation concerns one of these eleven.

It is just the latest in a mountain of evidence that Eskom has been systematically looted by both its own executives and private companies, which have let to the crisis of load-shedding, the R450 billion deficit, rising tariffs for consumers, possible mass retrenchments and the threat of privatisation.

Eskom spokesperson Skhonathi Mantshantsha has confirmed that Oberholzer is a Stefanutti Stocks shareholder and that he met Stefanutti Managing Director Russell Crawford and Commercial Director John Le Riche shortly after his appointment as Eskom COO in 2018.

“Yes, Mr Oberholzer does indeed own Stefanutti stocks. Yes, we can confirm that Mr Oberholzer did indeed have two meetings with representatives of Stefanutti Stocks,” Mantshantsha said.

He held a meeting with Crawford on 17 October 2019 at a hotel near OR Tambo International “in the presence of Former Chairman and Acting Chief Executive Jabu Mabuza, Acting Head of Legal and Compliance Bartlett Hewu, Eskom’s Jerome Mthembu and Contracts Manager Binesh Singh, Eskom’s contracts manager at the Kusile project.”

Oberholzer’s second meeting with Crawford and Le Riche was on 23 January 2020 at the Kusile project, in the presence of Eskom Project Manager Avin Maharaj and Bunesh Singh.

The Sunday Independent claims to have seen photos which suggest that he had more than two meetings with Stefanutti Stocks directors, including one at his office at Megawatt Park in Johannesburg.

This allegation in itself is serious enough but it is only one of many similar reports. Oberholzer is also being probed by the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, after Eskom General Manager Mark Chettiar reported him to the Commission, alleging that Oberholzer instructed procurement staff to ‘correct‘ documents for US firm Black and Veatch, another Eskom service provider.

The National Assembly’s standing committee on public accounts heard last week how, in a deal signed by Oberholzer in 2006, Eskom awarded Black and Veatch a R100 million contract, supposedly for a plan to stop load-shedding, but that to date the company has been paid R14 billion after a number of questionable modifications were made to their contracts.

“Black and Veatch” says a whistle-blower, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, told the Sunday Independent that “Black and Veatch was brought from the US to come and stop load shedding, but nothing has changed… Fourteen billion rand later, the company hasn’t yet made a plan to stop load shedding in South Africa but their contract isn’t even terminated and they are not sent packing”.

This whistle-blower’s report has also been referred to the Zondo Commission.

Chettiar claimed that Oberholzer had put pressure on Eskom officials to pay R40m to another service provider even after the Zondo Commission recommended that the contractor not be paid and that action be taken against all officials who facilitated the payment.

Corruption Watch has implored  Eskom to protect Chettiar, who received an email of a notice of disciplinary charges on 22 January this year signed by Oberholzer, noting that “the charges brought against him are unfounded”.

“The treatment Chettiar has experienced since blowing the whistle’” says Corruption Watch, “is extremely concerning and demonstrates a victimisation of whistle-blowers that places at risk Eskom’s ability to fully address corruption”.

SAFTU fully backs Corruption Watch’s call to protect Chettiar and has supported his submission to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), which heard his matter after Oberholzer allegedly refused to withdraw the charges against him and to appear before the CCMA.

Instead, he sent a junior official to offer a settlement deal, which SAFTU has condemned in the strongest terms. Chettiar is an asset to Eskom while Oberholzer is a liability!

These latest serious allegations confirm what SAFTU has been saying for years – that the crisis at Eskom and other state-owned enterprises (SOEs) arise not because they are publicly owned but because they have been captured and robbed by capitalist service providers in collusion with corrupt cronies within the enterprises.

Privatisation will not solve these problems but make them even worse. SOEs will be under even less public scrutiny and accountability, raise their prices even faster, provide worse service and be run purely to maximise the profits of shareholders rather than to serve the people of South Africa.

These revelations also highlight the urgency of bringing all those responsible for this looting to justice and recovering the money they have stolen. It is increasingly worrying that two years after President Ramaphosa came to power there have still been no trials of the major culprits, despite the mountains of evidence, from both before and during the Zondo Commission and this latest case.

The SIU and Hawks must now follow their investigation with criminal charges and the NPA must bring those implicated to court.

And SAFTU warns Eskom CEO Andre Du Ruyter and Interim Chairperson Professor Malegapura William Makgoba that they will be seen as being in cahoots with Oberholzer and failing to act against corruption at Eskom should they fail to fire him.

Oberholzer must go! He is conflicted and corrupt. He must follow the former chairperson Jabu Mabuza who also was a service provider of Eskom while at the same time being the chairperson and acting CEO.