THE Public Enterprises Minister, Alec Erwin and Mbeki aide Essop Pahad have issued their denial of the President’s involvement in accepting bribes from arms companies.
But questions remain.
The first of these surrounds possible payments to the ruling ANC by arms companies.
Asked about this, Erwin and Pahad embarked on a delicate dance of spin doctoring the likes of which we have not seen since some nut was accused of screwing up a reactor by throwing a bolt into it.
Remember how Alec Erwin said sabotage was to blame for the breakdown at Koeberg back in 2006? It took an investigation by the nuclear regulator to point out that bad maintenance was to blame.
First to spin on whether or not the ANC had received donations was Pahad who ventured: “Maybe Alec Erwin is a watchmaker, but I’m not. I don’t offer any guarantees”.
Erwin took the hospital pass with this line: “It’s impossible to offer such a guarantee. We did not ask anyone to make a payment. What those companies did, in their own right, we cannot be held responsible for.”
So, in Erwin’s reckoning arms companies can dole out cash to the ruling party, whose officials are negotiating the deal, without anyone in government being held responsible?
Then there is the matter of the absurd threat to sue the Sunday Times.
Do Erwin, Pahad and what’s left of Mbeki’s brains trust really think that a South African newspaper is not within its rights to report on serious allegations of bribery against the President by investigators?
Erwin urges the media to “do its homework”.
But when the Sunday Times does its homework and unearths a report unfavourable to Erwin and company, he believes this “homework” should be ignored.
We need transparency, not blanket denials.
ESKOM has been load-shedding again. This time, it seems that the electricity provider was taken by surprise when the weather turned cold.
This phenomenon, known to most as winter, apparently occurs every year at this time. So it is baffling that there is no-one at Eskom who wondered aloud whether or not people would be switching on their heaters.
You know, to keep warm. Like they have done for time immemorial.
Apparently not. Apparently the cold weather surprise completely broadsided the technicians, engineers, scientists, planners and managers.
Perhaps they all arrived at work in short pants and slip-slops only to find their shins assailed by a unexpected chill.
In fairness, Eskom has also found itself having to repair power facilities as the cold weather arrived.
Apparently doing such maintenance during the last days of autumn when there was no load-shedding, was not considered for some reason.
The fact is that this corporation’s planning is seriously deficient.
The public is outraged and has expressed its displeasure, but this has had no effect.
The reason is simple: The bosses of Eskom have not suffered one jot since this bungling started.
They have not been fired, reprimanded, talked to or criticised by the state, which is their only shareholder.
This failure to punish failure has, by logical extension, made such failure an acceptable standard of service in the eyes of the sole shareholder.
So what have Eskom’s bosses done? They have continued to bungle.
And what has government done? The minister of public enterprises, Alec Erwin wants MORE Eskoms to kick-start growth in South Africa. He’s kidding, right?
So you want to throw President Thabo Mbeki out? Have you considered whether or not a successor will solve the key issues that have come to plague the dying months of Mbeki’s rule?
Let’s go through them one-by-one.
What did Mbeki do? Mbeki oversaw a fundamental reversal of South Africa’s economic woes from his time as deputy to Nelson Mandela through to the present. High debt servicing, high consumption expenditure and poor revenue collection have all been turned around to make South Africa pretty much a model of prudent fiscal management. The appointment of Trevor Manuel as Finance Minister was a masterstroke which has built business confidence and enabled the ANC to introduce substantial welfare expenditure while retaining credibility as a well-managed economy. Mbeki has identified, but failed to act on, weaknesses in the Gear policy such as the rigid labour market which has been an obstacle to job creation. And he has backtracked on privatisation, the key to introducing the sorts of efficiencies into the economy which would have eliminated infrastructure backlogs such as those responsible for inadequate power generation.
What would Zuma do? Zuma does not possess the sort of depth of thinking on the economy of an Mbeki. He has made contradictory noises, suggesting a more leftward direction, but also reassuring business. The reason that he finds himself in this dilemma is that he is beholden to the left kingmakers who propelled him to the ANC presidency – the SACP and Cosatu. He is likely to oversee a muddying of thinking on the economy, possibly including an even more disasterous labour relations regime and a loosening of social spending in an effort to appease these backers. His presidency could well see the departure of Manuel and other key technocrats in the treasury who are already ambivalent about the statist drift in policy emanating from the likes of Alec Erwin in the Public Enterprises ministry.
What did Mbeki do? Mbeki’s successes on the economy were his downfall on electricity – and possibly on other infrastructural issues. Economic growth outstripped expectations. But, despite this, Mbeki was warned of the looming electricity crisis and he failed to act, something for which he has publicly apologised. This failing points to Mbeki’s unwillingness to accept advice at face value or, worse, his decision to ignore advice and tough it out knowing a crisis would occur. Mbeki also failed to take advice to introduce competitive private sector involvement into the electricity distribution network.
What would Zuma do? Zuma could be more open to advice and might listen to warnings more openly than Mbeki. But will he be decisive enough to drive through big spending decisions? And will he have the wherewithal in his treasury department and in the state to execute such decisions efficiently? The prospect of privatisation relating to infrastructure will recede sharply under Zuma who is likely to take a more statist stance than Mbeki.
What did Mbeki do? Mbeki has been very actively involved in attempting to resolve the Zimbabwean crisis. He has chosen to do so by maintaining a close relationship with Robert Mugabe while following a “quiet diplomacy” approach. The results have been mixed: He has cajoled Mugabe into conducting elections, which Mugabe lost, under SADC guidelines, but he has also lost credibility with the opposition for failing to speak out against Mugabe’s abuses. Mbeki has allowed Mugabe to manipulate public perceptions by projecting Mbeki as an ally rather than as a mediator. The overall result has been a loss of credibility for Mbeki who is seen as a weak supporter of Mugabe. And the Zimbabwean crisis has lingered.
What would Zuma do? Zuma has spoken out on electoral abuses such as the unseemly delay in announcing the results, but he has failed to map out an alternative approach to the crisis. His left allies – the kingmakers – are vocally opposed to Mugabe and will expect Zuma to act decisively. But Zuma will be painfully aware that this will limit his influence. Perhaps he will make the classic calculation that the way foreign policy plays at home is more important than the way it plays abroad and weigh in against Mugabe.
What did Mbeki do? After a slow and very costly start, Mbeki has come around to distributing Aids drugs through the public health service. But he has failed to ignite a popular fight against the disease and there are too many ambiguous messages from the top on what its causes are and how it should be handled.
What would Zuma do? Zuma will be much better at getting the message across to the public. He is outspoken on Aids and will seriously amp up the public message on this issue. He would probably allocate more funds to ARVs, but will rely on the same public service to distribute them, probably with the same less-than-satisfactory result.
TWO incidents over the last week are pointing to an alarming new phenomenon: Load-shedding explosions. In Walmer, Port Elizabeth, a substation literally exploded during load-shed switching, leaving homes without electricity for a week. A sub-station in Kempton Park experienced a fire under similiar circumstances, with the tragic consequence of a mom losing her life as she ran a generator in her house.
I am told by someone with considerable knowledge of electrical engineering and some knowledge of Eskom’s infrastructure that sub-stations are not designed to be switched on and off frequently. It has something to do with oil that heats up and cools too frequently. I am searching for more reliable information on this, but I suspect that the two incidents mentioned above are the start of some serious damage to our grid.
See The Times load shedding special report here.
Sapa is reporting that the fumes of a generator killed a Kempton Park woman. Is this the first death directly attributable to load-shedding? Extract:
A power outage caused by an electrical substation fire could have
contributed to the death of a Kempton Park woman on Wednesday.
Netcare 911 said its paramedics responded to a call in the area
where a woman died due to carbon monoxide poisoning from a home
An electrical substation in the area had caught fire on Tuesday and
that was why the home generator was in use. It had been placed in the
Paramedics say the carbon monoxide was at an unbearable level in the
“Paramedics had to break the door down to gain entry into the house.
Once inside, they discovered the woman who was already dead.
“She was in the main bedroom, they also found the woman’s son in the
bathroom who was still alive. He was in a critical condition and was
airlifted to the hospital,” Netcare spokesman Mark Stokoe said.
A number of family pets were also found dead inside the house.
ANSWER: They are all symptons of a lack of leadership in South Africa. The truth is that there is no-one at the top who is guiding this nation, pulling people into line when they need to be pulled into line, asking difficult questions about infrastructure, kicking butt and placing the country at the helm of this sub-region and this continent.
PROBLEM ONE: PARREIRA
When proposals were floated to “nationalise” Bafana Bafana and the ANC’s sports chairman in Parliament, Butana Khompela, started attacking national coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira and Bafana players for incompetence, someone right at the top needed to step in and correct the impression that this was official policy. And then kicked Khompela’s ass out of his job and replaced him with someone who understood policy. Instead there was silence and the outcome has been the resignation of Parreira, the best man to coach our team.
PROBLEM TWO: SHABANGU
When a deputy minister calls on police to ignore the law and the constitution and to “shoot to kill” when they confront criminals, someone at the top needed to correct this publicly and make it plain that such populist rousing was not official policy. Then they should have made her correct these remarks directly and publicly. Instead, nothing was done and the police now live with the belief that they will face no consequences if they execute those they believe to be criminals.
PROBLEM THREE: ZIMBABWE
When Robert Mugabe stifles the announcement of election results, arrests, detains and -according to reports today – kills opposition leaders, someone at the top needs to come out and place this country’s outrage on the record in plain language. Instead, this nation has been silent or apologist and only the dock workers of Durban, who stopped the off-loading of Mugabe arms, have shown any leadership.
PROBLEM FOUR: ESKOM
When the nation’s growth is stiffled by a failure of planning and houses are plunged into darkness at least twice a week across the country, someone at the top needs to find out who screwed up and kick their butt black and blue and remove them from their position of responsibility to reassure the public that such stuff-ups are not condoned in this country. Instead, nobody has been blamed and a culture of mediocrity has been allowed to take further hold in an already lacrimose civil service.
THERE are some things that Eskom doesn’t want us to know in its motivation for a massive price hike.
The Times reporter Werner Swart filed a story including this extract:
Parts of the justification advanced by Eskom for its application for a massive increase in electricity prices will be kept from the public.
Eskom met the National Energy Regulator yesterday to ask for “business-sensitive” sections of its application for a 53percent tariff increase to be kept secret.
Ryna Boshoff, a spokeswoman for the regulator, yesterday confirmed that Eskom’s request had been granted because certain parts of its application to justify the proposed increase contained “commercially sensitive information”.
So what’s the big secret? My guess is the outrageously low tarrifs that Eskom is charging its big business consumers. Translation: Domestic consumers are subsidising business when it comes to electricity.
South Africa’s electricity utility, Eskom, has created a special “direct line” bearing uninterrupted power to Robert Mugabe’s luxury Harare mansion to ensure that “this country’s good friend” does not find himself in the dark.
The cable, said to run through farmland and even on the bed of a river for several kilometers carries power from a power station in Limpopo directly to Mugabe’s house, apparently on the instruction of South Africa’s Department of Foreign Affairs.
One Eskom insider told The Times: “To ensure Mugabe’s power is clean, the power station has to black out an entire South African suburb for at least four hours a day.”
A spokesman for President Thabo Mbeki said Mugabe needed the power “to ensure the smooth running of Zimbabwe’s democratic processes”. “This is a good investment in building our region into a powerhouse,” he said.
Bwahahahahaha. April Fool.
CRIME, corruption, electricity blackouts, Jacob Zuma and economic slowdown. These have become the key conversations of South Africans, throwing the nation into a funk.
This newspaper has not shied away from reporting on these often depressing topics, but The Times has always sought to look for the positive.
Sometimes the positive is as simple as reporting on how a house has weaned itself off electricity.
Or how a youngster has written a book to help people avoid and deal with crime when it confronts them.
Or how South Africa’s constitution will ultimately halt the rise of the political demagogues.
But is there more that a newspaper should do?
Should we be actively repressing negative stories in favour of the positive?
Should we seek to build consensus rather than report on the obvious divisions that plague our politics?
Should we stop reporting on load-shedding and start proposing ways of cutting down on energy consumption?
These are important questions which our readers expect to take seriously.
The answer must be the following: A newspaper must give its readers the information they need to conduct their lives as informed citizens.
This information may sometimes be painful and, perhaps even disconcerting, but we should not flinch from reality.
But readers also want us to seek out those who are trying to solve this country’s problems. They want to know about solutions, about ways of changing things for the better.
We would be doing them a disservice if we failed to actively seek out those developing solutions.
We must be a newspaper of truth, but also one that offers hope. We can handle the truth and we can overcome tragedy.
AT the end of this month, the leadership of Eskom will be punished for their part in the load-shedding debacle. They will face the heavy burden of deciding how to spend the R7,2 million in performance bonuses that are to be handed out.
Some, like former chief executive, Thulani Gcabashe, who presided over the corporation as it failed to build capacity when growth took off, will be punished to the tune of R1,489 million. Poor fellow, where will he spend it if Sandton City is plunged into darkness once more?
The payment of the bonuses illustrates the problem with Eskom. If it was a competitive private company, it’s failure to meet demand with supply would have cost the management team dearly, perhaps even with their jobs.
There would have been competitors who would have staked a claim to their customer base, offering a more reliable and perhaps, cheaper, product to win market share.
Bonuses would not have been paid on “performance” alone, but on profitability and competitiveness.
But state corporations are, by definition, inefficient.
They are motivated by the winds of office politics, by political correctness and by bureaucratic constraints on their ability to react to crises.
They are not accountable to the market for their products so much as that beautifully named thing, their “shareholder”, the government.
The government protects their monopoly, thus removing the single greatest motivation for meeting customer needs, the hoary breath of competition.
Eskom will pay bonuses. This will send a signal to the managers that it doesn’t matter how massively they fail, they will be rewarded.
Will this steel them for the trying years ahead where they must deliver? Not likely.