Former Eskom Group chief executive officer André De Ruyter has been accused of completely failing to assist the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) to get to the bottom of the corruption allegations he leveled against “a minister” and “a senior-ranking politician.” De Ruyter, who was never vetted since his appointment in 2019, was invited to Scopa to provide clarity and details of the levels of political interference and looting he disclosed during a television interview early this year.
The explosive interview with eNCA’s Annika Larsen took place shortly after De Ruyter’s abrupt resignation from the embattled power utility. During the interview, the former executive said the ANC was using Eskom as a personal feeding trough. He said one senior politician told him to allow some people to “eat a little.”
The allegations sparked outrage in many quarters of society, also pushing the ANC to turn against De Ruyter, whom they previously defended. According to Scopa chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa, De Ruyter was obliged to disclose details of the corruption he witnessed at Eskom, as the power utility was responsible for 95% of the electricity supplied in South Africa while also supplying 45% of the continent’s electricity.
Hlengwa said the meeting with the former executive was an exercise in accountability. However, De Ruyter opened with a request for him not to mention names and other details crucial to his corruption claims.
“I just wish to raise a number of important points before we proceed to questions. Let me first of all say that I submit the information in good faith. To the best of my knowledge, it is true and correct.
“But I am constrained in providing certain information for the following reasons. Having resigned as the group executive chief in February, I am not in possession of certain documents and material that remain in the hands of Eskom or investigation bodies to corroborate or substantiate certain allegations,” he said.
De Ruyter directed the committee to approach law enforcement agencies for progress reports in their various investigations as he was constrained to reveal certain information. He added that the sources who blew the whistle on criminality at Eskom were also feared for their safety.
“Having regard to the nature of the alleged criminal and unlawful activities, the sources that I relied on to inform law enforcement and intelligence agencies have legitimate reasons to fear for their safety. I’m therefore unable to divulge their identities.
“There are also various forensic investigations aimed at garnering evidence critical to recoveries that are subject to legal professional privilege. If the minutiae of these investigations were to be published, it would compromise Eskom’s ability to make these recoveries,” said De Ruyter.
ANC MP, Bheki Hadebe said De Ruyter had cooperated well with the committee over his three-year tenure at Eskom. He said this created an expectation that he would assist the committee in dealing with the corruption he alleged during his television interview.
Hadebe asked De Ruyter to provide the name of the minister who told him about allowing people “to eat a little bit.” De Ruyter declined to name the minister.
“Just to give context to the statement that was made by the minister concerned is that this was not a response that related to general corruption and fraud at Eskom. This was in response to a concern that I expressed to the minister and to other individuals about the governance of the 8.5 billion US dollars (in) funding that South Africa obtained at COP26 and that would have been a very large part be applied to the benefit of Eskom,” he said.
“I must stress that at no time were the discussions about the broader elements of poor governance or any combination by the minister concerned of that nature. I would not want the statement to be characterised as a combination by the minister that there was a broad allowance made for people to so-called eat or participate in funding. I think this is an important context.”
De Ruyter continued to state that the minister’s statement did not mean he condoned people to loot Eskom. Hadebe was not pleased. The ANC MP also demanded that De Ruyter also name the official who was reportedly present when the minister made the utterances.
“I disclosed all of the findings and the issues that I covered with my shareholder, Mr Pravin Gordhan. As I say in my statement, I also shared these same allegations and concerns with the national security advisor, Mr (Sydney) Mufamadi,” De Ruyter said, before Hadebe interjected.
“When you said there was one high-level politician involved in this allegation. Who is that minister? Are you saying the executive authority, Mr Pravin Gordhan is the minister you are referring to? I am asking a specific and direct question based on your interview,” said Hadebe.
De Ruyter requested a moment to consult his documents and the legal advice he received.
“At this moment, Mr Honourable Hadebe, I don’t think it is in the interest of the oversight role of Scopa and the nature of the engagements that I disclose this today. I don’t think it is a critical element that is important and I therefore propose that we move on,” De Ruyter said.
Hadebe and other MPs demanded to know whether having a minister involved in such critical issues was not part of Scopa’s mandate to hold public representatives accountable. The committee chairperson also agreed with the MPs, but De Ruyter would not budge.
Instead, De Ruyter said he had complied with every law that obliges him to report corruption issues to relevant authorities.
“Disclosing the identity of the minister concerned, I think this is a question that I would see falling within the ambit of potential security risk that would arise from such a disclosure. I therefore would direct, with respect, the committee to rather engage with the oversight minister, as well as potentially Dr Mufamadi to obtain further information with this regard,” he said.
Hadebe asked if De Ruyter had disclosed the name of the minister to Mufamadi or Gordhan.
“Just to be clear, there is a narrative in the media that there is a minister that I mentioned. I must just avoid any doubt in this regard. I never made any statement to the effect that it is a minister. I said it was a very senior politician, so I don’t want to perpetuate any misunderstanding in this regard,” De Ruyter said.
Hadebe read De Ruyter back the words that he said during his eNCA interview.
“I did disclose the name of the senior politician… I am obviously not a lawyer well-versed in criminal law, but I am not sure that the statement that was made by the minister concerned in fact constituted (a) contravention of (the) law. I don’t think there was a duty on me to disclose or share that with any law enforcement authority,” said De Ruyter.
Despite Hlengwa’s intervention, De Ruyter flatly refused to assist the committee with the name of the minister in question.
“I think, if I may venture to answer that question honourable chair, the best way forward I would suggest is to ask Mr Godhan and Dr Mufamadi because they were informed and they are aware. As you know, I am not in a position where I have immunity.
“Therefore, I am unable to make statements that could potentially put me at risk of any legal action, whether it be civil or criminal because of the fact that there is already a highly litigious environment that has risen around Eskom my tenure as chief executive at Eskom, and I would be very loath to expose myself to any further legal action, particularly to in a public forum such as this hearing. Respectfully, I think to answer those questions it is appropriate to direct those to the individuals that I already mentioned by name,” De Ruyter said.
MPs from different parties accused De Ruyter of leading them into gossip and refusing to assist them. EFF MP Veronica Mente probed further, insisting that De Ruyter had to come clean and name the minister and officials who allegedly looted Eskom.