Businesswoman Nothemba Mlonzi, the CEO of fuel supply company Econ Oil, has rejected Eskom boss Andre De Ruyter’s claims that her firm overcharged the power utility to the tune of billions of rands.
Maintaining that De Ruyter had weaponised his alleged anti-corruption crackdown at Eskom, Mlonzi has accused him of misrepresenting facts and peddling “falsehoods” about her company.
Econ Oil was contracted to supply fuel to Eskom between 2012 and 2017. Mlonzi also labelled De Ruyter’s claims as defamatory, adding her company was considering taking legal action against him.
In his controversial book on his tenure as Eskom CEO, released last month, De Ruyter accused Econ Oil of milking Eskom dry to the tune of R16 billion within five years. He further claimed that an unnamed Eskom employee had brought her alleged “acquaintance”, Mlonzi, to exploit fuel delivery opportunities in the early 2000s, which resulted in Econ Oil becoming a “middleman.”
“Mlonzi registered Econ Oil at about the same time and served as its sole director and shareholder. Initially, Econ added no value, even as a logistics company. It operated from inside Sasol’s offices, all its deliveries were conducted through Sasol and presumably it did not have much start-up capital either. “The fuel oil business was evidently very lucrative. During the period December 2003 to November 2018, Eskom paid Econ approximately R16 billion. To add insult to injury, Econ Oil also overcharged Eskom – that’s in addition to the reseller margin that they were already pocketing,” wrote De Ruyter.
However, Mlonzi has dismissed De Ruyter’s claims about her and Econ Oil as a tale of “self-righteous” saints.
“The book disseminates a combination of misrepresented facts and outright falsehoods about Econ Oil and its Director, Nothemba Mlonzi. In De Ruyter’s ‘hagiography’, a chapter dedicated to Econ Oil is rife with unfounded, defamatory, and previously refuted accusations.
“For the past three years, Econ Oil has consistently debunked these allegations in public statements. De Ruyter’s decision to overlook these records while repeating discredited claims is troubling and puzzling,” Econ Oil said in a statement.
“It’s been over three years since Econ Oil first found itself at the centre of false allegations spearheaded by De Ruyter. During his tenure at Eskom, he consistently vilified Econ Oil without substantiating his allegations, despite having ample resources to do so.”
The company said it has never been under investigation for corruption or misconduct at Eskom or any other institution.
“Instead, we believe we’re being unjustly targeted by a system opposed to the success of a black-woman-owned energy company in a predominantly white industry.
“The claim that only oil majors or refineries can provide superior pricing or value is misleading. HFO is not the core business of oil majors such as Sasol, BP, Engen, etc. Econ Oil added substantial value by sourcing raw materials from oil majors and tailoring them to each Eskom plant’s specifications.
“Up to now, an Eskom record from De Ruyter’s era reveals that Eskom continued to source HFO from all providers, not exclusively and directly from refineries. The claim that Eskom would source only from refineries was a tactic to exclude Econ Oil from participating in the bidding process, therefore De Ruyter deliberately lied,” said the company.
Econ Oil challenged De Ruyter to back up his claims that they overcharged. The company said that the report De Ruyter relied on to “peddle his lies” was never tabled because its authors could not find enough information.
“On the 17th of December 2020, Eskom filed a statement of claim against Econ Oil regarding the alleged overcharging for the period of 2012 till 2017, which we are defending in arbitration.
“Econ Oil has, at great expense, employed forensic auditors to confirm that there has been no overcharging and that the formulas used [to compile the report] are incorrect. This report will be made available when Eskom’s claim for damages is adjudicated by AFSA in the coming months,” said the company.
It added: “Eskom’s rigorous invoicing process ensures that every payment is linked to a contract before approval for payment. De Ruyter and Eskom’s accusation that we overcharged by vastly different amounts for the same set of invoices further underscores the unreliability of their claims.”
According to the company, De Ruyter deliberately weaponised a narrative that he was fighting corruption at Eskom.
“De Ruyter’s book and chapter on Econ Oil represents a calculated weaponisation of corruption narrative. By making unfounded corruption allegations publicly, he aims to set Econ Oil up for condemnation without providing any concrete proof.
“Econ Oil has responded to these accusations by suing Eskom and De Ruyter for defamation. This case is still pending. We also filed a criminal case against De Ruyter with the South African Police Services,” the company said. “We invite De Ruyter and Eskom to bring their evidence to court, where we are confident we can disprove their claims. We refuse to be used as a scapegoat to distract from the failures of an incompetent individual who presided over the decline of a state-owned enterprise.”
Eskom communication advisor Aubrey Sambo told African Times it couldn’t comment because the matter was still in court.
“The matter is subject to ongoing litigation, therefore, Eskom is not in a position to give you an official comment at this stage,” said Sambo.
Attempts to obtain comment from De Ruyter were unsuccessful.