Nuclear board resigns en masse, slates Gwede Mantashe, who claps back

15 January 2020 - 08:01
Minister Gwede Mantashe, third left, was criticised for his 'unavailability and non-responsiveness' by the Necsa board.
Image: Masi Losi Minister Gwede Mantashe, third left, was criticised for his 'unavailability and non-responsiveness' by the Necsa board.

The board of the state-owned Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (Necsa) has resigned en masse, citing a dire lack of support from mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe.

The minister hit back on Wednesday, tweeting: “We must reinstate Necsa into a functional state. We can't allow dysfunctional governance. We must appreciate that correcting governance is painful.”

In a letter sent to Mantashe’s office on Tuesday, the board laid bare a raft of problems facing the company. The resignations at the start of a new year add to an air of instability in state-owned firms, and follow closely the resignation of Eskom chair Jabu Mabuza last week.

The letter, seen by TimesLIVE, revealed that Necsa has been “technically insolvent” since 2016. “Upon assuming our positions as directors [late in 2018] it became apparent that Necsa has been making losses from as far back as 2014,” it reads.

The company, tasked with research in nuclear energy and the processing and storage of nuclear material, struggled to pay salaries to staff in December last year.

To mitigate years of losses, amounting to as much as R554m, said the former board members, Necsa had extended debt through loans, overdraft facilities and by dipping into emergency funding.

“Necsa ... has survived using ring-fenced funds, which has cumulatively had an impact on the going-concern status which the new board faces.”

Its members alleged that Mantashe, as the state shareholder of the company, had been warned of the company's dwindling cash reserves and parlous financial state.

The four board members who submitted their joint resignations, Pulane Kingston, Dr Pulane Molokwane, Matlhodi Ngwenya and Bishen Singh, said four other board members had resigned in 2018, but were never replaced, despite their pleas to Mantashe. “Despite our repeated requests to you since July 2019 to urgently augment the board, this matter has not been prioritised, making it more difficult to function properly.”

The four said despite their best and strained efforts to keep the firm afloat, they had consistently lacked Mantashe’s support.

“A clear example of this lack of support includes your [Mantashe’s] public utterances that there was no board of Necsa, while continuing to interact with us,” they wrote.

They went on to accuse Mantashe’s ministry of hamstringing their oversight function.

“Your unavailability and non-responsiveness is concerning. This, together with the overreach by your officials, which undermines the responsibilities and authority of the board, renders it untenable for us to continue serving as directors,” they said.