There’s no political interference at Eskom, says its head Andre de Ruyter

16 February 2021 - 08:13 By naledi shange
Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter says he has not experienced any political interference at the power utility.
Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter says he has not experienced any political interference at the power utility.
Image: REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

Eskom group CEO Andre de Ruyter has moved to quash claims that there is political interference in the management of the utility.

Speaking during a virtual discussion on Monday where he gave an update on the current state of the entity, De Ruyter said: “The narrative of political interference at Eskom is not something I have experienced.”

He said that while the power giant needed to report to government on certain decisions, these decisions were not made with government influence.

“We believe in having data-driven debars with shareholders ... At the end of the day, the numbers speak and we arrive at a rational conclusion. So I’m not, being in the seat I’m in, [believing] there’s any truth in the notion of excessive political interference,” De Ruyter said.

This is a polar opposite view of what former Eskom executive Matshela Koko alleged of the previous situation at the power giant.

In December, Koko told the state capture commission that President Cyril Ramaphosa had interfered in the utility's decision to dismiss him, adding that the president's alleged mingling in Eskom affairs had taken place between 2012 and 2014, when Ramaphosa was still deputy president and chair of Optimum coal mine.

De Ruyter said the 98-year-old Eskom, which has for decades been the backbone of the country’s electricity provision, was evolving with aspects such as decarbonisation, decentralisation, democratisation and even digitalisation playing a huge factor in its change.

From mass reduction of staff, to rooting out fraud and corruption within its ranks, De Ruyter acknowledged there was a lot of work to still be done.

He listed his three priorities as the end of load-shedding, building a financially self-sustained power provider and having Eskom and SA be a “poster child” for a well-functioning power generator.

The power giant has received a lot of backlash for a number of aspects over the years. One of the latest criticisms has been for its stance that those who choose to deal with the country’s unstable electricity supply by installing and relying on solar panels still needed to fork out money to Eskom.

De Ruyter explained that it was simply because “the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow” therefore those who relied on solar and wind generation for electricity generation — particularly for domestic use — were still tapping into Eskom’s grid whenever their power ran low from a lack of sun or wind. For this, consumers needed to pay.

He stressed that they were not aimed at inhibiting the use of solar panels but needed to ensure there were no “free rides” for those moments when solar users turned to them for light and power.

While Eskom remains the largest player in electricity generation, De Ruyter stressed that they were open to competition in the sector. De Ruyter added that they had seen there was a significant investment appetite for this.

But even though the power generation sector could be opened up, De Ruyter stressed that natural monopoly of the sector would remain. He explained that it was not economically sensible to have certain infrastructure which already exists and belongs to Eskom being duplicated.

Having multiple transmission streams would need monitoring, De Ruyter said.

So while Eskom was not necessarily opposed to competition, De Ruyter said: “We don’t think such an important strategic asset such as our transmission grid should be owned by anyone but the state.”

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