Eskom exec 'quietly enjoyed' free electricity at his home for 14 years

After Sunday Times inquiries, Eskom suspends legal chief

13 December 2020 - 00:05 By Sabelo Skiti
Acting group executive of legal and compliance Bartlett Hewu.
Acting group executive of legal and compliance Bartlett Hewu.
Image: Supplied

A top executive at Eskom quietly enjoyed free electricity at his home for 14 years.

Acting group executive of legal and compliance Bartlett Hewu, a key player in the state-owned company's drive to recover revenue, was found to have an illegally connected meter at his Fourways home, and had not paid a cent for electricity since 2006.

Embarrassingly, the cash-stricken utility has made much of its own cleanup, and has taken a hard line on non-payment and illegal connections, switching off whole areas.

The discovery was made by Eskom technicians after Hewu complained of his electricity being cut off late last month. This week he was suspended after the Sunday Times submitted questions to Eskom, but insiders said Hewu is being treated with kid gloves. 

Eskom said it cannot discuss the matter because “customer information” is confidential.

Hewu has already been reconnected, and appears to have reached an agreement in terms of which he will pay almost R250,000. This is despite some defaulters being referred for criminal prosecution under tough legislation, and others being heavily fined.

Hewu, a lawyer who has represented high-profile clients including the late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, joined Eskom on contract two years ago and has been instrumental in its recovery of hundreds of millions of rand looted through state capture corruption. Hewu's R3.4m salary was earned in the year that ended in 2020.

According to an Eskom internal report, the discovery was made on November 27 after Hewu reported that electricity to his Fourways home had been cut off with no explanation.

Officials inside Eskom's revenue management unit discovered that the meter in Hewu's home was not linked to an Eskom account.

When initially asked about this by officials, Hewu “indicated that he is being billed by City Power for electricity” despite being in an Eskom supply area. A subsequent perusal of his City Power invoices showed he was not being billed for electricity by Joburg's City Power.

“The new account [sic] was opened for Mr Hewu and he was billed for the consumption from April 2006 to date, resulting in an amount of R247,185. A deposit was raised for R3,160,” the report says.

The incident has exposed specific failures in Eskom's systems, as the anomaly was not picked up when a new smart meter was installed in the Hewu household in 2016.

According to the report, the system also never picked up in 2006 that Hewu's old meter — which had been disconnected when the old owner left the premises — was reconnected without a new “move-in” request on the system.

“The consumption on the meter was not picked up on any of the exception reports to indicate there is consumption on a meter but no account in the system,” the report says.

The power tripped in the Hewu household due to overloading on the meter.

The report also states that a metering specialist analysed data from the smart meter that was installed in Hewu's home in 2016 and found that a similar disconnection happened on February 6, but was bypassed the next day and power was restored.

Hewu did not answer repeated calls or respond to questions texted to him on two cellphones registered to him.

Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said the company is not at liberty to discuss the details of Hewu's case as all customer information is confidential.

He confirmed Hewu was placed on suspension on Wednesday, after the Sunday Times's questions.

“Eskom takes all allegations of wrongdoing against any member of staff very seriously,” said Mantshantsha. “The employee in question, an acting executive, has been placed on suspension with immediate effect while investigations continue.”

At least three people — one a senior employee, and the other two former executives at Eskom — said Hewu is being treated with child gloves.

“Some cases are referred to law enforcement for criminal prosecution, while others are given heavy fines. To simply allow him to open an account years later, and pay what we estimate he used, treats this like it's not the serious offence it should be,” said one former executive.

The other said: “What one needs to understand is Eskom's culpability in this whole mess. Eskom must explain how a new smart meter — which we introduced in 2016 as a way to curb the theft of electricity in the first place — was installed in that house and then not linked to an actual account.”

Electricity theft is a huge headache for Eskom and strips away billions in revenue each year from an organisation already on the brink of collapse under the burden of R488bn in debt to lenders. In 2015, Eskom proposed to parliament that theft of electricity and unlawful tampering with its infrastructure, including meters, be criminalised with punishments ranging from fines to 30 years' imprisonment.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said: “It's shocking to be told that Eskom executives themselves are not paying their electricity bills.

“The case of Bartlett Hewu is contemptuous. He is not befitting to be an Eskom executive; if this is true, he must go.”

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