Eskom facing court action via Paia

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ESKOM is facing legal action for refusing to share “secret” information pertaining to the payment of bonuses to its top management for the 2014-15 financial year.

The business rights watchdog AfriBusiness said on Sunday it took further legal action against Eskom last week after the electricity provider refused to provide AfriBusiness with the requested information, which it called “secret”.

This comes after AfriBusiness in September asked Eskom, in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), to release, among other things, information about the performance agreements, evaluation reports and minutes of the meetings at which these bonuses were approved. It also asked for a list of all members of top management who received bonuses.

In August, Eskom told Fin24 that its employees had missed out on bonuses for the 2014-15 financial year. “It is true that we are not assigning bonuses,” spokesman Khulu Phasiwe told Fin24. “It would be wrong to give bonuses if we don’t have money and especially during this time.”

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown said in September that the only bonuses paid were long-term incentives awarded in the 2011-12 financial year, vested in the 2013-14 financial year, and which were payable only in June 2014.

Bonus records blocked

In June, Eskom also blocked a Fin24 request for records detailing the final remuneration — and any possible golden handshakes — of two of the suspended executives who resigned before or on June 1 2015. However, this was for information that will be made available only in the 2015-16 financial year.

Fin24 submitted a PAIA application to Eskom on June 2 2015 to provide access to records that would have revealed the true cost of two executives leaving their post amid an internal inquiry.

Fin24 requested records that showed the cost to company (breakdown of remuneration package at time of exit) for former group capital executive Dan Marokane and former CEO Tshediso Matona, as well as their bonuses for the last financial period; and any exit and/or severance packages they may have received.

Eskom responded to the request on June 24 2015, explaining that they were “deferring” the request.

“Eskom has decided to defer your access to this record because the record is required by law to be published, but is yet to be published,” Eskom told Fin24 in a written reply.

“The likely period for which access to the record is to be deferred is until Eskom’s annual financial statements is published,” it explained.

The financial records for this request would fall under 2016’s results, which would become available only in August next year.

In its reply to defer the request, Eskom invited Fin24 to explain why it should be granted access sooner. Fin24 submitted its response on July 3 2015, but Eskom said it was not prepared to change its original decision.

Fin24’s lawyers have been weighing its options.

Information is personal — Eskom

AfriBusiness said Eskom refused to release the information, arguing that the information was of a personal nature. They also maintained that no bonuses were paid for the 2014-15 financial year.

“Eskom’s net income decreased by more than 50% during the 2014-15 financial year, yet bonuses amounting to millions of rand are paid with taxpayers’ money,” AfriBusiness spokesman Stefan Pieterse said.

The group net profit for the year ended March 31 2015 was R3.6bn compared to R7.1bn in the 2013-14 financial year. The net profit of the company was R2.8bn.

Electricity sales slipped by 0.7% in 2014-15, with the effect of load shedding contributing 548GWh to the decline, effectively 34% of the loss in sales.

AfriBusiness could take Eskom to court

AfriBusiness has now launched an internal appeal to obtain the information. If the appeal is unsuccessful, AfriBusiness will approach the court with an application to compel Eskom to release the information.

Mr Matona and Mr Marokane were suspended along with technology and commercial head Matshela Koko and finance director Tsholofelo Molefe on March 12, when its then chairperson Zola Tsotsi, who resigned later that month, announced an internal inquiry in the state entity.

Mr Matona resigned on May 19 2015 after failing to uplift his suspension in the labour court, while Mr Marokane resigned on June 1 2015. Ms Molefe resigned on 25 June 2015, after Fin24 had submitted its application.

On July 15, Eskom announced that the inquiry cleared all the executives of wrongdoing and reinstated the last remaining suspended executive, Mr Koko. No further details of the inquiry were provided to the media and Eskom said it would hand over the findings to the government.