On-again, off-again Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe has never said where he was when cellphone records show he so regularly visited the area around the Gupta family compound. He has not explained the many telephone calls between him and the family during a crucial period of negotiations, nor why a former mining minister thinks he was party to pressure exerted on behalf of the Gupta family.
But the legal action that followed Molefe’s return to Eskom on May 15 has raised an entirely new set of questions.
Why did he help to approve his own R30-million pension bonanza?
On February 9, 2016 an Eskom manager made a presentation to an Eskom board committee on “people and governance” about the impact of a new policy that top executives must be appointed on five-year contracts, rather than permanent ones.
One way to mitigate the impact when it came to pension funds, the committee was told, would be for Eskom to make a top-up payment of sorts to its pension fund in those circumstances. And, in an accounting quirk, the committee heard, that payment wouldn’t actually show up as a payment to the executive in question on Eskom’s books.
The committee approved the plan, which would later earn Molefe R30-million (before he had to pay it back). Among the voting members of the committee: one Brian Molefe.
“The meeting resolution pertained particularly to Mr Molefe’s pension benefits. Yet Mr Molefe did not absent himself from that portion of the meeting, nor did he declare that he had any interest in the subject matter of the resolution or recuse himself from the voting,” trade union Solidarity comments in a court filing.
Was he surprised – or angry – when Eskom’s story changed?
In “late April”, as Molefe tells it, the Eskom company secretary and a member of the board, Venete Klein, approached him to ask that he return to his old job. “It was explained to me that Eskom wanted me to return because of a concern about stabilising leadership and to address operational issues that it was facing.”
But it was only a few crucial days later, on May 2, that the Eskom board met and decided to ask Molefe to return – for no reason other than the fact that his “retirement” had been premised on an administrative mistake that had to be undone. The board decided to send two people to Molefe with this news. One of them was Venete Klein.
Did the board first butter Molefe up, informally, before deciding what it would do with him? And, if so, was Molefe angry at the subterfuge?
Why did he allow everyone to think he had resigned?
Molefe’s announcement of his departure from Eskom in November was universally interpreted as a resignation. Newspapers and news websites called it a resignation. Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown called it a resignation. Members of Parliament and the vast majority of Eskom employees thought he had resigned.
Perhaps around a dozen people, all of them within Eskom, definitely knew this to be incorrect. All of them had a moral obligation to inform at least Brown of her error, but also faced the contrary moral pressure of not disclosing the intimate departure details of a former employee.
The one person who was under no obligation whatsoever to conceal the truth was Molefe himself.
For more on the Molefe saga, see the Mail & Guardian on shelves today.