Calls for Eskom to fire COO Jan Oberholzer for alleged corruption

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By: The Sunday Independent

Johannesburg – Eskom chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer is a shareholder in one of the companies that allegedly defrauded the cash-strapped power utility of R139  billion in inflated contracts.

The Sunday Independent can today reveal that Oberholzer not only owns shares in JSE-listed engineering and construction firm Stefanutti Stocks, but also held several meetings with the company’s directors shortly after his appointment as Eskom second-in-charge in 2018.

The meetings were held with Stefanutti managing director Russell Crawford and commercial director John Le Riche at a hotel at OR Tambo International Airport as well as at Kusile power station in Mpumalanga. Oberholzer is a former Stefanutti managing director.

Stefanutti Stocks is the subject of investigations by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the Hawks, while Oberholzer is being probed by the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.

The SIU probe came after President Cyril Ramaphosa signed a proclamation for the unit to investigate 11 contractors which were allegedly involved in multibillion-rand tender corruption at several Eskom power stations.

This came as anti-corruption NGO Corruption Watch and the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi warned Oberholzer against victimising Eskom general manager Mark Chettiar for reporting him to the Zondo Commission.

Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha confirmed that Oberholzer is a Stefanutti Stocks shareholder and that he did meet Crawford and others.

“Yes, Mr Oberholzer does indeed own Stefanutti stocks. Yes, we can confirm that Mr Oberholzer did indeed have two meetings with representatives of Stefanutti Stocks,” Mantshantsha said.

He confirmed that Oberholzer held a meeting with Crawford on October 17, 2019, at a hotel near OR Tambo International “in the presence of former chairman and acting chief executive Jabu Mabuza, head of legal Bartlett Hewu, Eskom’s Jerome Mthembu and contracts manager Binesh Singh, Eskom’s contracts manager at the Kusile project.”

Mantshantsha said Oberholzer’s second meeting with Crawford and Le Riche was on January 23, 2020, at the Kusile project, in the presence of Eskom project manager Avin Maharaj and Singh.

However, the Sunday Independent has seen photos which suggest that Oberholzer had more than two meetings with Stefanutti Stocks directors, including one at his office at Megawatt Park in Johannesburg.

The revelations regarding Oberholzer’s involvement with companies providing services to Eskom comes as the utility’s chief executive, André de Ruyter, admitted in Parliament last week that he had hand-picked four companies to do work with the power utility.

The admission has set De Ruyter on a collision course with the EFF, which has since sent him a lawyer’s letter demanding an undertaking that the four companies would not get preferential treatment.

In the letter sent through law firm Ian Levitt Attorneys and Conveyancers, the party said: “We accordingly request that you make a written commitment that you will not conduct any business without due regard to the PFMA (Public Finance Management Act).”

Sunday Independent can further reveal that a whistle-blower submitted a one-page document to Eskom acting head of legal and compliance Bartlett Hewu in July last year, alleging that Oberholzer was also implicated in other procurement irregularities.

The letter alleged that Oberholzer “instructed procurement staff to correct documents for Black and Veatch”, another Eskom service provider.

The National Assembly’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) heard last week how Eskom awarded Black and Veatch a R100 million contract which was co-signed by Oberholzer in 2006.

But to date the company has been paid R14bn after a number of questionable modifications were made to their contracts.

The whistle-blower, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, told the Sunday Independent that “Black and Veatch was brought from the US to come and stop load shedding, but nothing has changed”.

“Fourteen billion rand later, the company hasn’t yet made a plan to stop load shedding in South Africa but their contract isn’t even terminated and they are not sent packing,” the whistle- blower said.

Mantshantsha also confirmed that the whistle-blower report on Oberholzer had been handed to the Zondo Commission for further investigation.

He stressed that Eskom had conducted a preliminary investigation and found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Oberholzer.

But Eskom insiders claimed that some of the evidence implicating Oberholzer on the Black Veatch contract was deleted from the Eskom server.

This came as Chettiar claimed that Oberholzer had put pressure on Eskom officials to pay R40m to another service provider even after the Zondo Commission recommended that the contractor not be paid and that action be taken against all officials who facilitated the payment.

Corruption Watch sent a letter to De Ruyter and interim Eskom board chairperson Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, imploring them to protect Chettiar. The letter stated that “the treatment Chettiar has experienced since blowing the whistle is extremely concerning and demonstrates a victimisation of whistle-blowers that places at risk Eskom’s ability to fully address corruption”.

Corruption Watch added that Chettiar received an email of a notice of disciplinary charges on January 22 this year signed by Oberholzer, noting that “the charges brought against him are unfounded”.

On Friday, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) heard Chettiar’s matter after Oberholzer allegedly refused to withdraw the charges against him.

Vavi, who represented Chettiar, said Oberholzer did not appear before the  CCMA. Instead, he sent a junior official to offer a settlement deal.

“We rejected his offer in the strongest terms and I am saying Chettiar is an asset to Eskom while Oberholzer is a liability,” said Vavi.

The matter was postponed to allow both parties to explore the possibility of reaching an amicable solution.

Vavi also wrote a letter to De Ruyter and Makgoba, complaining about Chettiar’s victimisation. He told Sunday Independent that his federation wanted “Oberholzer to go” because “he is conflicted and corrupt”.

Vavi warned Du Ruyter and Makgoba that they would be seen “as being in cahoots to his corruption at Eskom” should they fail to fire Oberholzer.