Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) CEO Cas Coovadia has defended Business Leadership South Africa’s (BLSA) funding of a private investigation into corruption at Eskom.
BLSA is a member of BUSA, which former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter approached to help fund a “risk assessment into criminal activity and sabotage at the utility”.
According to Coovadia, De Ruyter told the organisation that there was a serious threat to Eskom’s grid at the time due to sabotage.
“We were absolutely clear at that time that energy is a critical factor for business and citizens of the country – it is a national issue,” said Coovadia, speaking to Business Day TV.
BLSA contributed R18 million towards the R50 million investigation. Neither the Eskom board nor the public were informed that the investigation was taking place.
De Ruyter appointed George Fivaz Forensic and Risk to conduct the investigation and compile a report of its findings.
He then used the findings of this report to publicly make corruption allegations against unnamed ANC and government officials in an interview with eNCA.
However, News24 and journalist Jacques Pauw, who examined the report, said it “contained no facts” and was “effectively worthless”.
The investigation also relied on evidence collected by a former Apartheid operative, Tony Oosthuizen.
According to Pauw, Oosthuizen holds racist views and boasts about committing murders during the Apartheid era.
During a hearing with Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), De Ruyter refused to name the ministers and officials he accused of being involved in corruption at the utility.
Following this, the report was summarily discredited as useless in the fight against corruption at the utility, and BLSA has been criticised for its involvement.
However, Coovadia defended BLSA’s decision to fund the investigation. He said BUSA and BLSA have worked with the government and funded issues related to logistics, energy and crime in the country.
The organisation believes crime and corruption are “inhibitors to investment and growth in South Africa” and “contribute to an erosion of confidence in the country”.
However, the organisation tends to take a “hands-off approach” when providing funding and does not usually get involved in procuring service providers.
This was also the case when the former Eskom CEO approached the organisation, saying he needed a service provider to try and unearth what is happening at Eskom from a sabotage and corruption point of view.
“We accepted that we funded that, and then it was up to the CEO of Eskom and Eskom to put into place a service provider,” said Coovadia.
Therefore, the organisation was not aware that George Fivaz Forensic and Risk employed a former Apartheid operative – something Coovadia identified as a “serious issue”.
However, Coovadia said that while he did not know where people like Pauw and others got their information about the report from, the report he has contains sufficient information for law enforcement agencies to look further.
“The report we have, we believe, has sufficient information in it that law enforcement agencies could use to unpack and perhaps look at ways of investigating and digging deeper into some of the allegations in the report,” he said.
“We believe that sufficient connections have been made between certain individuals and what’s happening at Eskom that should be investigated.”
He said the report has already yielded some positive results.
In his State of the Nation Address earlier this year, the President announced that 43 people have been arrested due to “intelligence-driven operations at Eskom-related sites”.
This is also something De Ruyter refers to in his submission to Scopa as “corroborative evidence that intelligence related to alleged corruption has been shared with law enforcement authorities and that they are acting on it”.
Coovadia pointed to this as evidence of some positive results from the report, saying the arrests resonated with some of the findings in the private report. He, therefore, assumed the report was given to law enforcement agencies and that they had acted upon it.
However, he added there could be more positive results “if more law enforcement agencies look into it”.
“We would certainly urge government and law enforcement agencies to look carefully at the report and see where there are possibilities of investigating, where things do look suspicious, and there could be a way or means of investigating.”
Although BUSA stands by BLSA’s decision to fund the report, it said it learned some lessons from the experience.
Specifically, the organisation learned two things it would consider the next time the government approaches it for funding.
The first lesson relates to how service providers are chosen. “We don’t want to be involved in determining who the service providers are because those people should be accountable to whichever department in government approaches us.”
However, the organisation would like some assurance that whoever is appointed as the service provider does not have issues related to its staffing or its conduct that could badly affect the business organisation funding the service.
The second lesson is to encourage more transparency when funding a project.
This would be done by speaking to the institution asking for funding for a sensitive matter, and making it clear that the public will have to be informed when the time is right.
“We would err on the side of transformation and transparency, but there are certain circumstances where things have to be treated fairly sensitively because of the nature of the work we are supporting.”