BLSA CEO Letter – 8 May 2023
POSTED ON: May 8, 2023 IN by Admin
By Busisiwe Mavuso
The attack on De Ruyter and the risk assessment that BLSA part-funded must be seen in terms of who stands to benefit.
BLSA exists to support the creation of a conducive environment for business. That is essential for inclusive economic growth, investment and jobs.
There is no bigger issue for that environment than Eskom. Electricity insecurity has damaged many of our businesses, made many investments impossible and destroyed jobs. It affects businesses both big and small while damaging the quality of lives of ordinary South Africans.
Perhaps the next biggest challenge is law and order. Organised crime has become a major problem for the business sector, which has been subject to growing extortion threats, sabotage and much else, on top of the background levels of criminality that afflict our country.
That is why when BLSA was approached by Eskom CEO André de Ruyter in 2021 to fund an assessment of the risks to Eskom from criminality, we were happy to consider it. In de Ruyter’s view, corruption and organised crime were and are a material part of the problems afflicting Eskom. This intractable problem required skilled external resources to investigate and understand, resources that Eskom itself could not provide and which the criminal justice system, including the police, had not provided to a sufficient degree.
I am acutely conscious that BLSA acts to serve the interests of our members. They provide the funding that supports our operations. We must deploy our limited resources in the way that delivers the greatest return. My colleagues and I believe that we can do that by helping to end the electricity crisis and support institutions of law and order and that is why these are our top two priorities in our strategy.
De Ruyter’s request aligned with both of those priorities. He was clear that organised crime and sabotage were major factors afflicting Eskom, alongside financial and operational issues. I know from our own members that many are also victims of the same challenges. Indeed, the criminal networks that have infiltrated Eskom use similar modus operandi to the issues other businesses have faced.
Our efforts to help resolve the electricity crisis are multi-faceted. We have been robust supporters of the National Electricity Crisis Committee (Necom), contributing significantly to the R100m Resource Mobilisation Fund that will cover the technical skills required by Necom to advance its plan to deal with the electricity crisis. We have also contributed through Tamdev to supporting Operation Vulindlela to implement already agreed policy that will help resolve the electricity crisis and have seconded skills to municipalities and other institutions to support maintenance and repair of infrastructure.
Similarly, we have worked hard to confront the law and order challenges we face as a country. Following the publishing of the Zondo report into state capture, we engaged the National Prosecuting Authority on how we could support capacity in dealing with the recommendations of the report. That led to a memorandum of understanding that allows BLSA to provide funding to deploy resources under the NPA’s direction, ensuring the independence of the prosecuting authority. Through our division Business Against Crime, we provide multiple sources of support to the police, including our Eyes and Ears campaign which ensures business, including private security companies, gathers information for the police and provides technical skills and resources to support policy work. In these efforts we are supporting the capacity of these institutions to deliver on their mandates.
De Ruyter’s request was a natural extension of these programmes of support and so we agreed to the request. As in the other cases, we were at pains to not involve ourselves in the scope or people involved. But we were comfortable that the resources were necessary for De Ruyter to deliver on his mandate of improving electricity availability. Given it also would help confront a major area of organised criminal activity, our judgment was that it would be an appropriate use of our resources.
Do I hope the results could have been better? Of course, they could have been. The work could have led to the successful prosecution of criminal syndicates and stripped Eskom of a major impediment to its operations. But it has not been fruitless – far from it. In January, 25 arrests were made in connection with sabotage, theft and fraud at Eskom, and several were more made last year. These were supported by the intelligence gathered from the various investigations De Ruyter oversaw, including, we understand, that partly funded by BLSA. In time, much more could be achieved from our intervention.
These are of course a major threat to vested interests who have substantial resources to deploy. These interests are deeply invested in sustaining their extraction from the utility and other targets. When I see narratives being pushed about Eskom’s need to favour certain generation sources over others – even to the extent of contradicting existing government policy – we must always ask whose interests they serve.
Similarly, the attack on De Ruyter and the risk assessment that BLSA part-funded must be seen in terms of who stands to benefit. There are powerful actors, with strong motives both to stay out of jail and to maintain their access to resources, who can push narratives to serve their interests. These vested interests are motivated both to challenge the transition to renewables, even though it is clearly the best (ie, quickest and cheapest) way to resolve the energy crisis but from which they do not have the means of extraction, and to extort and corrupt Eskom.
We have been attacked for our actions in backing De Ruyter in his mission to deal with criminality in Eskom. That is to be expected – this is not a fight that will go unchallenged. As BLSA, however, we will not shy away from a robust stance on organised crime and corruption, even more so when it puts dealing with the energy crisis at risk too.
These efforts are always informed by the input our members provide me and our executive teams. Members have told us of how both crime and corruption and electricity interruptions have damaged businesses. That input helps strengthen our resolve and evolve our strategy to have the greatest impact. Please do keep the input coming and I am always available to discuss our decisions on Eskom or any other matter you feel would help us to improve the business environment. This is in the interest not only of business but of the broader polity too. We cannot shirk our responsibility to do what we can to improve the business environment and the lives of ordinary South Africans.
BLSA is a business organisation that believes in South Africa’s future and shares the values set out in the Constitution. In 2017, BLSA signed a contract with South Africa, committing business to playing its part in creating a South Africa of increasing prosperity for all by harnessing the resources and capabilities of business in partnership with government and civil society to deliver economic growth, transformation and inclusion.
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