MPs attack DPE on energy communications

DPE has a tough time on energy issues…

business-communicationsPoor communications with the public on the energy crisis and the limited ability of the ministries involved to communicate with state owned companies (SOCs) were issues raised during a report on SOCs falling under control of the department of public enterprises (DPE) during a meeting of the relevant portfolio committee.

The meeting was called to respond to the AG’s report on the performance targets of the DPE.

One opposition member complained that all bonuses paid to Eskom executives should be keyed to whether the lights stayed on or not. Despite there being six state utilities being reported on, it was questions on Eskom that occupied most of question time.

AG report about targets only

AGSA logoWaleed Omar, audit manager, auditor general’s office (AGSA), indicated to Parliament that no significant findings representing failings on issue targets were identified in their review of the DPE annual performance plan for the 2015/16 financial year.

It was explained by Sybrand Struwig, manager of AGSA, that any annual audit of actual performance period was prepared against pre-determined objectives, coupled with indicators and targets as contained in the annual performance report of a department.  Such confirmed compliance with laws and regulations.

The usefulness of this performance information against targets and the reliability of performance reporting enabled AGSA to compile an audit of a department or SOC to reflect an opinion or conclusion on performance against predetermined objectives and how risk had been managed.

DPE met standards set

Ms Matsietsi Mokholo, DPE acting DG, expanded on this by saying what in fact AGSA was saying to parliamentarians was that the exercise had been to assess DPE’s compliance according to AGSA’s matrix; how it aligned with the National Development Plan (NDP); and how issues were dealt with in terms of the medium strategic frameworks report (MTFs) made regularly to Parliament over the given period 2014 -2019.

She said the auditor general had confirmed that DPE was on track with regards to this alignment.  Indeed, she said, DPE had identified its key challenges and the risks which “could materialize” if measures within state owned entities under their control were not taken.

Eskom the only real SOE problem

In answer to MPs questions on Eskom, Ms Mokholo said that DPE has identified that the tense situation of load shedding needed to be carefully managed and monitored in order to avoid a blackout.   Currently the country has moved towards stage three of load shedding in order to avoid a blackout.

The issue was the only matter in the DPE portfolio of state owned companies (SOCs) that had major problems; otherwise DPE had a good record. However, she said, there were questions still being asked about how Eskom would prevent stage four which would apply in the case of a total blackout. This issue was now being addressed in its strategy plan and, consequently, the AG was satisfied that issues had been addressed not ignored. That was what the report was all about.

Medupi on or off

Other issues addressed were the unrest at the partly constructed Medupi power plant, which was difficult because the workers involved were not public servants, but the matter had been addressed and a resolution hoped for.   Another issue covered was a strategy to how further avert any downgrading of Eskom from a shareholder perspective, again most difficult because much was outside of DPE’s control.

DPE’s control over SOEs limited

Other matters being discussed were the whole issue of the reliance of SOCs on government guarantees and the reliance SOCs on road transportation.   It emerged during the discussion how little DPE could intervene in SOC management and parliamentarians said that thought should be given to this as the success of an SOC was imbedded in a minister’s performance agreement.

Ms Mokholo concluded that DPE currently was responsible for six SOCs. She said, “The challenges currently faced by Eskom should not be seen as a reflection on the performance of the entire portfolio. Eskom was the only SOC which was facing serious challenges”.

She repeated the fact that the others were doing well. AGSA confirmed that the corporate plan of any SOC was audited consistently throughout the portfolio of DPE’s SOCs and, as was reported in October 2014, the current portfolio at that time, with the exclusion of SA Express, did not have any material findings that worried AGSA.

Financials to come at end of year

Waleed Omar, audit manager, explained that AGSA did not wait until the end of a financial year to audit a department or entity’s financial plans. Financial audits were a completely separate issue. AGSA would provide input before the end of the financial year.

In this case, internal auditors of each SOC looked at the reliability of the information reported and whether the quarterly results were supported by the matching documents. AGSA would then rely on the work of internal audits. He said there have not been any instances at this stage within DPE at this stage showed any material differences between the findings of internal audits and those of AGSA.

Mr Omar explained that AGSA has considered the work of internal audits for the first two quarters of the financial year for 2014/15. AGSA followed a process according to international standards but this particular meeting showed that DPE’s operational plans were compliant.

DPE admits private sectors skills needed

When the committee started to discuss the gradual development of DPE into commercial sectors, Mr Ratha Ramatlhape, DPE director, added that many of the new strategies being triggered in the core entities of energy, manufacturing and transport would require bringing in technical experts from the outside to deal with the challenges being faced within the DPE portfolio.

Ms N Mazonne (DA) raised the fact that Eskom had paid bonuses to executives, none of which had achieved 100% of their key performance indicators (KPIs) which were therefore far too easy to reach.  DPE needed to tell Eskom, she demanded, that executive KPIs had to be aligned to whether the lights were kept on or not.

This indicated, the DA said, what the minister of public enterprises had been telling Parliament for some time to the effect that the level to which the DPE could intervene with SOCs was far too limited.   DPE could only play an advisory role it seemed, Mazonne said, and there needed to be legislation in place urgently to resolve this.

Legislation expected on minister’s powers

Ms Mokholo responded that DPE has already started working on giving ministers the power to intervene based on the Companies Act.  For example, she said, the DPE had a meeting with the Eskom board to deal with interventions which were not necessarily based on legal prescripts, an example being the co-generation contracts. She confirmed legislation was being looked at.

Opposition members were of one voice that although it was unfair to blame DPE for the electricity crisis, nevertheless, with the country at stage three of load shedding, there was no way DPE could deny that the economy and people’s lives were being badly affected. Current communication with Eskom was very poor, they said, and a national broadcast was needed to allay the air of panic that existed in some quarters of the economy.

The DPE responded that it had advised the Minister and the war room to release such a statement or the President to make a statement in his budget vote speech.

Other articles in this category or as background

Public enterprises reports on controversial year – ParlyReport

South Africa remains without rail plan – ParlyReport

SA Energy gets war room status – ParlyReportSA

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