…..article dated 2 September 2020…..
CEF to restructure both PetroSA and NECSA…..
In what appears to be the first serious attempt to organise and restructure the struggling state entity Central Energy Fund (CEF) and rescue what will now be branded as South Africa’s ‘national petroleum company’ in the form of PetroSA, Minister of Energy, Gwede Mantashe and the relatively new CEO of CEF, Dr Ishmael Poolo, faced a barrage of questions during their scheduled update to Parliament on the fortunes of the troubled group. CEF appears to be handling two intensive recovery programme at the same time, including at last replacing a swathe of acting posts.
The first, smaller programme will be the merger of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA) with subsidiaries Pelchem and NTP Radioisotopes, for which a common board has now been established. The programme includes a drive to return to profit recovering from the massive losses sustained by NECSA providing for a nuclear programme under the tenure-ship of Jacob Zuma’s presidency and which never materialised.
Project Inkwezi, remember?
The second recovery exercise is to sort out and re-build CEF’s entity, PetroSA, after its long-running saga of failure over the Mossel Bay gas-to-liquid venture. Having had no CEO for 5 years and left to drift without any co-ordinated approach to the industry it was supposed to serve, PetroSA has been in the wilderness without a technical plan to re-establish its presence called for by Parliament for even longer. Paralysis and ignorance on the part of successive ministers has also been to blame.
Involving billions of rands, the second issue is, by a long chalk, the most damaging to the national fiscus and although both matters are an acknowledged disgrace in terms of financial management, nobody in government, in this case both the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and CEF, has come with a proper financial plan on the way forward or have been called to account for the mess.
CEF has also suffered SIU investigations into the illegal sale of oil stocks held by the national Strategic Fuel Fund (SFF), another of its entities, a numerous enquiries instigated by the Auditor General.
In inheriting the problems, Minister Gwede Mantashe has insisted that new management teams be found to head up not only CEF at the top but also for both NECSA and PetroSA in an attempt to bring fresh perspectives to the whole group. This means, of course, that the Minister has also decided that both entities, NECSA and PetroSA, are to be saved and this despite the enormous cumulative losses on the balance sheet of CEF.
Not only this, but he insists that the group moved into the black as a whole in the shortest time, but this is only made possible by the fact that it’s entities will have continue functionally bankrupt in the meanwhile.
In the case of NECSA, new appointments are about to be made, MPs were told. In the case of PetroSA, CEF chairperson Dr Monde Mnyande announced earlier this year that Pragasen Naidoo had been appointed as CEO of what is now branded as the “new national oil company.” Dr Mnyande said at the time that this move was the first step in “breathing new life in CEF”. He said that more appointments would follow.
In his first appearance before Parliament, the new CEO of CEF, Dr Ishmael Poolo and appointed by Dr Mnyande in May, told the Committee that a consortium of the three consultancies Mazars, Bayajula Services and US consultancy AT Kearney, are now contracted to assist CEF in the process of merging the entities of SFF and i-Gas into PetroSA.
On a second separate exercise of absorbing Pelchem and NTP Radioisotopes into NECSA, an announcement on the names of consultants to be used in this case would shortly occur, he said.
A major refurbishing process was now being hastened in the case of PetroSA, Dr Pollo said, because of the advent of the Upstream Petroleum Resources Development Bill, the crux of which Bill was to allow for PetroSA to receive the benefits of “free carry” gas and petroleum exploration rights granted by the state, thereby fulfilling its mandate as the state’s contractual agent.
“Such a merger of interests, led by a strong PetroSA, would unlock the upstream petroleum economy”, Dr Pollo told MPs, “whilst also maximising the socio-economic benefits flowing from such arrangements and assisting the Minister in realising the state’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).”
In an earlier report back to MPs this year, CEF had confirmed that PetroSA had incurred losses totalling R20bn since 2014, mostly in its attempts to stave off shutting down Mossel Bay as a community in a downhill battle for additional gas for its gas-to-liquids refinery, which itself has also had a chequered production life.
Dr Pollo said that now PetroSA was currently producing at a rate of only 6,000 barrels per day, primarily due to shortages of gas from drilling and well operations in nearby coastal waters. MPs were told by him that PetroSA’s headcount remained at the same level as it had been when producing at an earlier daily rate of 18,000 barrels. He drew attention to the fact that PetroSA was a relatively large company and it accounted for a large portion of CEF’s 1 800 employees.
It was important for PetroSA to refurbish the refinery and upgrade its ability to take on more gas supplied as part of the overall plan for liquid fuels, Dr Poolo said, and the restructuring processes in respect of merging SSF and i-Gas into one group was to start Sept. 1. He said that CEF was exploring its options for either selling or finding a partner to assist with “the commercialisation” of the gas-to-liquid unit.
Dr Poolo concluded by telling MPs that he would return to Parliament in October and account to them on progress of the PetroSA stabilization programme. During questions, labour issues immediately arose immediately because retrenchments would follow
The Minister said that PetroSA had three union movements involved and negotiations were underway regarding retrenchments which could not be avoided. Only one of the three plants at Mossel Bay was operating and lay-offs were being limited to the smallest number possible, the unions “having acknowledged that over-staffing existed”. He had told unions that success with PetroSA would result in further employment at a future date.
Questions from both the EFF and DA concerned consultancy fees being paid. Dr Poolo replied that on retrenchments, the internal teams had stated they were unable to be objective. “Obviously they could not ‘self-amputate’ and consequently, for many other reasons as well, third party consultants were preferable” Dr Poolo confirmed that both SFF and i-Gas were viable units but that PetroSA was reporting a loss of R200m for 2019/2020.
As to the future, MPs were told that both CEF and Sasol had indicated that talks on the sale of a stake in the Romco gas pipeline from Mozambique to South Africa were possible and discussions were well advanced. Other assets of Sasol for sale were being considered as Sasol was offloading to raise cash.
Refurbishing the Mossel Bay refinery in order to be able to use liquid feedstock was also part of the restructuring considerations, Dr Poolo said, and CEF was further exploring its options to find a partner to assist with the commercialisation of the PetroSA gas-to-liquid unit.
On matters regarding the re-structuring at NECSA, David Nicholls, board chairperson, told MPs that an “appointment of an external service provider was imminent” in order to act as consultant in the process of merging Pelchem and NTP Radioisotopes into its parent body. By eliminating the need for three boards and re-sizing, profitability would be seen sooner, he said
Nicholls added that in the short-term, losses of R239m in 2020-21 were projected bearing in mind that COVID-19 had cost an estimated R400m as a result of having on-board highly paid scientific experts but, nevertheless, the new NECSA was estimated to return to profitability in 2021-22, he felt.
He noted that in the meantime Pelchem was producing sanitisers in response to COVID-19 and that the Fund’s Ketlaphela Pharmaceuticals unit “was working hard toward the production of anti-retroviral medication at the soonest”.
DMRE tunes in
As the meeting progressed , a department of energy presence became evident as more members joined the meeting. In a discussion on general energy matters, Tseliso Maqubela, Deputy DG, Petroleum and Petroleum Products Regulation, DMRE, was called upon to answer the question from MPs as to why the country had very recently “run short of diesel in such critical times”.
He told MPs that the reason was theft direct from the pipeline by “ a highly organised group” in the Pretoria area, coupled with fuel unloading problems at the East London terminal due to a COVID-19 outbreak which had occurred.
In conclusion, Minister Mantashe, in answer to questions from Kevin Mileham (DA), committed DMRE to publishing an Integrated Energy Plan (IEP) before the end of the current parliamentary year. Mileham had pointed out that in terms of the Energy Act, a IEP was required from the ministry on an annual basis. Seven years had passed since the last energy plan and investors needed this.