PARLIAMENT, January 24 – Former Eskom chief financial officer Anoj Singh was accused of lying about who paid for his travels to Dubai and ducking questions about suspect transactions he approved in his testimony before the parliamentary inquiry into the power utility on Tuesday.
After more than four hours of questions and roundabout answers, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan said Singh, who resigned on the eve of his appearance, charged that Singh’s testimony was a farce.
“It is now about four to five hours that we have heard this refrain — ‘that was nine months, a year ago’,” Gordhan said of Singh’s repeated objection that he had not been asked to prepare for questions about a particular Eskom transaction.
“You are lying, you are evasive, you are less than helpful, and we are going to come to worse conclusions. Do you think we are little children?” the former National Treasury chief snapped.
This came as Singh insisted that he believed there had been approval from National Treasury for a deal that bound the utility to pay a R400m “signature fee” to an offshore entity for raising a $2 billion loan from China to build or refurbish power stations.
Singh suggested that the problem was that a memorandum on which he had based his decision to sign the term sheet for contract was not before the committee.
It earned him one of many rebukes from evidence leader Advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara.
“You are very evasive on issues where you had a direct responsibility and where things went wrong,” he said.
Singh denied that he had given false information to Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, resulting in her misleading Parliament by replying to a question on whether “any contracts of engagement have been concluded” between Eskom and the Gupta-linked Trillian and “what are the costs involved in each case”, firstly “none” and secondly “not applicable”.
He said technically the response had been accurate but the full picture was not given because “ancillary information had been removed”.
Gordhan called Singh a “delinquent” director who had flouted the Public Finance Management Act and part of a “vast conspiracy” to funnel taxpayers’ money to the Gupta family.
Earlier in his testimony, Singh was called out by Vanara for denying that the politically connected family had funded some of his frequent trips to Dubai.
Vanara confronted him with proof that a flight to Dubai in 2017 and a week-long stay in a luxury hotel a few years earlier were both funded by Sahara Computers, which belongs to the Gupta brothers suspected of sapping billions from state-owned enterprises in shady rent-seeking deals.
Singh had insisted that “the Gupta family did not pay for any of my travels”. Instead he said the cost was covered by a mutual acquaintance, one Mr Alburushi, who invited him to the United Arab Emirates.
After confronting Singh with the paid invoice, retrieved from the leaked Gupta emails, Vanara asked whether Alburushi, who dealt in property, had any link with Sahara Computers.
Singh conceded: “Not that I know.”
He said he had no personal relationship with the Gupta family though he had met the brothers and may have crossed paths with them when they stayed at the same hotel in Dubai.
Responding to questions from Democratic Alliance MP Natasha Mazzone, Singh said he could not remember what he did in Dubai during five day stay.
Vanara focused at length on Eskom’s decision to award a coal contract to the Gupta family’s Tegeta Exploration and how it came about that a penalty imposed on the Optimum coal mine it had acquired was slashed.
He confronted Singh with a note from former Oakbay board member Mark Parmensky demanding that the R2.1 billion penalty imposed by the utility on Glencore, the previous owner of the mine, be made to “go away”.
Singh said he had left the arbitration process that saw the fine reduced to less than half a billion rand in the hands of former Eskom head of legal Suzanne Daniels, but had signed off on it because she was not comfortable doing both. He said he had not viewed the fine as “cast in stone”.
“Ms Daniels was responsible for negotiations at the time. Ms Daniels believed that given the fact that she was negotiating the contracted it would not be appropriate for her to sign it.”
The inquiry was sparked in part by former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s 2015 report in which she found that Eskom appeared to have gone out of its way to ensure that Tegeta obtained the Optimum mine and a lucrative coal supply contract.
MPs have in recent months heard how Eskom, in a hastily convened late night meeting, approved a prepayment of more than R600 million to Tegeta that helped it to buy the Optimum mine.
Singh notoriously also helped Tegeta secure a bank guarantee from Absa with a view to the acquisition, but it was never utilised.
– African News Agency (ANA),