Eskom’s R36m party spree
Eskom blew R36 million on parties for its staff and their families last year – enough money to power more than a million poor households with a basic free electricity subsidy for a month.
Media24 Investigations has obtained copies of the contracts for the spree of bashes last year after filing an access to information application.
The disclosure comes on the back of a 16 per cent tarrif hike and flies in the face of President Jacob Zuma’s call on the parastatal to cushion the price blow for consumers.
Eskom is about to apply to the electricity regulator for another five year price determination.
Earlier this year critics reacted with shock when a newspaper revealed that Eskom had spent R3 million for a family fun day in Cape Town.
But that was the tip of the party budget.
From October last year the parastatal spent a staggering R36 504 036.44 on seven “family fun days”.
This is enough money to give more than one million indigent households the basic allocation of 50 free kilowatts each for a month.
A key contract for the bulk of the spending which was provided through an access to information application had the name of the contractor removed as the company would not agree to the disclosure of their identity.
However, Media24 Investigations has established that Blackmagic Communications was awarded the lucrative main deal worth more than R35million.
Asked to comment, the company responded through their lawyers, saying: “Blackmagic has nothing further to say than what is contained in the documents that have already been provided to you by Eskom” and complained they had not been given enough time to respond to questions.
The first contract awarded was for the planning and organizing of five “Generation family days” which catered for almost 12 000 people in Gauteng worth over R4million; two fun days for Witbank totaling over R10million and others in Lephalale at close to R5 million.
The Cape Town fun day in March – which cost R3,4million and which caused a sensation when it was revealed earlier this year – was in fact the second for Eskom in the region over the last year.
The first family fun day was held last year November and was worth close to R5million.
Another fun day held in Durban cost a further R1millon and was contracted seperately.
Lemias Mashile, Deputy President of the South African Civic Organisation (SANCO), said Eskom’s spending of millions of rand on parties was an insult to the poor.
“There is no logical linkage of misusing so much and [then for Eskom to] cry for increased electricity tariffs,” Mashile added.
Besides the millions spent on the contracts, close to R500 000 was further spent by the parastatal on among other things, hiring buses and taxis for employees, hiring the grounds of the University of Western Cape, a five-day stay at the Protea Hotel in Cape Town, face painting and Bingo in Durban and buying 180 burgers and drinks at a roadside cafe outside Cape Town.
The Witbank region fun day included performances by biggest artists including TearGas, Liquid Deep and Cash Time.
Paul Crankshaw, deputy chairman of the National Consumer Forum, said it was insensitive for Eskom to spend millions on fun days when citizens were buckling under power price hikes.
“This sound to us like a strange way of motivating staff and encouraging teamwork. Sound and professional management on every level – to build capacity and accountability – is what motivates and raises morale in the long-term, not family picnics,” he said.
Hilary Joffe, Eskom’s spokesperson, said that the fun days were an opportunity to thank employees for their hard work and commitment for ‘Keeping the Lights On’.
She added that “surveys conducted by HR have shown an upward trend in morale and pride in belonging to the division.”
Tim Harris, DA Shadow Minister of Finance said it was inappropriate for a parastatal to be spending so much on parties.
“They need to show their commitment to constraining non-core expenditure. I would like to know how Eskom can justify this expenditure whilst consumers are being hammered across the board,” he said.
ONE MAN’S STRUGGLE WITH POWER
KwaThema resident Lohlohonolo Ntsabatse spends more on electricity than to put food on the table.
The 54-year-old father of four only finds occassional “piece work” and when he does earn it’s Eskom, he says, that takes the largest slice of his pie.
“Sometimes I will make R30 from a job, but I will have to buy electricity for R20 and buy bread or mealie meal for my children with the rest,” said Ntsabatse.
Ntsabatse said a couple of days ago he received his free 50 kilowatt allocation for the month and was also able to R20 worth of electricity but he says he has to monitor it constantly.
He tries to save the little electricity he can afford by using a coal stove. At times though he can’t even afford the coal and has to push a wheelbarrow for close to two hours to fetch wood in the veld.
“In winter it becomes so cold and we can’t use the heater because we need to save electricity. When my children have to boil water to make tea, I can’t stop them just because we are trying to save electricity. I just have to wake up earlier, try to get work and buy more electricity,” he said.
KwaThema residents protested in May for discounted electricity rates “because the people simply cannot afford these increases,” said Ntsabatse.
“It’s like the government is punishing us by giving us a taste of the good life with electricity, then making it so expensive,” he said.