Spring 2007

"Eskom is a psychopath"

Although Eskom is a state owned utility company, it acts very much like a public limited company.

23 January 2009

Regrettably it shares many of the characteristics common to the modern corporation, including at least some of the identified personality traits of a ‘psychopath’.

ESKOM HAS OVER RECENT YEARS put considerable effort into making a show of accountability, but like so much of the ‘corporate social responsibility’ agenda, partial information and the showcasing of add-on initiatives obscures the big picture. For example, while its annual report, which is fairly comprehensive by South African standards, lists the number of customers served, we are not told how many actually receive the free basic allocation of 50kWh per month mandated by government. Similarly, the report lists emissions of priority pollutants and identifies some interventions to improve environmental performance, but does not commit to quantified objectives.

It is often hard to unravel culpability between the corporation and the state, particularly as the Eskom Board are not publicly accountable. Recent media coverage has revealed that it was government policy, rather than Eskom, that held up development of new generation capacity around the turn of the century. What has not been well publicised is that Eskom management turned from national imperatives to elaborate a corporate strategy premised on anticipated liberalisation of energy markets and embarked on a massive programme of expansion into Africa, particularly through its short-lived, unregulated subsidiary, Eskom Enterprises. While refurbishment of mothballed coal-fired power stations was delayed and calls for the development of renewable energy went unanswered, senior executives lobbied for development aid funds to underwrite returns on ‘private’ investment, in the name of Africa’s poor.

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