Questions about the apparent dismissal of Karen Breytenbach as head of the Independent Power Producer Office (IPPO) are surging as South Africa stares down the barrel of shrinking gross domestic product (GDP), down 3.2% in the first quarter.
According to the department of energy under Minister Gwede Mantashe, the IPPO was established in 2010 “through a three-party memorandum of agreement between the department of energy, National Treasury and the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA)”, which was overseen by a joint implementation committee (JIC).
According the DBSA, it was at the department of energy’s behest that Breytenbach was offered a three-year fixed term employment contract as IPPO head.
“At the end of the contract, she had reached the DBSA’s mandatory retirement age of 60,” the DBSA stated. “In all its dealings with Ms Breytenbach, the DBSA acted in good faith and in a professional and transparent manner.”
The JIC then apparently offered Breytenbach a four-and-a-half-month contract while it searched for a new IPPO head.
She turned down the offer and has not returned requests for an interview on the matter.
Mantashe said: “Governance means you enforce the rules. The first rule of governance is to enforce the rules, monitor execution, and ensure we don’t treat some people [more] favourably [than others].”
But Democratic Alliance spokesperson Kevin Mileham said there was more to Breytenbach’s dismissal than meets the eye.
“According to the information I have, there was nine months left on her contract and she was not given a reason for the termination of her contract. It was just summarily terminated,” he said.
“It seems to me there is a clear move inside the department of minerals and energy being driven from the minister’s office.
“If a person is on a fixed-term contract, you do not have a mandatory retirement age. If you are a permanent employee, it is a different story.”
Mileham said Breytenbach had brought in $15 billion [R207 billion] of direct foreign investment without any maladministration or corruption.
“Breytenbach has rolled out 112 IPP projects which have saved our butts when it has come to load shedding, and the timing of this raises even more questions.”
According to a presentation made by Breytenbach to the parliamentary portfolio committee on energy in March last year, total foreign equity and financing invested in renewable energy independent power producers reached R48.7 billion by December 2017. The 27 projects to be signed on would provide further foreign investment of R17.9 billion and domestic investment of R38 billion.