The former minister of public enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, has denied giving an instruction that Eskom officials should enter into an agreement with Gupta-owned The New Age (TNA).
Gigaba denied the allegation in his version of events submitted to the commission of inquiry into state capture chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
On Tuesday, Eskom’s acting general manager: strategic marketing and branding, Peter Pretorius, took the witness stand at the commission to give evidence relating to the contracts between Eskom and TNA.
Pretorius told the commission that representatives from TNA had made a proposal to Eskom for the state-owned entity (SOE) to take up advertising space from the New Age newspaper, subscribe to the now-defunct publication, and sponsor the TNA’s corporate business breakfasts, which were broadcast on SABC.
The commission heard that the newspaper was not accredited with the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
It was proposed that Eskom would sponsor the corporate business breakfasts with R1 million per show, Pretorius said, which he said he rejected, only agreeing to procure some advertising from the newspaper but giving a definite figure of how much that advertising would cost.
Pretorius said with regards to the sponsorship of the breakfasts, he questioned himself “where would my R1 million be going if they were going to be selling tickets”.
He said that following a meeting where the proposal was made, he gave feedback to Eskom’s executive for corporate affairs, Chose Choeu, who told him to conclude the contract because an instruction had come from the minister.
Pretorius said that following the initial meeting, he was invited to another meeting with Choeu, an individual he could not recall and the CEO of the Gupta’s Oakbay Investments, Nazeem Howa.
At the meeting, Pretorius said he again raised his concerns over the sponsorship of the business breakfast, however, he said Howa asked to him to leave as he and Choeu had other business to discuss.
Pretorius said it was clear to him that the instruction had come from the minister because in email correspondence between Eskom officials on “The New Age discussions”, the minister’s staff were copied.
He further said Choeu had spoken to the acting CEO at the time, Brian Dames, who told him that the minister had said the contract would be concluded.
Pretorius disagreed with Gigaba’s denial that he had given such instruction and interfering with operational matters at Eskom, saying the former minister had interfered with the operations at the SOE on many other occasions and because “there would be no plausible reason for Mr Dames or Mr Choeu to force me to go into a contract other than an instruction from somebody higher up”.
“There was a lot of interference from the department of public enterprises since the start of load shedding in 2008,” Pretorius said, adding that this included interference in coal contracts at Eskom where Gigaba had allegedly been part of the discussions.
The agreement between Eskom and TNA for the sponsorship of the business breakfasts was signed on April 13, 2011.