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Trio of ministers leading to confusion in dealing with energy crisis, says parties and analyst

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Reports have emerged from the ANC’s National Executive Committee meeting this weekend that there is tension between Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa.

Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa on the day he was sworn in as a minister.
Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa was appointed Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity. However there have been reports of tension emerging between Ramokgopa and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. File Picture: Ayanda Ndamane African News Agency (ANA).

OPPOSITION parties and an energy expert have raised concerns about the non-alignment of the interests of the country’s three ministers dealing with the power crisis, saying this creates confusion over the strategy to deal with rampant load shedding.

Reports have emerged from the ANC’s National Executive Committee meeting this weekend that there is tension between Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa.

The three ministers are expected to meet this week in an attempt to resolve the significant hurdles.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday denied that there was a stand-off over control of Eskom, saying there were no territorial battles on the issue and that upon Ramokgopa’s appointment, he made it absolutely clear what the roles of the three ministers would be.

However, Ramaphosa has yet to promulgate a gazette setting out Ramokgopa’s powers, despite appointing him in March.

This means that Ramokgopa has not been able to implement a plan for rapid transition towards renewable energy.

It is believed that Ramokgopa’s main stumbling block is Treasury’s decision that Eskom will not be granted new loans and will have to rely on its tariff revenue to fix ailing power stations and carry out maintenance – leaving the new minister without the means to implement interventions to deal with load shedding in the short term.

Interventions – that will require additional resources – have been suggested by Anil Sardana, MD and chief executive of Adani Transmission Limited.

Sardana told the ANC cabinet lekgotla in January that India had resolved its energy issues by inviting the private sector to set up new capacity, renovating and modernising and extending the life of existing plants for achieving additional generation and flexible operation of thermal and hydro power stations to facilitate integration of renewable generation.

The Treasury has requested international consultants from a consortium of five German-based companies to review Eskom’s operations.

Some of their recommendations must be implemented before Eskom can access its R254 billion bailout, announced in the 2023 Budget.

Energy expert Lungile Mashele said the discord between the three ministers was imminent.

“You cannot have Eskom reporting to three ministries and a regulator (National Energy Regulator of South Africa ) that all have their own requirements and direction.

“The only way to solve the impasse is for the president to transfer powers through Section 97 of the Constitution to the minister of electricity,” he said.

Mashele said Ramokgopa did well by consulting with Eskom, which as the owners of the assets, knows what needs to be done.

“They are correct in running the coal-fired plants beyond their hard stop decommissioning dates. We saw this happen in Europe during the energy crisis. You can’t decommission the fleet unless you have an equal and reliable replacement.”

She said Ramaphosa needed to make it clear what Ramokgopa was responsible for. “It’s way overdue and has contributed to the reported conflict. The key issues being Eskom oversight which lies with the Department of Public Enterprises and energy planning and procurement which lies with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.”

DA MP Kevin Mileham said the party had warned, before Ramokgopa’s appointment, that the electricity sector was a heavily contested space.

“The legislation that governs electricity is clear, Eskom and the Electricity Regulation Act and some aspects of the Nersa Act fall under Gwede Mantashe, the specific minister responsible for the act. To change this, legislation has to be changed,” said Mileham.

“There is mass confusion with different ministers pulling in different directions. This is not going to help,” Mileham said.

Build One South Africa leader Mmusi Maimane said intra-ANC politics was affecting the ability to have a central plan to deal with the electricity crisis.

“The minister of electricity needs to have one plan and all role-players, private and public, need to support that plan.”

IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa had said Ramokgopa’s appointment was unnecessary and was a duplication of resources, but they expected Ramaphosa to have a performance agreement with the new minister.

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