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DA raises questions over Eskom food subsidies

By Staff Writer
Approximately 37% (17 000 people) of Eskom’s staff have access to “dining facilities and canteens that provide subsidised meals,” according to the Sunday Times and opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). The news comes at a time where consumers are enduring many hours of load shedding and much uncertainty around when new power stations Kusile and Medupi will be finally built.
 
What’s more, the parastatal has come under much fire with South Africans demanding to know how executives could fetch such high salaries and bonuses despite Eskom’s lack of management and service delivery. Eskom is also cash-strapped since many municipalities have not paid what is owed to the parastatal.
 
But fresh information has arisen concerning subsidised meals for Eskom workers at a high cost to Eskom and, indirectly, South Africa’s taxpayers. One of the concerns of Natasha Mazzone, DA Shadow Minister of Public Enterprises, is that Eskom is reportedly spending close to R1 billion on catering and food subsidies at its Kusile and Medupi power plants, while electricity prices have been increased by 12.69% for direct customers and 14.25% for municipalities. In addition, the government is looking to sell off assets in order to provide Eskom with the promised R23 billion bailout.
 
Mazzone has sent a letter to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises, Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba “requesting that she urgently summon Eskom’s Acting Finance Director, Nonkululeko Veleti, to appear before the Committee.” However, due to the long weekend the delivery of the letter was delayed, and Mazzone had not yet had a response.
 
Catering contracts and food subsidies
 
Mazzone pointed out that during strike action, the DA receives letters from the striking workers informing them about problems. “One of the things that was brought to our attention is that the food [that they receive] was rotten or really old.”
 
According to Mazzone, Eskom needs to make the process of applying for food subsidies, as well as the tender process for distributing the catering contracts public.
 
“We want the chief financial officer (CFO) to come [to Parliament] and let us know exactly what the procurement process is and who signs off on the procurement process… We would also like to know if there is someone like a nutritionist, for example, looking at what the best kind of foods are for different sectors of the workforce to be eating, because obviously if you’re doing hard labour you’re going to need a diet high in vitamins probably high in calories as well, but healthy calories. So we don’t want this to be a case of people eating rubbish just to fill them up. We want to know that workers doing manual labour are actually receiving the correct kind of food,” explained Mazzone.
 
Furthermore, the question of who is eligible for the food subsidies needs to be addressed. Mazzone highlighted that at present it is not clear whether these food subsidy packages are only for manual labourers, or if senior management get them too.
 
However, she noted: “We have been told the more senior executives do not get a food subsidy, but this has just been told in passing, we want it in writing as to who gets food subsidies and who doesn’t.”
 
While it is important that Eskom’s employees receive a meal, especially if it is included in their contract, Mazzone pointed out that “we need to look at ways of making sure they get the best possible food for the best possible price.”
 
She added: “I think we need to look at realistically what Eskom can afford. We’ve seen amounts going into the billions of Rands for food subsidies, and obviously this is not sustainable. Given the financial situation of Eskom and the fact that South Africans now have to bear the brunt of their financial mismanagement due to the fact that our electricity prices are being increased.”
 
One of the possible ways to reduce the cost is to cut out the middle man and going straight to the supplier. “What we’re saying is we have to look at what the best food is, at the best cost and that might mean cutting out middle men. Again we need to see what the procurement process is that Eskom is using.”
 
Mazzone highlighted that as a state owned entity, Eskom should be contributing to job creation, and they could make use of local suppliers in order to do this. “I think Eskom has a responsibility to make sure that they are involved in job creation and uplifting of communities where they have projects going on.”
 
Access to Eskom documentation
 
Mazzone stated that as Eskom is a state owned entity, all documents should be available to the public via the Eskom website, as well as in hard copy. However, the guidelines and procedures for the procurement process of catering contracts, as well as who is eligible for the food subsidies has not been made public.
 
“Are there any guidelines at Eskom, we don’t know. That’s the bigger reason why we want the CFO to come and explain to us how these things are sorted,” she added.

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