André de Ruyter, Eskom’s chief executive, has personally helped to identify more than R3 million in overpayments made to Eskom’s suppliers for knee guards. De Ruyter and his team managed to recover over R1 million in just two weeks.
A former employee paid back almost R1.2 million within mere hours after being identified by De Ruyter and Eskom. News24 reported that the money was repaid late in the night of 4 August 2021 and in the early hours of the following morning.
De Ruyter apparently asked that Eskom act against suppliers found to have overcharged the power utility in 2020 – the same year the overpayments were made. When De Ruyter found that little progress was being made on the investigations, he stepped in himself. The investigation was conducted by Eskom’s internal forensic department.
The company has identified three suppliers who collectively scored just under R3 million in overcharging for knee guards, with one supplier allegedly not having delivered a single pair, even though he was paid by the company.
De Ruyter previously told members of the media that Eskom, in the past, paid up to R80 000 for a set of knee guards. Knee guards usually cost between R100 and R300 at hardware stores. The knee guards are used by Eskom workers when they scour and clean the insides of pipes, chimneys, and other areas at power stations.
According to spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha, negotiations are now underway to recoup the outstanding amounts from two other suppliers, and Eskom has laid criminal complaints with the South African Police Service (SAPS).
De Ruyter reportedly confronted a former employee on the 4th of August 2021 about links to a supplier, who turned out to be a relative. The employee – who has since left Eskom – was responsible for contracting and transacting with the supplier, and ensured payment of more than R1.1 million. There seems to have been no indication that the knee guards were ever delivered, and the employee repaid the money within 24 hours however, Eskom is still taking legal action against the former employee and the supplier.
“Following internal forensic investigations, under the guidance of the NPA, Eskom has laid criminal charges with the SAPS,” Mantshantsha said.
In another case, a supplier paid R4 000 for knee guards but charged Eskom R934 000. When confronted, the supplier acknowledged the inflated pricing. Eskom has entered a legal process to recoup the money.
“These are the instances we know about, and I can only assume that there is a lot more,” De Ruyter said in February. “If you are a functionally responsive leader, you get into your car and sort those issues out.”
De Ruyter added that Eskom did not have a catalogue of goods, suppliers or spending limits to work with, instead. it relies on “free-text procurement”, which allows officials to buy goods at prices they have determined themselves.