News | Opinion | Columns
Richard Anthony Chemaly
Some of the coldest days in recent history are upon us and in response to the weather gods, Eskom is warning us of potential load shedding.
What a surprise.
Seriously though, it’s not a stretch to say that Eskom sucks and unsucking itself seems like a tall order at this stage, or any other stage it chooses to implement.
Fortunately, it is not the only massive national monopoly around the world that has suffered the inability to deliver on its purpose. From the UK’s National Health Services to the Arab Gulf countries’ airlines, there are many lessons to be learned about state entity renaissance.
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None, however, give a better lesson to our Eskom than the ego generated American one that once put dudes on the moon but, 40 years later, had to turn to Russia to send their dudes and dudettes 400km up. Hell, at least Eskom hasn’t turned to Russia yet, at least as far as we know.
In recent days, however, US space agency – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) – has suddenly been seeing its missions fulfilled while breaking all sorts of records and doing it on the cheap… Relatively.
This was not because they were selling out and got private industry to do their work for them, as many would have you believe. It’s because they repositioned themselves as facilitators of the work rather than the doers of the work. That works out excellently because they’ve incentivised organisations, not just SpaceX, to get rich by doing things more efficiently than Nasa could do themselves.
Make no mistake, Eskom also incentivises people to get rich but in pure South African fashion, it’s by playing middleman rather than adding any significant value. What’s worse is that unlike Nasa, Eskom doesn’t control its risk well, which is why coal plants that are outdated before they are even online get built at multiple times their budget.
The other difference is that Eskom’s goals are out of sync. Are they aiming to provide jobs? Are they aiming to provide electricity? Are they aiming to make electricity affordable? I’d wager that if you asked Eskom CEO André de Ruyter those questions publicly, or better yet, which takes priority, he would have a tough time answering.
That’s also not a big surprise, because we’ve gotten used to the idea of forcing the government to create unsustainable jobs at the expense of long term progress which, incidentally, would probably lead to even more sustainable jobs in the future. I mean, if we had steady cheap and accessible electricity, we’d have more certainty to start and run businesses. We could plan production accurately, or even save time not having to save our Word documents every 30 seconds.
At the very least, we could mine Bitcoin efficiently.
But no. If you look on the Department of Public Enterprises’ website, it tells us that the mandate of Eskom is, “To provide electricity in an efficient and sustainable manner, including its generation, transmission and distribution and retail. The company also has a developmental role and will promote transformation, economic development and brad based black economic empowerment .”
If you can get over the embarrassing typo that would give any tenderpreneur named Brad wet dreams, you’ll note that the weight on its shoulders is something no other company would envy.
The question then becomes, can Eskom do it on its own. The answer is a hard and clear NO! Clearly.
But neither could Nasa at a stage. The difference is that they were willing to admit it and see to it that even if they weren’t the ones to do it, their mandate gets fulfilled.
Yeah the law has opened up to private electrical suppliers, but Eskom’s silence on this is worrying.
Okay, they’re not entirely silent as they do have a one pager “Guide to Independent Power Producer (IPP) processes”. But that’s missing the point.
Eskom shouldn’t be just telling people how to go about producing independent power. It should be cultivating a private sector culture, which it will oversee, to form a part of fulfilling its mandate. It should be providing the complete picture so that private sector players can build the specific puzzle pieces efficiently.
It may be great for your ego to claim to be captain of a ship, even if the ship is sinking. Perhaps if somebody could show them that it would be better to be the admiral of an armada, kicking back while each ship plays its part in making sure the others don’t sink.
One dude builds a rocket that can land itself and Nasa saves billions, because they didn’t need to do it themselves.
We have 60 million people in this country. You can’t tell me that there won’t be a rush to compete for a budget to generate energy.
All Eskom has to do is put it out there and oversee it.
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