Join our network of non-profits, companies and individuals who believe social change can happen through design.

Become A Member

Roxy Maxx


Member since May 15, 2013

  • One way to avert tragedy in SA’s energy sector

    Community, Environmental Design

    OF ALL Shakespeare’s meticulously crafted characters, King Lear is arguably the most complex — a man flawed by layers of rage juxtaposed by the burden of guilt. At his death in Act V, Shakespeare’s critics argue that the magnitude and beauty of this complicated man is not measured in a contrived, flowing obituary, but in the simplicity of swift death itself.

    The name O’Flaherty may appear to be the only faint link between Celtic mysticism and Megawatt Park, the site of Eskom’s headquarters in Sandton. But long before the procurement processes at the Medupi coal-fired power station were revealed to a collective groan of public disbelief, weak leadership had characterised the national power utility, with successive CEOs persistently applying that odious Kumbaya-esque rhetoric to explain their excessive bonuses in a culture that was blatantly rewarding failure with the proceeds of destructive economic exercises.

    When gluttony halted abruptly, the inevitable era of gout, fear and paranoia was ushered in — yet just when Eskom was staring swift death in the face, it made a sublime appointment.

    Paul O’Flaherty hails from a rich bloodline of successful accountants, all seemingly obsessed by detail and numbers — that exclusive hole where truth and reality meet, delightfully inaccessible to politicians (and environmentalists). Prior to his appointment as chief financial officer at Eskom, O’Flaherty worked for a construction firm in the United Arab Emirates; if anyone could decipher the intricacies of industrial boom and bust, surely it was he.

    There was an immediate sense of urgency and uncompromising motivation, of the irrelevant and decadent being terminated and new objectives being established. Complicated and suffering no illusions of false modesty, O’Flaherty set about the seemingly impossible task of reinvigorating the utility as it embarked on a highly ambitious capital expansion programme while engineering the restoration of confidence — the latter a nearly futile exercise as a new draft of tariffs would soon have to be introduced to apathetic and enraged customers.

    News of O’Flaherty’s shock resignation in December surfaced only two months before news of another, more familiar kind broke; defective welds on Medupi’s boilers — manufactured and supplied by Hitachi — were reported, followed by reports that boiler software technology, designed by French firm Alstom, had failed not once but three times.

    Worse still, progress reports reflecting quality assurances appeared to have been tampered with, concealing the faults and thereby misleading Eskom. All these events have threatened to further delay Medupi’s commissioning, but cynics argue that Medupi, by mere virtue of its political associations, was always destined for this kind of calamity. For a moment, bandits, thieves and scorned lovers appeared to gather for one final act of an unforeseen tragedy, but the disaster was mitigated by Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba’s damage-control request that O’Flaherty reconsider his resignation and remain indefinitely.

    Alongside the approval of fracking, O’Flaherty’s decision in this regard has suddenly become the most important feature on the energy landscape. One need only look at the performances of certain government departments and organs of state and the impact of unskilled cadre deployment to see why.

    Can you imagine what the Department of Energy (or Eskom) would look like with Tina Joemat-Pettersson as its minister? Or Lulu Xingwana? The list of departments and other government organs obliterated by their guardians and subordinates is an endless well of despair — the SABC, international relations, communications and state security, to name a few. Some are broke, some immobile and many ineffective.

    The hiring of snooty European consultants at vast expense but with little result has rearranged these departments into a scene of a Captain Haddock tantrum; for whatever reason, a climate of regression has come about where development is regarded as an adversary and comment an unwelcome imposter.

    While O’Flaherty’s departure wouldn’t necessarily thrust Eskom into a nuclear winter of ineptitude — there are fortunately more good people there than ever before — the status of Medupi’s delays, the continuation programme and the importance of the utility’s involvement in other energy programmes show there is no room for chance.

    O’Flaherty is not perfect, and if it is true that Eskom built its forecasts based on the absolute certainty of the National Energy Regulator of South Africa approving a tariff increase of between 12% and 16% a year, then it reflects a moment of immodesty and reckless irresponsibility. But it’s also clear that O’Flaherty is an enemy of the aforementioned organised pursuit of obscurity, that he’s intolerant of mediocrity — when charm fails, numbers don’t lie (unless they’ve been compiled by lazy or sly German subcontractors).

    The difference between King Lear and O’Flaherty is that the former’s obsession with appearances doesn’t apply to the latter; Eskom’s chief financial officer is a seasoned realist whose future with the utility has all the power to alter the course of its fortunes. He must stay, and the public should do everything possible to support this.

    More topic:

Leave a Response

Fields marked * are required

No file selected (must be a .jpg, .png or .gif image file)

Once published, you will have 15 minutes to edit this response.