Call made for commission of inquiry into South Africa’s power crisis

Call made for commission of inquiry into South Africa’s power crisis

A respected energy-policy academic has called on President Jacob Zuma to appoint a commission of inquiry into South Africa’s worst electricity crisis in 40 years and to offer policy proposals for reforming Eskom and the sector.

Writing in the Business Day, Anton Eberhard, who is professor of management of infrastructure reform and regulation at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business and a member of the National Planning Commission (NPC), said there was historical precedent for such an inquiry in the form of the 1983 De Villiers Commission.

He argued that the resulting recommendations led to “profound changes in Eskom’s organisational culture and efficiency”.

“A new commission of inquiry will help us understand what has gone wrong. It can build on the restructuring proposals in the 1998 energy policy white paper, which were never implemented, and will provide the basis for opening the sector to investors and operators that can help restore electricity supply security and economic growth.”

Eberhard stressed to Engineering News Online that he had written the article in his own capacity and not as an NPC commissioner.

However, he added that the NPC has discussed the power crisis at its last session and would be embarking on “a number of new initiatives of working with relevant stakeholders, including energy industry and business associations, to move key issues forward”.

Broadly, he said the terms of reference for the inquiry should be:

  • To understand the reasons why Eskom has failed to supply enough electricity to power our economy.
  • To draw lessons from these failures.
  • To document the outcomes of private sector investment in power.
  • To consider and make recommendations on the allocation and execution of planning, procurement and contracting functions for new generation and transmission capacity.
  • To consider and make recommendations for power sector reform and restructuring that would facilitate and accelerate investment, construction and commissioning of new generation capacity.

Given the urgency of the matter, Eberhard felt that the commission should be able to complete its work within four months.

“This is also one way to resurrect the restructuring proposals in the Energy Policy White Paper of 1998, which died a quiet death when Eskom was told to build Medupi and Kusile,” he added.

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