Eskom has refused to comment on allegations from several different sources that its chief information officer Sal Laher has been suspended.
Sources within the ICT industry have told Moneyweb that Laher has been suspended and several senior managers in the Eskom ICT-division have been “asked to resign”.
The sources are very concerned about the state of Eskom’s information management system, saying ill-considered cost savings and an exit of skilled staff and consultants are hampering the flow of information within the utility.
“The SAP-system that Eskom uses is the nerve centre”, one source said. With almost 47 000 employees it is impossible for management to communicate directly with staff at different levels spread all over the country. Staff at a power station will for example submit information about required maintenance into the system and one needs the relevant IT skills to ensure that the report is thereafter directed to the right person in management timeously to take the required action, the source explained.
Moneyweb was told that several tenders for SAP support have been advertised during the course of the year, but cancelled before they could be awarded. This has allegedly left certain SAP modules without proper support, meaning that Eskom would not be able to extract accurate information timeously to take appropriate actions where necessary.
These are said to include the plant maintenance and materials management modules.
Eskom has publicly admitted that is has fallen far behind in plant maintenance and energy regulator Nersa has criticised the quality of Eskom’s maintenance as the utility is clearly not getting the benefit from the maintenance it does. The dilapedated state of Eskom’s power stations and instances of load shedding have been blamed on the lack of proper maintenance.
Materials management would include coal, diesel and spare part logistics. Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona has admitted that a delay in ordering diesel was the last straw that pushed the country into load shedding recently.
The contract for SAP support on the finance and project and portfolio management modules is said to run out on January 15 with no new contract having been concluded beyond that date. These modules include Eskom’s new build projects at Medupi and Kusile power stations as well as other projects like the recovery of the coal feeder system at Majuba and unit 3 at Duvha.
Asked about Laher’s alleged suspension Eskom said: “The issues of suspensions are employer and employee matters, and as a result, we are unable to disclose the status of the employee’s condition of employment.”
A visionary employee?
Efforts to get in touch with him directly were unsuccessful. It was clear that he has not been at the office for at least a week and Eskom staff was not allowed to get in touch with him. Moneyweb further learnt that his access to his work e-mail has been blocked.
Laher has been described as an IT professional with 30 years experience who was previously employed in senior positions at Checkers and Absa (Barclays Africa).
He was awarded the Visionary CIO Award for 2013 by the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) and according to the citation he “managed to turn Eskom IT around into the number one performing business unit within Eskom. He has eradicated audit risks while managing to implement an IT strategy that aims to deliver efficiency and sustainability.”
Asked about other senior managers in the ICT division said to have been “asked to resign” Eskom said three managers have applied for voluntary severance packages and a fourth had resigned for personal reasons.
Moneyweb has been told that at least ten managers, including the one directly in charge of SAP management whose name is know to us, have left.
Eskom said that the ICT-division is working as a team and the departure of individuals would not affect the performance of the team. It denied that the number of SAP support staff has been reduced and said it currently has nine SAP consultants, all foreigners, and 140 support staff. It also denied that the current SAP support service contract expires on January15 .
From Moneyweb’s research it has become clear that Eskom continues to grant voluntary severance packages in spite of spokesperson Andrew Etzinger’s assurance three weeks ago that applications will only be assessed by February.
Moneyweb has learnt that some applicants are allowed to leave the utility with little notice, while others have to serve several months’ notice and train their substitutes. Eskom spokesman for nuclear power Tony Stott accepted a severance package and has already left.
Eskom offers a month’s salary for every year of employment, which is four times the legal requirement.