26 February 2013

South Africa: Minister Gigaba and Medupi Contractors Must Answer to Parliament for Delays

press release

Reports today indicate that work on the Medupi power station is still on hold because the contractors have refused to drop disciplinary action against striking employees. I have today requested the chairman of the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises, Holmes Maluleka, to summon Minister Malusi Gigaba and the contractors to appear before the committee and explain what is holding up the process.

The Minister needs to report on his progress in mediating the matter and his plans for future mediation, and the contractors need to explain what is preventing them from reaching an agreement that will allow the construction to proceed.

If striking workers have acted in contravention of any laws, then action should certainly be taken against them. However, if it is just a matter of negotiating a way out of the current stalemate, then everything possible should be done to find a solution to the impasse as soon as possible.

During negotiations initiated by Minister Gigaba last week, contractors agreed that disciplinary action against striking workers would be dropped so that construction could resume. It is not clear why the contractors have gone back on this agreement.

The Minister and the contractors involved in the dispute must therefore appear before the committee under section 56 (a) and (b) of the Constitution, which empowers Parliament to "summon any person to appear before it" and/or "require any person or institution to report to it", so they can account for the ongoing problems at Medupi.

Failure to resume work on Medupi could jeopardise the switching on of the first unit, which is planned for the end of this year. This would not only threaten the country's already stretched energy supply, but also the employment prospects of thousands of South Africans.

The electricity tariff hikes most likely to be announced this week could make investors think twice about doing business in South Africa, and the continued delays at Medupi will do nothing to allay their fears.

Last week the Democratic Alliance urged Minister Gigaba to appoint a permanent negotiating team from the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation & Arbitration (CCMA) to ensure that, when he steps away from the negotiating table, all stakeholders remain committed to the project. The Minister has not done so.

While his efforts at resolving the dispute are laudable, he simply cannot be at Medupi on a permanent basis. It is time for others to step in.

We need to get Medupi back on track so that we can be assured that our energy needs will be met.

Natasha Michael, Shadow Minister of Public Enterprises

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