SA Finance Minister Denies Eskom More Funds, Exposing Government Rift on Energy Crisis

Enoch Godongwana
  1. South African Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana rejected additional state funding for debt-ridden power utility Eskom, highlighting the government’s disjointed strategy to tackle the energy crisis.
  2. The February debt-relief package for Eskom, worth R254 billion, is contingent on the utility meeting predetermined performance targets to reduce its reliance on public funds; deviations could harm South Africa’s fiscal credibility and unsettle investors.
  3. The South African government faces criticism over its handling of the ongoing energy crisis, as measures implemented by President Cyril Ramaphosa will take time to yield substantial improvements in electricity supply.

South African Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana has dismissed the possibility of providing further state funding for debt-ridden power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., highlighting the government’s fragmented strategy to address the country’s crippling energy crisis. In an interview at the International Monetary Fund’s Spring Meetings in Washington on Friday, Godongwana stated that he did not believe the utility required any more cash injections.

This statement comes on the heels of newly-appointed Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s call for increased fiscal support for Eskom, which has relied on government bailouts since 2008 when it began implementing rolling blackouts that continue to hamper Africa’s most industrialized economy. This year, South Africa has experienced blackouts during all but one 24-hour period due to Eskom’s poorly maintained coal-fired power plants struggling to meet demand.

In February, Godongwana unveiled a R254 billion debt-relief package for Eskom while emphasizing the National Treasury’s dedication to curbing government debt and shrinking budget deficits. The plan, designed to enable Eskom to carry out vital maintenance to secure a stable electricity supply, is contingent on the utility meeting pre-established performance targets aimed at reducing its dependence on public funds. Any deviation from this plan would challenge the credibility of South Africa’s fiscal framework and budget processes, particularly in a country already burdened by a full set of junk credit ratings.

Such deviations could also unsettle investors who have assigned a premium to the local currency due to the sluggish progress of economic reforms, extreme power rationing, and logistics network constraints that are eroding the nation’s growth prospects, disrupting local supply chains, and fueling inflation. The rand has depreciated 7.6% against the dollar this year, making it the second-worst performer among 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

The South African government is under fire for its handling of the ongoing energy crisis, which is expected to worsen during the upcoming winter months. While President Cyril Ramaphosa has implemented a series of measures, including incentives for businesses and households to self-generate power, substantial improvements to the electricity supply will take time to materialize.

Last week, the government revoked two controversial measures following public backlash: a state of disaster declaration over the electricity crisis and a rule temporarily exempting Eskom from reporting irregular, fruitless, and wasteful expenditures. Eskom has been significantly impacted by a period of corruption, commonly referred to as “state capture” locally. The establishment of an electricity portfolio in the presidency has also raised concerns about the number of ministries to which Eskom must now report.

Despite escalating debt-service costs in South Africa – which comprise around 20% of the main budget revenue and limit spending on healthcare and education – Godongwana remains confident that the government can manage its debt load. He expressed his comfort with managing the increases, but expressed concern that they are crowding out other essential expenditures.

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