‘Cul­ture of pay­ment is needed in coun­try’

Afro Voice (KwaZulu Natal) - - Politics - DENNIS CRUYWAGEN news@afro­tone.co.za

THE 10 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, which be­tween them owe Eskom bil­lions of rands, are drown­ing in a debt trap from which it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to es­cape.

Dis­clos­ing this at a stand­ing com­mit­tee on pub­lic ac­counts sit­ting yes­ter­day, Co­op­er­a­tive Gov­er­nance and Tra­di­tional Af­fairs Min­is­ter Zweli Mkhize said that a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment might have to be made to de­lin­eate the bound­aries be­tween Eskom and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

He talked about the in­flu­ence of the cul­ture of non-pay­ment, say­ing the gov­ern­ment would have to start a cam­paign to pro­mote a cul­ture of pay­ing.

With­out nam­ing pre­paid elec­tric­ity me­ters, he said that con­sid­er­a­tion was be­ing given to hav­ing con­sumers buy­ing elec­tric­ity di­rectly.

By De­cem­ber last year, Eskom was owed a to­tal of R23bn, he said.

“Hav­ing looked at that kind of debt we found that 70% of debt comes from 10 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, 40% comes from mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the Free State. The nature of the debt in­di­cates to us that Eskom has com­mit­ted to dis­con­tin­u­ing power in some ar­eas that af­fects in­dus­try.”

The gov­ern­ment un­der­stood the sen­si­tiv­i­ties with which Eskom has had to try and move with this mat­ter. “On the other hand we un­der­stand the var­i­ous chal­lenges faced by mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

“In gen­eral terms, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are strug­gling. There are many mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that are struc­turally un­vi­able.

“When we talk about Eskom and the wa­ter board they’re not the only ones owed money by mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. There are a lot of oth­ers.”

There was also the is­sue of non-pay­ment with a to­tal of R139bn owed to all mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties by com­mu­ni­ties, the pri­vate sec­tor and gov­ern­ment de­part­ments.

Elec­tric­ity pay­ments formed be­tween 50% and 60% of the in­come of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. “We’ve got to find ways to pro­tect these sources of rev­enue.”

He said there was ten­sion be­tween Eskom and the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties over who should pay rev­enue and where.

“When peo­ple are not pay­ing, when mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are not pay­ing suf­fi­ciently, Eskom has ap­proached the clients di­rectly. So the ten­sion has risen. Eskom says we are not pi­rat­ing we are do­ing our man­date here. We need to sort out the man­date.”

The gov­ern­ment, he said, would have to em­bark on a huge cam­paign to pro­mote a cul­ture of pay­ment.

On the work of an in­ter­min­is­te­rial task team, (IMTT) he said mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties were con­cerned that Eskom was un­der­min­ing their con­sti­tu­tional author­ity. “They see Eskom as a ser­vice provider, which should pro­vide a ser­vice (elec­tric­ity retic­u­la­tion) on be­half of a mu­nic­i­pal­ity.”

How­ever, Eskom was pro­vid­ing this ser­vice as a pub­lic com­pany on the strength of a li­cence is­sued by the Na­tional En­ergy Reg­u­la­tor of South Africa. “This dif­fer­ence of views has cre­ated ten­sion be­tween Eskom and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.”

Mhk­ize said that a so­lu­tion had to be found by an ad­vi­sory panel formed by the IMTT. “The team must bring us closer to a con­sti­tu­tional and le­gal man­date. We need to make a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion to re­de­fine the man­date of the two. Rather than be­ing sorted out by the courts, it must be set­tled by the gov­ern­ment.”

Zweli Mkhize

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