Eskom in steps to unplug defaulting municipalities
Illegal connections blamed for eMalahleni’s R900m arrears
OVER 350 000 people could have their electricity interrupted if eMalahleni municipality does not pay R900million to Eskom in five days’ time. The defaulting municipality in Mpumalanga is one out of the five that the power utility has decided to limit after billions of rands on electric bills remain outstanding.
While eMalahleni has less than a week to pay its just under half of its R2 billion bill before the utility starts its interruption plans, other municipalities have already seen intentional power cuts in the Northern Cape and the North West.
Eskom announced yesterday that out of the 34 municipalities scheduled for supply interruptions during this month, it has received payments and signed payment plans with 21 municipalities.
These municipalities have had their supply interruptions suspended.
Eskom interim chief executive Matshela Koko said: “We are immensely encouraged by the kind of response we are witnessing presently and would like to thank all the municipalities that have made an effort to pay their accounts, and committed to their payment agreements.
“Others have until tomorrow to settle their debts.”
Despite efforts by AfriForum to prevent Eskom from interrupting power supply to municipalities, the North Gauteng High Court dismissed their legal bid earlier this month.
“Eskom is locked between a deteriorating financial position and running afoul of the Public Finance Management Act. Relevant laws and standards compel us to collect overdue debt and failure to comply has dire consequences for the entity,” Koko said.
Eskom said it would interrupt power supply from 6am to 8am and 5pm to 7.30pm on weekdays. It would also interrupt power supply from 8.30am to 11am and 3pm to 5.30pm on weekends.
“If Eskom cannot collect its debt, it essentially spells the death knell of Eskom, which will have a devastating impact on the country’s economy,” said Koko.
Koko said the utility opted for a less invasive method of collection.
“It cannot be overemphasised that relevant laws and agreements permit Eskom to effect 100 percent electricity disconnections upon non-payment.
“But we did not exercise this option,” Koko said.
A concern for the municipalities were mainly loss of electricity at schools, hospitals and mortuaries if the payment is not be made on time.
A few mortuaries in the town told The Star that power interruptions need to be minimal as this could cause a major problem should it persist.
Speaking to The Star, eMalahleni’s executive mayor Lindiwe Ntshalintshali said the reason why the municipality was in such bad debt was due to illegal electricity connections in the informal settlements and residents failing to pay their bills for years.
“We have a team out already cutting all illegal connections. We are out there removing all the illegal connections in the informal settlements.
“We are also cutting those who owe us money in all residential households, government departments and businesses who have failed to pay us,” said Ntshalintshali.
She said since December the municipality paid R111m to Eskom.
“We are pushing to pay them.
“Whatever money comes into the municipality we make sure we pay Eskom,” she said.
Ntshalintshali said residents can’t expect services and not pay for them.
“In order for us to survive, we need those who owe us to pay us.”
The municipality admitted it failed to stick to its agreement it had with Eskom, which is why they are on the list for power interruptions.
The mayor is however hoping that payment will be made by January 23.
She made it clear that the municipality refuses to take out grants to make payments to Eskom.
“We can make the payment and avoid interruptions in the town if people compile and pay what is due to us. If business, households come together and pay, it will make the process easier for us all,” said Ntshalintshali.
The Dihlabeng and Masilonyana municipalities in the Free State Province defaulted on its payment to Eskom and as a result will experience twicedaily supply interruptions of electricity.
The two municipalities had agreed to make the relevant cash payment as negotiated with Eskom, a payment plan for the arrears as supported by a Council Resolution and a written undertaking in the form of a Council Resolution that current accounts will be honoured going forward.
However, they allegedly failed to keep their promise.
ILLEGAL: Illegal connections are a major source of loss of revenue for municipalities around the country and Eskom.
CLAMPING DOWN: Eskom’s interim chief executive Matshela Koko during a media briefing at Megawatt Park.