‘Power pun­ish­ment will de­stroy NC econ­omy’

Diamond Fields Advertiser - - News - PATSY BEANGSTROM NEWS ED­I­TOR

ESKOM’S de­ci­sion to im­ple­ment so-called “power pun­ish­ment” for the North­ern Cape mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of Emthanjeni, Tsantsa­bane, Kamies­berg and Richtersve­ld will de­stroy the econ­omy of the Prov­ince.

The power util­ity an­nounced ear­lier this week that due to col­lec­tive mu­nic­i­pal ar­rears amount­ing to more than R280 mil­lion, it would cut the bulk elec­tric­ity sup­ply to four lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the Prov­ince.

As of Au­gust 31, 2020, the Tsantsa­bane Lo­cal Mu­nic­i­pal­ity owed Eskom R154.9 mil­lion in ar­rears while the Emthanjeni Lo­cal Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, the Kamies­berg Lo­cal Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, and the Richtersve­ld Lo­cal Mu­nic­i­pal­ity each owed Eskom R90.5 mil­lion, R21 mil­lion, and R12.7 mil­lion re­spec­tively.

FF+ MP and pro­vin­cial leader of the party, Dr Wy­nand Boshoff, said yes­ter­day that once again the pay­ing con­sumers were be­ing pu­n­ished be­cause the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties had de­faulted on their pay­ments to Eskom.

“The out­stand­ing debt of these mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, which in­cludes towns like De Aar, Brit­stown, Hanover, Post­mas­burg, Garies, Kamieskroo­n, Port Nol­loth and Alexan­der Bay, has prompted this dras­tic de­ci­sion by Eskom to cut the elec­tric­ity,” Boshoff pointed out.

Ac­cord­ing to Boshoff, Van­derk­loof in the Renos­ter­berg Mu­nic­i­pal­ity was bur­dened with power pun­ish­ment for months on end last year and at the be­gin­ning of this year. “This was a se­vere blow to the econ­omy of this hol­i­day town.”

The Renos­ter­berg Mu­nic­i­pal­ity has since been dis­solved and a by-elec­tion will be held on Novem­ber 11.

The DA mean­while has called on North­ern Cape Premier Dr Za­mani

Saul to con­vene an in­ter­de­part­men­tal task team that can solve the re­cur­ring prob­lem of de­fault­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

“It is time for Saul to lead the MEC for Fi­nance, Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Tourism, Abra­ham Vosloo, as well as the MEC for Co-op­er­a­tive Gov­er­nance, Hu­man Set­tle­ments and Tra­di­tional Af­fairs, Bent­ley Vass, in over­com­ing the ob­sta­cles cre­ated by mu­nic­i­pal fail­ure to pay Eskom’s bills,” the DA’S Fawzia Rhoda said.

Rhoda pointed out that all four of these mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties were re­peat of­fend­ers and had strug­gled with the con­sis­tent pay­ment of their Eskom bills over the past five years.

“The red flags were raised, but it seems they were ig­nored by those with the power to pre­vent mu­nic­i­pal ar­rears from es­ca­lat­ing fur­ther. In the Emthanjeni Lo­cal Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, for ex­am­ple, we saw a fren­zied col­lec­tion of rates from res­i­dents in Fe­bru­ary 2020 just to find enough money to stave off a round of puni­tive load shed­ding.”

She added that it ap­peared that some lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the Prov­ince were caught in a per­pet­ual cy­cle of debt.

“The dis­con­nec­tion of bulk sup­ply to ratepay­ers and res­i­dents who dili­gently pay their ac­counts is un­ac­cept­able. At this time of eco­nomic cri­sis, where the coun­try’s econ­omy con­tracted by 51% while more than 45% of the pro­vin­cial pop­u­la­tion find them­selves un­em­ployed, we need to do ev­ery­thing in our power to sup­port SMMES and to get the lo­cal economies work­ing again.

“We also need to en­sure that there is a re­li­able, safe elec­tric­ity sup­ply that can sup­port the on­go­ing de­liv­ery of ba­sic mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices and es­sen­tial ser­vices like health care and ed­u­ca­tion.”

Rhoda pointed out that in the Richtersve­ld Mu­nic­i­pal­ity hopes for post-pan­demic eco­nomic re­cov­ery were fo­cused on the pro­posed de­vel­op­ment of the Boe­goe­bay Har­bour and as­so­ci­ated in­dus­tries. “With­out the guar­an­tee of a re­li­able elec­tric­ity sup­ply, nei­ther lo­cal nor for­eign in­vestors will see this project as an in­vest­ment op­por­tu­nity and will re­gard it as a risk too high to take. “

She added that the De­part­ment of Trade and In­dus­try had also pre­vi­ously re­jected ap­pli­ca­tions for the des­ig­na­tion of a Spe­cial Eco­nomic Zone in Uping­ton be­cause the lo­cal gov­ern­ment could not guar­an­tee elec­tric­ity sup­ply.

“If we do not step in now, no lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­ity in the Prov­ince will ever again be able to of­fer that guar­an­tee to any prospec­tive in­vestor.

“It can­not be ac­cepted as some sort of stan­dard oper­at­ing pro­ce­dure that Eskom must first threaten to pun­ish res­i­dents with bulk dis­con­nec­tions be­fore mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials find the money to pay out­stand­ing debts.”

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