‘Power punishment will destroy NC economy’
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.”