Give defaulting municipalities more time‚ Brown urges Eskom

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown urged power utility Eskom to afford errand municipalities until the end of January to pay their arrears before switching off the lights.

“Turning off the power supply does not only impact on individual ratepayers and municipalities‚ it has potentially disastrous effects on businesses‚ and therefore jobs‚” she said in a statement on Thursday evening.

Her plea came after South Africa’s biggest state entity said earlier this month that municipalities in various provinces owe it over R10.2-billion – and need to pay up before January 16 or they will be cut off.

Municipalities in the North West and Northern Cape have already started experiencing supply interruptions until such time as payment has been made‚ the power utility said in a statement.

“One cannot help feeling sympathetic to those who pay their electricity bills in good faith‚ only for the payments to be consumed by municipalities with precious little income and resources‚” said Brown.

She said it is critical for all municipalities to institute prepaid billing to help build a payment culture.

“We must move towards prepaid so that we can help customers to manage their own usage of electricity‚” added Brown.

Brown said the amount of R10.2-billion has a potential to undermine the effort undertaken to restore Eskom back to its sound financial footing.

On January 5‚ the North Gauteng High Court dismissed an application by AfriForum to prevent Eskom from cutting off supply to municipalities.

The court ruled that Eskom has a statutory and regulatory right to disrupt supply in the event of nonpayment by a customer.

The court further indicated that it is necessary to appreciate the context in which Eskom operates within the national economy and that this needs to be seen against the background of its constitutional rights and obligations.

Eskom suspended planned supply interruptions to some defaulting municipalities after reaching payment agreements with them.

“It is heart-warming to observe‚ that even with the relevant laws and mutual agreements which allow Eskom to totally withhold electricity supply‚ the entity’s leadership was considerate enough to adopt a softer approach of scheduled interruptions during pre-announced hours‚” added Brown.