‘Don’t panic,’ says mayor, regarding Eskom threats

Mayor, Jerry Sibiya, says he is doing all he can to protect AbaQulusi's residents from the complete blackout that Eskom is threatening.

“DON’T panic,” says mayor, Jerry Sibiya, regarding Eskom’s threat of a complete blackout in AbaQulusi following the non-payment of the town’s electricity account.

“A complete shutdown of a municipality’s electricity supply cannot happen overnight. There is a long consultative process that needs to take place first, and the Premier as well as the MEC for Cogta (the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs) will have to be notified.”

The municipality came under immense financial strain when developers, Claveshay Estates CC, had AbaQulusi’s bank accounts attached after a lengthy court battle regarding the expropriation of land in Mnyathi.

ALSO READ: AbaQulusi’s bank accounts attached, Eskom threatens complete blackout

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After spending 11 years in court, Claveshay was claiming more than R100 mil for land that it had purchased for R850 000 in 2004. The municipality had taken over the land with the intention of developing a low cost housing settlement, which never materialised. An ‘out of court’ settlement was agreed upon in July 2017 for R38 million, but AbaQulusi could not fund this amount, and help from provincial government was not forthcoming. This led to the municipality’s bank accounts being attached early this year.

A situation which left the council financially paralysed, unable to pay its staff or its creditors, including Eskom.

Last week, Cllr Sibiya and municipal manager, Bonga Ntanzi, managed to have the municipality’s operational account released, which allowed them to pay the current account with Eskom as well as a portion of the arrears. However, the bank account into which MIG (municipal infrastructure grant) funding has been paid is still frozen.

“Workers can rest assured that they will be paid their complete salaries and their benefits out of the operational account. We are seeing Claveshay in court on Thursday (today) to have them release our MIG account and we have lodged a dispute with Eskom querying the amount they claim is owed to them,” said Cllr Sibiya.

According to Cllr Sibiya, the reason the municipality’s account with Eskom fell into arrears is due to a 300% higher ‘winter tariff’ that was implemented by Eskom in July. We usually receive a bill of between R8mill and R10mill from Eskom. In July, we got a bill for R31mill due to the implementation of their winter tariff, and there is no way we could recover that amount of money from our consumers. If we had to do that, not only would it push our tariff to higher than what is prescribed by Nersa (the National Energy Regulator of South Africa), but our consumers just would not be able to afford it. So, we engaged with Eskom to pay the bill off in terms.

“They first sent us a repayment plan for 36-months, which the MM signed in agreement, but Eskom’s Revenue Enhancement Committee (REC) rejected the terms. Then Eskom officials sent us a 24-month repayment plan, which we again agreed to, but the REC, once again rejected it. Finally, they sent us a 12-month repayment plan. Last week, when the operational account was unfrozen, we paid Eskom their current account, plus R3.2mil as per their 12-month plan as an act of good faith. Now, we hear that the REC has once again rejected the terms. So, we decided to challenge them and we will go to court if we have to.”

“They are not being fair to us and we won’t let them disconnect all our consumers and inconvenience those residents and businesses that have been loyally paying their accounts. We are doing all we can to protect AbaQulusi’s ratepayers. At the same time, we are battling to raise funds to cover our expenses due to the number of illegal electricity connections we have. I want to appeal to every resident of AbaQulusi. Please, be a responsible citizen. Do the right thing. Pay for your services. How else are we supposed to pay for electricity from Eskom? How else will we be able to purify water or maintain infrastructure? If you don’t do your bit, everybody suffers. From our side, we are also trying to clamp down on unnecessary spending at the municipality. Let’s work together,” concluded Cllr Sibiya.

  AUTHOR
Estella Naicker

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