Deputy president David Mabuza has announced that Eskom will take over the distribution of energy for debt-ridden municipalities, and will also bill and collect revenue on their behalf.
Mabuza expanded on an announcement he made last month about Eskom’s takeover of electricity distribution in the Maluti-a-Phofung local municipality in the Free State, saying this will now be the model used in all municipalities that were struggling with Eskom debt.
He was answering oral questions in the National Council of Provinces, when MPs wanted to know if the national government would be intervening in the embattled municipality.
Mabuza said government supported a court order which was granted after local businesses and members of the farming community approached the court requesting that Eskom be allowed to provide electricity directly. He said the government didn’t oppose the court application because that was its thinking as well.
The municipality has been experiencing inconsistent supplies of water and electricity. It owes Eskom R5bn.
“As we stand today there is an order that says Eskom and the municipality must enter into a Service Level Agreement (SLA) and [that] must be signed by no later than two weeks. Today we saw the proposed Service Level Agreement and they are just doting the I’s and crossing the T’s,” he said.
Mabuza said the intention of the agreement was to allow Eskom to take over the distribution of electricity, and collect the revenue after that. Eskom will then give the municipality what is due to the municipality and take the revenue due to the power utility.
“In this case, Eskom is going to bring the necessary skills that will help maintain the infrastructure that brings the electricity, meaning the people. And as much as Eskom will bring outside people, these people are going to train the municipal employees that will remain to maintain the system,” he said.
“We are going to follow such a model in all the municipalities that owe Eskom because municipalities on their own are unable to pay Eskom,” said Mabuza.
“So allow Eskom to distribute, collect the revenue, pay what is due to the municipality and keep the rest.”
He said in the process, the power utility would probably help to maintain infrastructure in struggling municipalities but also try to capacitate workers.
The SLA would be in place for a particular period, maybe four to five years until the debt is settled and because the reticulation, distribution of energy, distribution of water are functions of municipalities, he said.
Mabuza also urged residents to pay for services, saying administrations could not continuously blame the apartheid government and its spatial planning for poor services.
He said while some municipalities were not able to collect enough revenue to be able to discharge their functions, others like Maluti-a-Phofung, had workers who worked for the municipality and for government, and earned salaries, but were not paying for services.
“People can’t just behave like they are indigent; they don’t want to pay for services that they consume.”
He said the bone of contention is some instance was incorrect billing, but added that this was no excuse not to pay.
“As much as you are not billed correctly, you are still consuming. Pay what you think you have consumed, they can query the rest,” he said, stressing that municipalities were struggling to maintain infrastructure due to non-payment of services.
Mabuza also acknowledged that leadership challenges in a number of municipalities contributed to service delivery failures.