9 July 2010
The National Consumer Forum has objected strongly to Eskom’s threat to cut off the electricity to dysfunctional Free State municipalities who don’t pay their bills to the power utility.
Eskom has said that it will consider cutting power from 20 July to over 90 municipalities in the Free State who are in arrears.
“Eskom has no right to cut electricity to innocent consumers when it is the municipalities that are at fault,” said NCF chairman Thami Bolani. “Consumers have no direct control over the underperforming officials that create this problem; most residents are paying their electricity accounts regularly, but the money is not finding its way to Eskom.”
He said that for Eskom to now jeopardise consumers’ health, education and work by cutting electricity to homes was grossly unfair. Small businesses would also suffer and threaten the hand-to-mouth existence of many consumers in those areas.
“The areas being targeted by Eskom are already impoverished and under-serviced,” said Bolani. “It would be completely unacceptable for Eskom to now withhold this vital service from consumers because their municipalities are not doing their job. They are effectively punishing consumers for the mistakes of local government.”
The only way for Eskom to proceed would be through negotiations with the municipalities, in the same way that they negotiated a solution recently with the trade unions, said Bolani. If this did not work, then the matter needs to be taken to national government, where the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs would have jurisdiction.
“Not only do consumers need to be protected in this situation, but those culprits responsible for the non-payment to Eskom need to be brought to book,” said Bolani. “Government is well aware of the crisis in the management of many municipalities, and must account for the decision-makers that it appoints to these important local government positions. Just don’t make the ordinary consumer pay the price for decisions we do not make.”
He urged consumers in affected areas of the Free State to raise their voices, and to make themselves heard at the level of their municipality, their province, national government, and Eskom itself.