GRA calls out Eskom threat

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The Grahamstown Residents Association has queried whether Eskom’s threat to cut the electricity supply to Makhanda (Grahamstown) is legal, following a recent court ruling, as municipal officials meet frantically in preparation for a special council meeting next week, where they’ll be proposing a solution to Makana’s snowballing Eskom debt. Eskom confirmed that they have issued a notice of their intention to interrupt Makhanda’s (Grahamstrown’s) electricity supply from the beginning of next month. Makana owes Eskom R90 million.

Replying to Grocott’s Mail’s query on Thursday 14 March, Eskom Eastern Cape spokesperson Zama Mpondwana said, “Eskom confirms that Makana Local Municipality has reneged on the payment plan agreed to between Eskom and the Municipality.

“Eskom is not at liberty to disclose customer financial details and views electricity supply interruptions as the last resort action to recover debt owed by the municipality.”

The entity issued a notice that was published in regional newspapers on Thursday 14 March 2019. The notice said, “Makana Local Municipality has not remedied the breach of payment agreement as per the suspension notices issued on 19 November 2018. Eskom therefore reinstates its process to interrupt bulk electricity supply to the above municipality and will provide the public with 15 days’ notice of the date of supply interruptions. Eskom hereby notifies all parties that are likely to be materially and adversely affected that the contemplated interruption of bulk supply to Makana Local Municipality will commence on 2 April 2019.”

According to the notice, in the first week, interruptions will be from 6am to 9am and 5pm to 8.30pm from Monday to Friday; 8.30am to midday and 3pm to 7pm on Saturdays and Sundays. From 8 April onward, cuts will be from 6am to 8pm every day of the week. “It is to be noted that the times will change to 14-hour supply interruptions until full payment is received or agreement is reached,” the entity said.

“Notwithstanding the above proposed indicative times for the interruption of electricity supply, Eskom may, upon 15 days’ notice, serve the right to disconnect electricity entirely and indefinitely should the electricity debt situation not improve.”

Eskom said it would be undertaking this action in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (Act 3 of 2000).

However, the Grahamstown Residents Association has described Eskom’s threat as cruel and unnecessary.

GRA chairperson Philip Machanick said, “A recent court case in Gauteng ruled that Eskom may not take an action of this nature until it has exhausted all remedies in Sections 41 and 42 of the Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act. We would like to know if Eskom’s threat complies with this judgment.

“While we understand their frustration in making delinquent municipalities pay, inflicting this sort of punishment on the community at a time of crisis is cruel and unnecessary,” Machanick said. “The Makana CFO Gerard Goliath has only been in his post since December 2018 and needs time to sort out the financial chaos he inherited.

“While Makana has long been dysfunctional, so has Eskom. At least Makana is taking SOME steps to get its house in order, though there is a long way to go to get there. What is Eskom doing?”

Municipal officials have been holding urgent meetings since the announcement today, according to Municipal Manager Moppo Mene.

“Management met this morning when we heard the news. On Friday I will be meeting with the chief financial officer and on Monday senior management will meet again. This is in preparation for a special council meeting to ratify a new payment plan.

“We need a payment plan that corresponds with our financial state,” Mene told Grocott’s Mail.

In a council meeting earlier this year, Mene warned councillors that the existing Eskom payment plan was unrealistic.

This week he said Makana had made no payments to Eskom in April, May and June 2018.

“I don’t know the reason.”

He said a December meeting with Eskom Eastern Cape’s chief accounts officer to review Makana’s payment plan was set to continue early this year. “We’re going to write to Eskom to have that meeting,” Mene said.

Mene said Makana was not recovering from consumers as much as they were paying Eskom for supply. He blamed old and inefficient power cables and other infrastructure, as well as illegal connections and non-payment by consumers for their revenue shortage.

Should residents be worried? Grocott’s Mail asked.

“Yes, they should be worried,” Mene said. “We must solve this as soon as possible.”

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