DA lays criminal charges against EMLM for cutting off electricity

The DA Enoch Mgijima caucus has laid criminal charges the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality(EMLM) municipal manager Nokuthula Mgijima and chief financial officer Gcobani Mashiyi who gave authority to sever electrical connections to non-payers.

The Rep reported (Power thieves cut off, January 24) that the EMLM is owed approximately R110m by residents, businesses, government departments, municipal officials and councillors and this week embarked on an operation to cut off electricity to those who have not paid.

The operation began last week when the local authority electricians, accompanied by law enforcement officers and councilors, took to the streets of Komani to switch off power at businesses that had stopped paying.

There were five teams working around the town, and the few challenges of meter box identification and access were overcome.

Several stores in Cathcart Road and central town were found to be in arrears and were cut off, and this week government departments which comprise R33m of the debt were visited.

The departments owing include Frontier and Komani hospitals, clinics, national and provincial public works, education, social development, agriculture, Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) and the Chris Hani District Municipality which owed the highest amount of more than R10m.

Portfolio head for financial services in EMLM, Mzoxolo Peter, said council took a resolution last year to implement a full-blown revenue collection programme to boost the entity’s revenue.

The municipality discovered it had not been doing well in collecting what is due to it from the people and decided to go and get its money on foot. We noticed that, even though there were compliant people who paid for services, there were still those with the ‘syndrome’ of stealing electricity from the municipality, either by non-payment or tampering with their meter boxes.”

Peter said there were people who made payment arrangement with the local authority, but were still non-compliant and instead opted to tamper with their meters.

We have zero tolerance for such behaviour; if you steal power or did not honour your arrangement we remove the entire electricity infrastructure until you pay 50% of your debt. We understand people have personal problems that may lead to non-payment, but we have told people to come forward and make arrangements according to what they can afford.”

For indebted government entities, the local authority will not switch off those that affect people’s lives, like hospitals.

However, Peter said they needed to make a payment arrangement as if they failed to do so the “inevitable” would have to be done.

Member of the EMLM standing committee for community safety, councillor Mncedisi Mbengo, said he learned that the majority of businesses that were cut off last week, had illegally reconnected themselves.

This is the kind of behaviour that led our team to resort to removing the entire infrastructure from some businesses and households. For the most part, however, this exercise yielded positive results because some businesses we approached paid the municipality as soon as we arrived because they wanted their businesses to remain operational. There are businesses in this town that have not paid for services since the country achieved democracy. The people with the capital are notorious for not paying for electricity and yet they complain about potholes or when Eskom threatens to cut us off. They are the ones who are not paying the municipality so we can pay those we owe.”

Mbengo said Komani had about 40 metal containers around town operating businesses with electricity which none of them pay for. He said they would be visited this week and payment plans must be arranged or people would be arrested.

Next week other towns under the EMLM including Tarkastad, Molteno and Hofmeyr would be visited and the same exercise applied.

Full story in The Rep on Friday.

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