Pretoria – In A bid to improve revenue collection and stem a “culture” of non-payment, the City of Tshwane is forging ahead with plans to install prepaid electricity meters, and has implored residents to “learn to live within our means”.
It is also planning to move the remaining quarter of residential and business properties to prepaid electricity as part of a wider and aggressive revenue collection to boost its coffers.
Mayor Randall Williams says the city has no choice but to implement these measures, but some residents are crying foul. They say they were not consulted and the move is neither necessary nor feasible because of the current economic conditions, high level of unemployment and financial distress among residents.
Tabling his R39 billion budget for the 2021/22 financial year yesterday, Williams also promised a crackdown on those who connect electricity illegally.
“Now we are saying you need to pay upfront. You should be in control of how much of the service you want to consume and you must work out your budgets of what is affordable and not live beyond your means.
“We must all learn to live within our means.
“Unfortunately, the culture of non-payment remains a challenge that we need to address urgently. During the period under which the city was under administration we did not receive payment from 28% of billed monthly municipal accounts, and this makes up 72% of the debt owed to the City. This led to the debtor book increasing significantly, from R12.6 billion as of March 30 last year, to R17.1 billion as of October 30, later in the year. This can be attributed to the drop in payment levels,” Williams said.
The city’s electricity plans have been met with mixed reactions by residents.
Nonhlanhla Maja, a street vendor from Soshanguve township, says she wants nothing to do with prepaid meters.
“I do not want prepaid electricity because sometimes I do not have money to pay immediately. I do not want to deal with the embarrassment of finding myself in the dark.
“Also, it will be stressful to have to pay for electricity now and then. It could end up being more expensive. I just do not want that pressure,” said Maja, who sells fast food near the ThornTree Shopping Centre.
Oupa Mthombeni, the president of the Concerned Tshwane Liquor Traders Association, says the City’s move will negatively affect small business owners.
“We pay our electricity and we do not owe the City, but now we are going to run our businesses with difficulty because every now and then we must go to our pockets instead of operating and then paying at the end of the month. In my 22 years in this business I have never owed this City. This was really unnecessary because it was not debated or discussed with us,” said Mthombeni.
Francois Gerringer, a member of the GroenKloof Residents Association, has rejected prepaid meters as both favourable and “backwards”.
“Another problem with prepaid meters is that some people are installing solar panels which would allow them to sell energy to the City, but that cannot be done with prepaid meters because they are not bidirectional. These meters do not make a provision for that and that is backwards, considering how scarce energy is.”
Gerringer further says residents have complained that the City does not refund them the deposits for their old meters when removing them.
However, residents like photographer Bongani Shilubane, who resides in Soshanguve Extension 7, have welcomed prepaid meters.
“I prefer prepaid electricity and that is what people here are using. It saves you the headache of accumulating debt so you can manage how much you use and how much you spend on electricity. That is so much better than dealing with ridiculously high municipal bill statements that make you stress about what you could have done to run the bill so high.”
Michael Mohlala, a self-employed resident from Soshanguve Block VV, agrees. He says that despite occasional billing problems, prepaid electricity saves people from the headache of accumulating unnecessary debt. This is because the City could allow people to keep accessing electricity while paying a portion of their debts.
Williams’s spokesperson, Sipho Stuurman, says the City does not have prepaid installation time frames because Tshwane is still growing. And those who can’t wait for their turn could apply for instant installation at a cost of R3000.
Williams added that property rates will increase by 2% and refuse removal by 4.1%. Electricity tariffs will increase by 14.59% from July, in line with the 15.63% increase in the cost of bulk purchases from Eskom. Water tariffs will increase by 8% while sanitation charges will increase by 10%.
“We will be spending the budget accordingly, which means all the nice-to-have have been cut out. We will be strictly concentrating on core basic service delivery and also spending wisely on our infrastructure,” Williams said.
ANC leader in Tshwane Dr Kgosi Maepa says the City’s budget’s speech is laughable because the DA administration could not point to one house they built in Tshwane or any project they initiated except for projects that were initiated by the previous ANC government.
“The DA in Tshwane came to office in Tshwane without experience in governance and we have, since then, had four mayors since they took office. They have plunged the City’s finances and they cannot blame the administrators for that. Ratings agency Moody’s recently downgraded this City because of their poor leadership. Now they can see it is easier said than done. The DA and EFF coalition was already bad for the people of Tshwane. We do not care about their budget speech copied from Cape Town where the DA governs,” Maepa says.
City’s 10-point turnaround plan
THE City of Tshwane’s 10-point plan, according to mayor Randall Williams.
1. Prioritisation of the electrical grid and water infrastructure.
2. Implementation of a robust Covid-19 management strategy.
3. Creating a reliable waste and refuse removal service.
4. Providing stringent financial management and oversight.
5. Enhancing city safety and emergency services.
6. Promoting employment and economic growth.
7. Supporting the vulnerable and providing social relief.
8. Fast-tracking development by cutting red tape.
9. Expansive financial cost- cutting across city processes.
10. Maintain and expand road infrastructure.