Illegal pre-paid meters cost Msunduzi council R59?million

2011-07-07 00:00

THE beleaguered Msunduzi Municipality has been losing an estimated R59 million in revenue every year, dating back a few years ago, as a result of illegal connections by 95% of pre-paid electricity users.

“The municipality has discovered that the majority of people who are using the municipal pre-paid electricity system, are using it illegally,” said the municipality spokesperson, Brian Zuma, in a statement yesterday.

Zuma told The Witness that recent investigations by the municipality have revealed that, out of more than 17 600 legally connected pre-paid electricity users, only about a 1 000 pay for the electricity.

He said that, estimating that non-paying users had used 400 units of electricity a month, the municipality would have lost R59 million.

According to sources within the electricity department, who declined to be named, the municipality first noticed the illegal pre-paid connections about five years ago.

The areas that are rife with illegal pre-paid connections include Sweetwaters, Cinderella Park in Eastwood, and Ambleton. Those in the greater Edendale area that use Eskom pre-paid electricity are not affected.

The municipality plans to sift out these illegal connections.

“From the 1st of July, all customers are granted two months, up to the 30th of August, to correct their situation,” said Zuma

He said that, in correcting the situation, the municipality will have to, among other things, remove any direct connection.

• Illegal prepaid users must visit 333 Church Street to sign an agreement for the payment of all arrears ( including other services like water, rates etc.) for periods of up to a maximum of five years.

• They must also buy electricity on a monthly basis, and

• The municipality will charge an average of 100 units per month on the debtor’s account for a period of six months, which must be paid with immediate effect, or the consumer must enter into an agreement for payment.

Zuma said failure to comply with the above will lead to:

• The connection to the house being removed from September 1, 2011, onwards.

• The charge in the above instance will be for 12 months, from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011.

• To reconnect, payment of the electricity charge and cost of disconnection and reconnection must be paid.

• Such a customer will not be allowed to enter into an agreement for a period of three years.

• The Pitbull Team will check all bridged pre-paid meters and, as far as possible, re-commission if the meter is not faulty. No new pre-paid meters will be installed as there is no stock.

•Credit meters will be installed where pre-paid meters cannot be installed.

•All current meters will be replaced with remote metering once protective structures are installed.

Sources told The Witness that, although the bulk of the pre-paid users have chosen to steal electricity by roping in the services of certain disconnections and reconnections contractors, a few are illegally connected because the municipality has by-passed their pre-paid meters.

Sources claim that when, for instance, technicians would be called out to a house where the pre-paid metre is faulty, they would by-pass the electricity supply so as not to plunge that house into darkness because the municipality has no new meters in stock.

“Sometimes it takes between four to eight months to return to those by-passed houses with new metres, because the municipality has no money to purchase new meters,” said sources.

According to the sources, in some instances, especially in the central business district (CBD) and areas surrounding it, owners of flats would install pre-paid metres for each individual tenant.

In turn, tenants are solely responsible for the recharging of their pre-paid electricity. When municipality checks are conducted, they assume the prepaid meters are illegally connected, therefore adding those meters to the count of those illegally connected.

Zuma said those who are correctly using the pre-paid system will be incorporated in the council’s billing system so as to be able to benefit from the municipalities indigent policy.

He said that those who correct their illegal connections and have declared their indigent status will be given 50 units free electricity every month.

THE Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (PACSA) submitted a proposal to the Msunduzi Municipality in April stating there should be an immediate roll-out of a national threshold of 200 kWh free electricity for poor households with pre-paid connections. Julie Smith, a researcher at PACSA, said there are no free units of electricity for pre-paid users, as in the case of normal meter electricity users. “This is discriminatory in that pre-paid users are not getting the same benefits as meter users. It’s against the constitution.” She said she has been waiting over a month for the mayor’s response. “He replied saying he has acknowledged receipt of our submission, but we are still waiting for a date for a meeting.”

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