Kokstad Municipality, chamber in costs row

2011-02-16 00:00

THE Kokstad Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Kokstad Municipality are deadlocked in a dispute over exorbitant electricity installation and infrastructure costs. Neither side is budging.

The chamber says the costs are both unaffordable and unsustainable and chasing away business from the town. They are also having a knock-on effect on job creation in an area where unemployment is high.

The municipality says there is nothing wrong with the costs and that the complaints are from businesses previously spoilt because the installations were done at the municipality’s expense.

Municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi said that businesses were allowed to buy their own transformers and as a result this — transformers of varying quality — has affected the town’s electricity system. He said the current costs are aimed at standardising the transformers used in the town

According to chamber chairperson Francois Rodgers, the installation of three-phase electricity units went up from R3 500 to R12 000. The municipality was asked for detailed invoices giving a breakdown of the costs. So far, apart from two-lined invoices stating the amount, businesses are yet to receive the detailed information.

Rodgers complains of intransigence on the part of the municipality, saying the chamber has been trying for more than a year to sort out the matter. He described meetings that ended with empty promises. “At one stage we were informed that the chamber cannot ask for the information. The request had to come from the affected businesses. Fourteen companies, all chamber members, wrote letters. Some received responses, but there were still no details on how costs were calculated,” he says.

Rodgers says council responded to initial objections by saying it would appoint an independent assessor to look at the prices to see if they were fair. He adds that this has not been done. “Since then the municipality has said it has no money and if the chamber wants the assessment it must pay the cost of the assessor.”

He adds that the chamber is now forced to go the legal route.

“We continually experience this arrogance and lack of accountability from the Greater Kokstad municipal officials when dealing with matters of infrastructure and the cost of services rendered.

“We are encouraged to engage with the officials but when we do these engagements end up as one-sided dialogues with the officials acknowledging our concerns and problems but not addressing them. As rate payers and users of municipal services we are fully entitled to unrestricted access to cost breakdowns, however, it appears that municipal officials, for whatever reason, are not forthright with the information that we request.

“This makes us believe that there is a hidden agenda and until the municipality releases the information that we requested and shows absolute transparency and accountability, we have no option but to challenge them on all fronts,” says Rodgers.

Nkosi views the problem as one of businesses stuck in the past and not coming to terms with transformation. He says it is unfair to say the municipality is involved in underhand dealings. The increases are in line with the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa), he says.

Nkosi insists that the municipality provided the information requested by the chamber, but the chamber indicated that it wanted the information presented in its own format.

He advises aggrieved people to write to the municipality “so that we can review their electricity installation tariffs which are based on the Nersa approved charges”.

On the issue of the chamber planning to go the legal route, Nkosi says: “We are required by law to defend the municipality in the event of any legal challenge and as such the municipality’s stance will be no different in this issue.”

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