No skills, no power in PMB

2009-05-18 00:00

A LIMITED budget, inheriting a poorly maintained network and a critical shortage of skilled engineers have been cited as the main reasons behind Msunduzi Municipality’s inconsistent electricity supply.

As residents battle with erratic blackouts, deputy municipal manager for infrastructure, services and facilities Phil Mashoko says the skills shortage has had an adverse effect on the municipality’s electricity department.

“In 1998, the municipality had nine qualified engineers at their disposal. Today there’s only one. Although we have advertised engineering posts numerous times, we have not had much response. There seems to be a shortage of skilled engineers on the market,” he said.

Mashoko says the scarcity of suitably qualified personnel has been compounded by infrastructure that has endured decades of neglect.

“Despite the shortage of technical staff and the deplorable state of the network, current staff are doing a stellar job to try and improve the integrity of our system,” he said.

Mashoko says increased cable and wire theft have wreaked havoc on the system, but there are plans to implement a technical strategy to deal with the issue.

Lack of funding has also been problematic and Mashoko says this is one of the reasons they have fallen behind on their five-year strategic plan.

“The plan required more than what the municipality can afford at this stage. We have applied for assistance from EDI Holdings with the aim of unlocking additional financial resources for our program. Although our financial resources are not adequate, the municipality is committed to ensuring that the implementation of our plan is achieved,” he said.

On Tuesday last week, Hilton suffered yet another power outage.

“It’s totally ridiculous. I’ve lost count how many times this has happened and it’s unacceptable. Why are we paying rates if we’re not getting services?” said an irate resident.

Mashoko says although there have been improvements over the past five years in terms of electrical asset maintenance, Hilton remains a problem.

“Hilton is one of our weakest points within the network and the integrity of the lines are questionable. With the sub-station, there have been capacity challenges and at times the load demands peak to unsuitable positions,” he said.

Hilton is also one of the areas that have been hit the hardest due to a lack of maintenance and upgrading. Increased demand has put a massive strain on the mature lines and falling trees have been known to disrupt the power supply on numerous occasions. “We have to cut down trees, but it’s difficult because the last time we did that we were taken to court by conservationists. I can understand the frustration that people are experiencing in Hilton, but we are in the process of sorting the problem out.”

John Doolan from the Engineering Council of SA says the shortage of electrical engineers is a worldwide problem from which South Africa is not immune. “There is certainly a lot of work available for registered engineers, but there is a lack of them in the market. We are doing our best, but we can only work with what we get from tertiary institutions,” he said.

Doolan says municipalities across the country have had to make contingency plans as the lack of electrical engineers has proved to be problematic to their electricity departments.

 

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