Pre-paid power for all

2012-10-27 00:00

THE Msunduzi council is to impose pre-paid meters on the entire city despite currently losing about R100 million on its existing 18 000 pay-as-you-go customers.

The decision at Wednesday’s full council was taken without public consultations, based on a report with no cost analysis and that showed the new system appeared to have more pitfalls than benefits for residents.

Councillors also had sight of a separate report on the existing pre-paid system which indicated the R100 million loss and the fact that out of the 18 000 residents that had pre-paid meters in the city, only about 1 000 were currently buying electricity.

IFP councillor Dolo Zondi confirmed that there was a high rate of theft on the pre-paid system. “The council needs to come up with a strategy to control theft on the pre-paid system before we can even ask people to convert to the pre-paid system,” he said.

According to the roll-out plan, the city’s 44 000 households currently on credit meters would have to pay off their metered accounts and then cough up R2 500 to have a pre-paid meter installed.

The roll-out will start with Sobantu, which was already on the list to have pre-paid meters.

The report said as part of the roll-out, the current seven vending stations where electricity can be bought will be increased as well as the number of electricians in the pre-paid division from three employees to 10.

The pitfalls for residents listed in the report include that:

•Pre-paid meters regularly develop faults as compared to the conventional credit meters;

•Pre-paid meters, being electronic, are more prone to be affected by lightning damage;

•And that speculation was that the lifespan of pre-paid meters is 15 to 20 years.

The benefit to the municipality was said to be an enhanced cash flow as residents would be paying for their electricity up front.

The report said the system would do away with the unpopular main circuit breaker (MCB) charge. However, tariff experts cautioned that there needed to be a cost analysis of the proposed system.

Currently the unit charge for usage on the pre-paid meters was higher than usage on the grid system.

Julie Smith, a member of the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Awareness (Pacsa), said unit charges could be changed to include other costs. This was why Pacsa was opposed to pre-paid meters as it privatised electricity and gave the poor no room to negotiate on costs.

According to the report, the changeover was a done deal. It said the “community would be advised of this changeover through the ward committee[s]”.

DA MP John Steenhuisen believed there were legal constraints in terms of the Municipal Systems Act and that council could not carry out a blanket imposition of the pre-paid meter system without consultation.

Steenhuisen said the current electricity supply was also a contractual agreement with the consumer who as a party to the contract had rights.

Zondi said it was not democratic to impose a system on residents. “People need to be thoroughly consulted because in the end they are the ones who are paying,”he said.

DA councillor Mergan Chetty said the imposition of the pre-paid system was another example of ANC councillors failing to consult or exercise their oversight role and merely rubber-stamping the decisions of the officials.

Questions were sent to municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma and to Mayor Chris Ndlela, but no response was received by the time of going to press last night.

The mayor was asked why he supported the plan and Zuma was asked to spell out how the new system would be cheaper for residents.

He was asked how theft would be controlled and to comment on the fact that the beneficiaries from the plan so far appeared to be the contractors who would win the tender to supply pre-paid meters, and the municipality.

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