Shops steal power

2010-06-10 00:00

BUSINESSES in Manchester Road were plunged into darkness yesterday afternoon following a swoop by the Msunduzi Municipality’s electricity department on illegal connections.

More than 10 shops, selling among other things, shoes, clothing, blankets and cellphones, were without electricity. The businesses are also suspected of having illegally connected water.

Led by acting municipal manager Thokozani Maseko, electricity department workers pounced on the businesses at 25 Manchester Road.

The blitz follows the startling discovery that some businesses are not being billed at all for electricity. These businesses were often sent bills reflecting that they owed the municipality zero for electricity. Others, said process manager for electricity Maxwell Mthembu, were allegedly being sent bills for amounts such as R7,94, 54c and 10c per month for electricity.

On some of the bills the businesses were allegedly not charged for water.

According to well-placed sources in the municipality, who wish not to be named, businesses are among the biggest rates defaulters in the city, owing about R60 million. Sources said that they are “bleeding the municipality dry”.

Furthermore, according to these sources, there are individuals in the municipality’s finance division ensuring that these defaulting businesses do not pay the required amounts for electricity and rates.

During the swoop, the municipal management and workers established that the electricity had been tampered with before the raid. They suspect the insi­ders tried to disguise the connections.

In the meter box in Manchester Road, said the workers, electricity wires were diverted from the council-installed meters to the main switch, and the wires disappear behind a wall to supply electricity to various businesses. The owners of the establishments tried to reach an amicable settlement with Maseko and his workers, but their electricity was cut off.

They accused the municipality of being corrupt, showing them rates bills for other properties they own, and claiming inconsistency, which they blamed on corruption.

The owners were told to visit the municipal offices to sort out the matter. However, intervention team member Ben Dorfling, who was present at the switch- off, told one of the owners that when they apply for the bulk electricity metering system, the municipality will still bill them for revenue lost due to illegal connections.

According to a senior electricity manager, if the owners apply for the bulk system, they will monitor how much electricity they consume and, after three months, they will be billed for all the months the revenue was lost.

Workers told The Witness that those on standby will keep an eye out to check whether the electricity is illegally restored.

One of the owners, Oscar Mohamed, told The Witness yesterday evening: “We will consult with the municipality and we will find out what their grievan­ces are.”

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