Residents defy pre-paid meters

2013-03-11 00:00

EMBATTLED Msunduzi residents are gearing up to fight the blanket enforcement of pre-paid electricity meters, for which they will have to pay R2 500 up front to have them installed.

Residents reeling under the recent petrol price increases and the anticipated tariff hikes in the city are querying why they have to pay R2 500 for the installation of meters, which will ultimately belong to the municipality.

If they move house they will not get a refund, nor will they be able to have the same pre-paid meter installed in their new dwelling. They also question the blanket enforcement by the council without public consultation.

The issue of pre-paid meters came up in November last year, but it was stalled when Democratic Alliance executive committee (Exco) member Mergan Chetty asked why the matter had not gone to Exco before being presented to full council.

Chetty argued that the issue had financial implications and would therefore mean changes to the by-laws. According to the Municipal Structures Act and rules and order of the council, it should have gone to Exco.

Speaker Babu Baijoo ordered an investigation.

Municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi reported on the investigation at the last council meeting. He said there were no regulatory transgressions and the matter could bypass Exco and go straight to council. When the recommendation for the blanket installation of pre-paid meters was put to a vote, DA councillors were the only members to oppose it.

Babs Sithapersad, president of the Msunduzi Rates Forum, questioned the role of councillors in the debacle. He said that as public representatives they should be aware of the current economic climate and avoid adding to the financial burden of residents.

He warned residents that they could end up having to rent equipment, like they did for mains circuit breakers (MCBs).

The Electricity Action Group and the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Awareness (Pacsa) are also gearing up to fight the issue.

Pacsa’s Julie Smith said the municipality was perpetuating a myth that with the pre-paid meters residents paid only for what they used.

She said the municipality was failing to tell residents that the current MCB and basic charges were embedded in the unit charges for the pre-paid meters.

“With the pre-paid system, residents are reduced to being customers who buy electricity and will have no say in the increases of unit charges.”

Electricity costs more per unit if bought pre-paid, compared to being bought on the credit rating scheme.

Smith said there were also questions about what type of meters would be installed and whether they were tamper-proof.

The municipality’s own investigation last year revealed that it had lost more than R100 million as a result of theft from pre-paid meters because the system was easy to bypass.

Questions on the pre-paid system were sent to the municipality last week but no response was received by the time of going to press.

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