Time to speak up

2013-02-19 00:00

The Msunduzi Municipality is providing residents with the opportunity to challenge the electricity hike

YOU can choose to live in virtual darkness and opt for cold showers, but these measures won’t make much of a dent in your electricity bill. And switching to pre-paid meters won’t help because the unit charge is much higher than paying directly to the municipality.

According to the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa), this is because a large part of the bill is for fixed rather than usage charges. Pacsa is calling for a review of the entire Msunduzi tariff structure and for the municipality to take affordability into account with regards to its tariff increases.

Pietermaritzburg residents currently have a window of opportunit­y as the municipality engages in a public consultation process on its proposed hikes. Residents need to take advantage of this or face being landed with exorbitant municipal utility bills after July. By then it will be too late to protest, as the city’s budget will have been worked out on the new figures.

Msunduzi is proposing to increase its electricity tariffs by a whopping 18%.

Citizens countrywide are already protesting against Eskom’s proposed 16% tariff hike on the basis of affordability. Our local municipality has chosen to add a further two percent on top of this. In addition, the proposed increase for water is 10%, while it is 5,5% each for rates, sanitation and refuse removal.

There will be a public hearing on Msunduzi’s proposed rates and tariff hikes for 2013/14 in the Council Chamber of the city hall on Thursday at 4 pm. Pacsa’s submission on the increases provides much food for thought on issues that can be raised.

According to Pacsa’s research, fixed charges make up 56% of the total household bill — i.e. basic charges, amperage charges, flat-rates on refuse and sanitation — while the remaining 44% consists of actual usage charges, which is the water and electricity consumed.

This means that households that want to economise by cutting back on water and electricity usage will hardly make any effective savings. The net result is that poor households will just not pay for services and the effect could be an escalation of the city’s debt burden, which already stands at over R1 billion.

According to Pacsa’s Julie Smith, if the 2013/14 tariff increases are passed unchanged, a typical low income bill will effectively be in the region of R1 000. It will also be no use depending on the indigent policy to assist the situation because the requirements are stringent, not properly implemented and have been subject to erratic changes in the past. The amount of free water and electricity offered is minimal and most households cannot exist on this. They then get punished, by having to pay more, if they go over the limit.

“In a context of unemployment, job losses in the city, poverty and HIV/Aids and where, according to recent census figures, 60% of Msunduzi’s population earns less than R1 600 per month, the proposed increases are just not viable,” Smith said.

The Msunduzi Municipality, in proposing its tariff increases, seems to have ignored the prevailing socioeconomic conditions of the city, already so obvious in the amount that ordinary households owe to the municipality and the large scale theft of electricity in the city.

Pacsa is proposing a thorough review of the tariff structure, which could include the removal of fixed charges from the bills of poor households; for the increases only to apply to usage charges and not fixed charges; for cross-subsidisation by richer households or high consumers to poorer consumers; and optimal use of the government’s equity share to fund and subsidise municipal services to the poor.

In September last year, Msunduzi’s municipal manager, Mxolisi Nkosi, addressing the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business (PCB), said that a massive tariff overhaul was on the cards for the city.

Residents need to find out what has happened to that pledge. Nkosi said at the time this would include a review of the much-maligned mini circuit breaker charges, as well as the cost of electricity, water, sewage and waste collection in the city.

He said the overhaul could see Msunduzi, eThekwini and Mkhambathini (Camperdown) having the same tariffs for water and electricity. Such a move would allow development along the Pietermaritzburg-Durban corridor and prevent companies migrating to Camperdown and Pinetown, where businesses find tariffs more affordable. Nkosi said at the time that the review could result in some sectors paying more and others less. Nevertheless, he added that the tariff restructuring would involve extensive consultation with both business and residents.

Residents in Pietermaritzburg cannot just sit back and, year after year, accept tariff increases, which seem to be reaching the point of becoming unsustainable. The municipality is offering the public a chance to engage and it is an opportunity that must be grabbed with both hands. Your silence now means you will get the tariff structure and increases you deserve.

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