Call for probe into mismanagement of funds as Eskom cuts power to towns

The Auditor-General, Thembekile Makwetu, has been asked to launch an independent investigation into the gross mismanagement of funds at municipalities that owe Eskom money.

The Democratic Alliance asked for the probe after the power utility threatened to cut off municipalities in the Free State, North West, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga that owe it billions of rands in unpaid electricity bills.

Eskom issued out warnings of electricity interruptions to begin early this month but agreed to delay the process until January 16 after AfriForum and AfriBusiness applied to the high court to interdict the power utility.

AfriForum argued that cutting the electricity supply would have negative results on businesses and residents, who would inevitably pay for municipalities’ failures.

The court ruled that Eskom was not obligated to supply electricity to ratepayers, but rather that the responsibility lay with municipalities.

eMalahleni mayor‚ Lindiwe Ntshalintshali, was on the receiving end of a backlash when it was revealed that the municipality planned to use R1.5 million in “savings” to buy a luxury car for her despite not paying its Eskom account.

The money was reportedly from a rollover budget intended to go towards developmental projects.

Naritha Naidu, DA caucus leader in the eMalahleni local council, said that the mayor showed no intention of following calls to not purchase the vehicle.

“The municipality has recently advertised a tender for the supply and delivery of the luxury vehicle for the mayor despite growing pressure from the community to stop the purchase and focus on improving the municipality’s declining status,” she said in a statement.

The party also claimed that according to eMalahleni’s latest financial statements, the percentage of electricity distribution losses had increased from 37.24% in 2015 to 41.17% in 2016, and that this amounts to over R497 million worth of electricity lost in the last two years.

eMalahleni mayor’s spokesperson, Lebo Mofokeng, could not be reached for comment.

City Press launched an online poll to ask readers whether they thought the mayor should go ahead with her luxury purchase despite the outcry.

Readers did not hesitate to show their dissatisfaction with the mayor’s decision.

Meanwhile, the Naidu said the request was in accordance with the Public Audit Act and that guilty municipal managers should be brought to justice.

“The impending electricity cuts across South Africa should be viewed as a national crisis. Hundreds of thousands of South Africans will be left without the power they need for basic services, including health care.

“Small and large businesses will also have no choice but to shut their doors, weakening the local economy and resulting in many job losses.”

Naidu said that it was time for “those in the ANC [to be held] accountable for their blatant disregard for the people’s money”.

“Our public representatives must honestly serve the people, and must always act in their interests. This is something the DA will always do where we are elected to govern, now and in the future.”

On Monday, Eskom announced that 21 municipalities would have their electricity suspensions lifted following payment arrangements made with the power utility.

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