New Eskom hikes will hit poor hardest - SA bishops

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Cape Town - The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) should reject Eskom’s request for an additional electricity tariff increase because it is grossly unfair to the poor, a body which represents South Africa's Catholic bishops said on Wednesday.

To address South Africa's power crisis, Eskom on May 8 made an urgent application to Nersa to increase the electricity tariff by 25.3% for the 2015/2016 financial year, including the 12.69% price increase that has already been approved.

READ: Nersa receives Eskom's urgent 25.3% tariff hike request

In its submission against Eskom’s bid, the Commission for Justice and Peace for the Catholic Bishops stressed the unfairness of Eskom’s attempt to resolve its crisis by passing on the cost of its mismanagement on the customers.

“Eskom’s crisis is a result of poor management and cumulative lack of political will to tackle the energy crisis in a comprehensive and sustainable manner.  It is unfair to pass on the financial burden of Eskom failures on the customers, especially the poor,” said the commission's chairperson Bishop Abel Gabuza in a statement.

READ: Eskom tariff request 'dishonest and unfair' - expert

The commission has also warned that the poor will be the ones hardest hit by the tariff hikes. “The increase in electricity tariffs will influence price hikes in food and other essential products that are used by the poor as the firms pass on their electricity price increases to consumers.

"The poor in our country are already struggling to make ends meet. We should not add further burden.”    

The Catholic bishops are also concerned about possible job losses and contraction of the job market in the energy-intensive industries – agriculture, mining and manufacturing - that would add more misery to the lives of the rural poor.

Gabuza has called on Nersa to use the current Eskom application to send a strong message to the government and Eskom to address the systemic issues behind the Eskom crisis.

“Among other things, the government should be encouraged to set up a national electricity crisis council made up of a broad spectrum of stakeholders that includes civil society and trade unions, that should be empowered to develop a pro-poor turnaround plan for Eskom and oversee its implementation,” said Gabuza.

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