By Tom Head for The South African
The Matjhabeng Municipality in Free State has agreed to hand over 139 farms belonging to the administrative region, to act as a security on their R3.4-billion Eskom bill.
The serial defaulter has run up a tab of more than R3.4-billion in unpaid electricity bills over the years. Eskom put their foot down earlier in 2020, severely limiting the supply of energy for the municipality. However, it seems both parties have come to an agreement, and the total cost of the land is believed to be worth R2.5 billion.
This doesn’t clear all of the debt, but it marks a significant – if unusual – agreement between both parties. The deal was facilitated by the Free State High Court, and the title deeds will be signed over to Eskom while Matjhabeng remains in arrears. It is not yet clear what the power utility intends to do with these farms, should the debt stay in place.
The firm issued a statement on the matter earlier on Tuesday, confirming the details of their “land shedding” exchange. They state that all defaulting municipalities still owe them R31-billion, which remains a “threat to sustainability” for Eskom.
“In its ongoing efforts to recover more than R3.4 billion in unpaid debts owed by the Matjhabeng Municipality, the administrative body has agreed to hand over to Eskom 139 farms belong to the municipality, as a security on the debt. The farms are worth approximately R2.5 billion, and the title deeds will be endorsed in favour of Eskom.
“This will remain in place while the debt is unsettled. The order has been made by the High Court in Free State. This step on the part of Eskom is the result of repeated failures by Matjhabeng Municipality to adhere to its payment requirements. The total outstanding municipal debt [for all municipalities] of R31-billion threatens our sustainability.”
In February, the Soweto debt was sitting at R17-billion in unpaid electricity bills.
Eskom spokesperson, Dikatso Mothae said the power utility “continues with initiatives to improve revenue recovery from residential customers”.
These include removing illegal connections, conducting meter audits, repairing faulty or tampered meters and limiting ghost vending of prepaid electricity, installing smart and/or prepaid meters within protective enclosures to prevent tampering, converting customers from post-paid to prepaid and stepping up disconnection of customers not honouring their current accounts
In his State of the Nation Address last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the ailing Eskom will continue to received further bailouts.
He said the government has a strategy to deal with Eskom defaulting on its loans.
“We will, therefore, table a Special Appropriation Bill on an urgent basis to allocate a significant portion of the R230-billion fiscal support that Eskom will require over the next 10 years in the early years,” Ramaphosa said.
The president also said that Eskom is working hard to recover money owed by municipalities and customers.
Additionally, he said that “the days of boycotting electricity payments are over”.
Meanwhile, according to Mothae, municipal debt is sitting at R20-billion as at the end of March 2019.
“We continue to have discussions with Municipalities, Provincial Government and National Government and the Inter-Ministerial Task Team to find a resolution. We are continuously reviewing Payment Arrangements with municipalities, issuing default letters and then as a last resort we start a PAJA [Promotion of Administrative Justice Act] process when they default which leads to planned power interruptions,” she said.
“However, we normally get interdicted by customers or customer groupings preventing us from interrupting electricity supply and Municipalities typically take payment holiday during these interdicts. Eskom has now started to issue summons to municipalities for the amount in the Acknowledgement of Debt,” Mothae added.
Earlier this year, the Orlando Action Committee said it was willing to negotiate with the President Cyril Ramaphosa on electricity payment.
The Sunday World reported that Gauteng townships have become “a nightmare” for Eskom employees, who are often “intimidated and assaulted when working in these areas”.