An investigation during March 2015 was carried out by the city of Johannesburg uncovered an electricity rigging syndicate that has cost the council around R22-million. Businesses working together with corrupt council workers have been manipulating accounts so that they pay nothing, while the public forks out more. Is it the tip of the iceberg?
The City of Johannesburg has been coming under fire for years for its inability to get its billing under control. Residents have been receiving ridiculous bills for electricity, often running into hundreds of thousands of rands. When they query the amount, they are told they have to pay before the matter can be investigated. The council continues to deny it has a problem with its billing system, but it has recently come to light that while bills may appear to be correct, there is a strong possibility that some council workers are manipulating accounts. This is apparently being done in order to help those who have bypassed the system entirely, as well as those who either don’t pay a cent or pay a significantly reduced amount for their electricity consumption.
A recent investigation carried out by the city uncovered an electricity rigging syndicate that has lost the council an estimated R22-million in revenue. While we all tend to think that illegal connections occur in informal settlements and involve dodgy wiring from an existing electricity pole, the investigation has revealed that this is not necessarily the case. This particular scam involved a well run operation that, according to a report in The Saturday Star, is said to have included changing the database to reflect that business and residential owners were using prepaid meters when they were in fact using conventional meters.
Investigators have discovered that a number of high-end northern suburb businesses -including car dealerships and shopping centres – are in on the scam and have been reducing their electricity bills by installing bypassed pre-paid meters.
A Randburg landlord who is allegedly involved with the syndicate is in credit with the municipality to the tune of R200 000, despite not having paid the city in over five years. The alleged perpetrator of the scam, Alwyn Kingma, aka Calla Botha and 40 others have so far been arrested.
Pravin Gordhan highlighted collusion and corruption in the City of Johannesburg offices last year, noting that the fact that some meters were being manipulated had resulted in other consumers receiving inflated bills.
It’s easy to point fingers at Eskom when the lights go out. Yes, it can be stated with a fair amount of confidence that the parastatal has let things slide as far as maintenance goes and no, they shouldn’t be forking out millions to sponsor a newspaper’s breakfasts and handing more millions in bonuses to various managers. However, illegal connections and other forms of corruption are certainly not helping the embattled entity keep the lights on.
Gordhan revealed last year that municipalities around the country owed Eskom enormous sums of money. Municipalities in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal alone owed the parastatal a staggering R4.67-billion.
The news that such a large syndicate has been uncovered and many of those involved arrested is heartening. However, you have to wonder how many other such schemes are being run across the country and how much this is costing the economy and the average man in the street. The announcement that Eskom is increasing the price of electricity by 12.69 percent in April is going to hurt the honest who pay for what they use and it’s pretty obvious that these types of increases will become the norm while so many continue to buck the system.
We can only hope that municipalities not only recognise the extent of the problem, but go all out to stop those who believe that it’s their right to receive free electricity or who attempt to manipulate their accounts.
As winter creeps in, residents of Coronationville face days without electricity. Like Marianne Minnaar and other residents in Harmony Street, Coronationville, they lived without electricity for five days.
Other residents in the area complained that they have been paying for electricity but they are the ones who are suffering due to the illegal connections from across the road going into Slovo Informal Settlement.
“We have reported the issue countless of times, we have reference numbers but City Power always takes long to assist us,” said Minnaar.
A cable which was said to be tamper-proof had suddenly been tampered with as well. The illegal connections have caused appliances to malfunction and as many residents have explained that their food even goes to waste with power outages.
“The problem is that the informal settlement belongs to the provincial government and they are responsible for it but they are not coming to the party.
“This problem affects us as the City because it’s residents who are actually paying for the electricity who are affected the most,” said Member of Mayoral Committee of Environment and Infrastructure Services, Nico de Jager.
Residents are also concerned with a pole in Coronationville Secondary School where the pole is used to hold up the illegal cables. In conversation with the chairman of the School Governing Body (SGB), Khana Amod explained that they have been engaging with the council on the matter and that these connections really have a huge effect on the school with regards to the electricity bill as well as the safety of their learners.
According to de Jager, there are syndicates who are operating in the informal settlements. These syndicates are the ones who are connecting the illegal cables into the informal settlement.
“I wouldn’t say that City Power is doing nothing. We installed an additional cable in hopes that if they have to connect they will use that cable and not the electrical cables from our residents but this did not work,” said de Jager.
When asked if the City was then allowing the illegal connections to continue, de Jager explained that the additional cable was merely a short-term solution until they got a permanent one.
“We are not in law enforcement and housing so we cannot intervene without the relevant parties. We need to think of how we keep the residents safe from both sides because riots can break out,” he said.
The MMC said that the Ward councillors are constantly in contact with him over this issue, however, officials from City Power has been sent out to assess the situation in Coronationville and Crosby.
“We are now waiting on the managing director (MD) of City Power to come back with feedback so that we can get a way forward,” said de Jager.
As homeowners explained their living conditions and their frustration with the City, City Power, Metro police, the councillor and the Sophiatown police, the only unfortunate thing they can actually do is to wait for a permanent solution.