Electrical power lines. Picture: WALDO SWIEGERS / BLOOMBERG
Electrical power lines. Picture: WALDO SWIEGERS / BLOOMBERG

The KwaZulu-Natal department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs and power utility Eskom have deadlocked on how the embattled Mooi-Mpofana municipality in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands will settle its outstanding R123m electricity bill.

This was disclosed by newly elected co-operative governance MEC Sipho Hlomuka in an interview with radio station SAfm on Thursday‚ after his meeting with Eskom in Pietermaritzburg to discuss how the municipality would settle its bill dating back to 2015.

The meeting was sparked by a notice issued by Eskom on Monday that it would hit the municipality‚ which covers areas such as Mooi River‚ Bruntville and Nottingham Road‚ with rolling blackouts from July 8 if the R123m bill for the bulk supply of electricity‚ part of which has been outstanding and escalating since July 15 2015‚ is not settled.

Hlomuka said that they could not come to a conclusion with Eskom but they would meet again on Tuesday to try to find a way forward. However‚ he did not explain why they did not come to a conclusion with the power utility.

"We had a meeting with Eskom in Pietermaritzburg. The purpose of the meeting arose from the notice issued by Eskom that they are going to terminate electricity. We then felt let's urgently meet as [the department]‚ Mpofana and Eskom and try to come with a way forward. We are very concerned‚ as [the department]‚ because we know that terminating electricity in Mpofana will affect innocent residents and communities and we felt‚ let's meet and come with a way forward.

"But we want to request the residents of Mpofana to come forward and pay their debts to the municipality. We're still going to engage the local business people‚ farmers and ordinary consumers to try to pay their arrears so that we settle the outstanding debt with immediate effect‚" he said.

Asked what measures had been put in place to ensure that the municipality was run correctly‚ Hlomuka said he had engaged with the full council and management and they had agreed to come up with a strategy‚ a realistic cash flow and payment plan. The department will also play its role to monitor the municipality.

"I am going to come back next week after we have finalised a concrete plan with Eskom on how to deal with this matter‚" he said.

Hlomuka said the main reason that had led to the municipality owing Eskom such a huge amount was because some residents were not paying for their services.

"Hence we're going to undertake the revenue enhancement campaign urging the residents to pay so that the municipality will have a sufficient budget to pay Eskom. We are also going to monitor cost-cutting measures so that we implement the control of expenditure within the municipality‚" he said.

He said another reason for meeting Eskom was to ask that the planned rolling power cuts do not affect residents who are paying their electricity bills.

"We want to ensure that they don't terminate electricity for everyone. But the municipality working with [the department] is going to develop a billing system that will check those who are not paying and then we engage them to pay‚" said Hlomuka.

Bruntville residents have threatened to blockade the N3 highway and bring the Mooi River town to a standstill if their electricity is cut off.

The cash-strapped Mooi-Mpofana municipality was placed under administration by the department of co-operative governance in 2018 after a forensic investigation revealed maladministration‚ fraud and corruption. It recommended that criminal charges be laid against a number of officials. The implicated officials were subsequently suspended but had to be brought back to work after the municipality was placed under administration.

Mooi-Mpofana mayor Xolani Duma said the administrator was forced to reinstate the officials "because procedurally, you can't keep them way over three months when they have not been charged".

"We will proceed with disciplinary action while they are back at work. We're going to ensure that we act on the matters that were pinpointed by the forensic report‚" he said.

However‚ Duma said they had discovered some loopholes in the forensic report, which was never made public, and that they would be pursuing further investigations.