power tariffs HIT poor

POOR people hoping for a reprieve from punitive electricity prices might have to wait until after the 2010 World Cup.

This is because the Department of Minerals and Energy has its hands full preparing for the soccer festival.

Tseliso Maqubela, deputy director-general of the department, told MPs yesterday the sector could not cope with preparations for the 2010 event and the proposed switch-over from local to regional electricity distribution at the same time.

Part of the reason for the proposed change is to reduce the number of different rates from the current 2000 rates charged to commercial and private users.

The other reason is to narrow the spread of rates, which range from 19 cents a unit in Bothaville and Dundee to 71 cents in Musina.

"Knowing the reality of the energy sector, we would want some leeway ... to delay the introduction of new activities before 2010 because, as it is, we believe the system is stretched to the limit," Maqubela told Parliament's portfolio committee on energy.

The government set up a special utility - EDI Holdings - in 2003 to manage the restructuring, but nothing has happened on the ground yet.

"As things are now the poorest people pay the highest price per unit for electricity," EDI chairperson Duma Nkosi said.

He said it would take about 18 months from the final go-ahead to get the regional distribution network up and running.

He said once that was done consumers paying significantly more than others would start to see their charges drop.

Elizabeth Thabethe, chairperson of the portfolio committee, dismissed Maqubela's appeal for leeway, saying the process had taken too long.