Experts call on national government to intervene in Eskom, Emfuleni municipality spat

Emfuleni local municipality offices in the Vaal.
Emfuleni local municipality offices in the Vaal.
Image: Antonio Muchave

Academic experts have called for national government to intervene in the spat between Eskom and Emfuleni municipality in order to prevent service delivery from getting worse than it is.

Eskom announced on Monday that it has secured a high court order allowing it to attach assets of Emfuleni worth R1,3bn as the council had failed to pay its debt to the power utility.

The move raised fears that if Eskom were to forge ahead with its move, there will be a total collapse of service delivery in Emfuleni.

Prof Jaap de Visser, director of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of Western Cape, said while there is no excuse for the failure of governance at Emfuleni, Eskom was not helping in taking the municipality to court.

“What Eskom is doing…will simply drag the municipality further down a vicious cycle of non-payment. If they start seizing trucks and assets, it will scare the municipality into action but will cause further service delivery failures,” De Visser said.

He added that the Municipal Finance Management Act only allows the attachment of non-core assets such as “the mayor’s car” and not core assets like the refuse collection truck.

“Both Emfuleni and Eskom are part of the state. You cannot just go and attach assets. You have to follow the procedures of the inter-governmental relations.

“We cannot expect Eskom to back off because they are also in a dire financial situation. We cannot expect Emfuleni to suddenly find that R1.3bn. We can no longer expect Gauteng provincial government to do anything useful because they have failed the municipality over the past years. National Treasury needs to step in because all the other parties will just continue dragging this matter,” De Visser said.

University of the Witwatersrand Emeritus Professor in Sociology  Roger Southall said rushing to courts on Emfuleni debt would not help as the municipality is facing financial problems.

“At the end of the day there has to be some negotiated solution. If the municipality does not have the money to pay then they can't pay. On the other hand, you cannot expect any electricity supplier to go on supplying electricity endlessly without payment. At the end of the day, government must get Eskom and the municipality to sit down and talk to make an agreement that sticks,” said Southall.

The crisis at Emfuleni worsened this week when the Vereeniging Business Corporation told Sowetan that it has taken a decision to boycott paying for municipal services as it says they are not existent.

The business group, made up of 900 members, said it could no longer pay for services it is not receiving. Some of its members are business employing over 200 people and paying up to R1.8m in rates and taxes.

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