Account defaulters should brace themselves for power cuts as the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality introduces stricter measures to get residents and businesses to pay up.
The municipality desperately wants to recoup about R2-billion owed by households, companies and government departments to plough back into services.
Yesterday, the city officially announced its decision to cut off the electricity supply of account holders within 45 days of them not paying their outstanding debt.
Prepaid account holders will be blocked from buying more electricity until their accounts have been paid up. The new system means everyone will have 30 days to settle their bills and a further 15 days before the city steps in.
On Monday night, the municipality blocked 3 400 prepaid meters with a collective debt of about R17.5-million.
Among the biggest defaulters are big companies, who owe the municipality millions of rands, and government departments.
About 15 companies embroiled in a legal battle with the National Energy Regulator of SA and the municipality owe the metro about R220-million in unpaid electricity bills. The city is currently negotiating with the companies who have been paying only 79.23% of their bills since July last year.
The political head of budget and treasury, councillor Retief Odendaal, said notices had been issued two weeks ago to bad payers, including Eastern Cape government departments and the Coega IDZ, warning that their power would be disconnected if they did not pay.
Since then, customers had started to pay their overdue bills, with the city raking in about R16.6-million in that period.
Odendaal said the provincial Department of Public Works owed the municipality R27-million for various services and rent, while the Department of Health owed R6-million.
He said public works was not willing to pay as there was no lease agreement in place between the department and the municipality, a matter which would be resolved soon.
Public Works spokesman Mpumzi Zuzile disputed the amount of R 27-million, saying: “Recently, we paid them R7.2-million and we will make another payment soon.
“The figure currently stands at around R16-million.
“Even this figure is disputable because they are billing us for buildings that do not belong to us.
“Every time we receive an invoice, we request that it should be accompanied by a report [on what] they are billing us for,” Zuzile said.
“It’s mischievous now to go to the media when they are fully aware that this is their own doing.
“They know the buildings we get billed for are disputable.”
Odendaal said Coega owed the municipality R21-million, but had since paid R6-million and had made arrangements to pay the rest of the money in tranches.
“A commitment by the Coega IDZ after paying R6-million in August was to pay a further R2-million by November 7 and R4-million by December 15,” he said.
“Thereafter, they will pay off the rest within six months.” Attempts to reach Coega Development Corporation spokesman Ayanda Vilakazi for comment were unsuccessful.
The Department of Health was also served with a notice to disconnect and had paid R6-million, Odendaal said.
Department spokesman Siyanda Manana did not respond to messages or voice-mails requesting comment.
“Those are some of the examples of the tougher stances we have taken over the last couple of weeks,” Odendaal said.
Mayor Athol Trollip said at a media briefing yesterday that the decision was not a punitive measure but rather an attempt to ensure that those who could afford to pay did so.
The aim was to boost the metro’s revenue collection rate, which was about 93%, falling short of its 94% target.
“If we don’t maximise our revenue for the services that we provide, the first consequence is that we won’t have enough to provide services for those who cannot afford them.”
Trollip said customers who struggled to pay could make arrangements with the customer services office.
“We are encouraging every citizen who has a debt load they can’t manage to make arrangements with the municipality,” he said.
“Those arrangements will allow you to continue buying electricity even though you may have debt that is more than 45 days [overdue].”
Trollip said those who failed to make arrangements faced having their power disconnected.
But he added: “As long as you honour your arrangement, we will not cut you off.”
The mayor said the city had previously used an offsetting measure to get what was owed by customers, but this was not fruitful. “Up until very recently, there has been an offset system where, if you are in arrears and take R100 to buy electricity, some of that would be taken to pay the debt and you would get electricity with the balance.
“It is no longer sustainable because it is not only poor people who use that system,” Trollip said.
“You’ve got big high-energy users, companies and residents not registered for the assistance to the poor programme who are offsetting.”
Odendaal said he was leading the municipality’s negotiations with Africorp International, which owns Kwantu Towers, about its outstanding rates bills.
The city also owes the company for outstanding rent.
However, Trollip was adamant that a bartering system would not be used and everyone who owed the metro should pay up.