A recent investigation 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.