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Cape Town - The public protector awarded damages to a Cape Town resident whose household appliances were destroyed during a power failure, according to her 2012/13 annual report released this week.
In the case report, titled “Power to the People”, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela upheld a claim of R18,407 by a Ms M Taliep of Flamingo Crescent in Lansdowne against the Cape Town City Council.
Taliep claimed that in February 2011 several appliances, including a laptop, a phone charger, a fridge, a microwave oven, a telephone charger, a washing machine, and an energy saving light bulb were either destroyed or damaged as a result of an electrical power surge in her neighbourhood.
The city's insurance department rejected Taliep's claim.
In correspondence conducted over months, it informed her that an investigation by the electricity department found the malfunction at the substation was due to vandalism or theft of neutral copper bars.
The city said since it had “no control” over criminal activities, it could not be held accountable for negligence and therefore was not liable for the damage.
But Mandonsela, in a report sent to Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille in January this year, found that the failure to maintain the substation amounted to maladministration.
She held the council responsible and ordered it not only to settle with Taliep within 30 days but to apologise to her in writing for the inconvenience caused by the delay in finalising the matter.
Madonsela cited section 25 of the Electricity Regulation Act, pointing out that it placed a burden of rebuttal of presumption of negligence on the city in the event of a dispute arising out of damages caused by the supply of electricity.
Further citing vandalism statistics, she said that such acts were a common occurrence in the area and therefore something the council could and should have foreseen and addressed.
She ordered the city manager to ensure that the security measures at the Kanarieway substation complied with national energy supply standards, and asked to be sent a report confirming that he had done so.
Lastly, she also told the city to urgently amend the local electricity supply by-law to make it consistent with section 25 of the Electricity Regulation Act.
The case was included in her office's annual report among more high-profile ones, such as her findings on infrastructure tenders awarded by the Limpopo roads department to companies linked to former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema.
In his comments on the report, the auditor general found that the public protector missed 26 percent of set targets for the past financial year.
The public protector said the main reason for falling short of these goals - some of which related to timelines for completing investigations Ä was the fact that for yet another year her office's case load increased faster than its staff.
“While the number of complaints increased by 5234, the number of investigators and staff did not match the increase.”
Among the problems the office faced, she listed a “lack of trust and low employee morale” and “lack of common and shared values”.
A few months ago, Madonsela's new deputy Kevin Malunga openly disagreed with her unwavering insistence on organisational independence when she was challenged by MPs on some of the cases she had chosen to investigate.
Madonsela has asked National Treasury for an additional R97 million for this financial year.