Msunduzi electricity theft rampant
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DURBAN - CHURCHES are among the thousands of customers accused of stealing electricity from the Msunduzi Municipality by by-passing their electricity meters.
The Mercury has seen a confidential list with thousands of names of the individuals and organisations, the area they are from and their meter numbers that have allegedly bypassed their prepaid meters.
Another 1 000 traditional meters are bypassed but are not included in the list. The list is part of a study being conducted on issues of theft.
The report highlights several churches, court buildings, and mentions areas called “Chiefs Kraal” believed to be buildings that could be used by traditional leaders as among those that have bypassed meters.
In the past, there have been reports that about 22 000 prepaid meters in the city are bypassed.
It's estimated that there are about 85 000 meters, including water meters that have been bypassed.
This theft is costing the municipality a small fortune. Theft combined with ageing infrastructure that is causing losses as well as the estimation of meters is contributing to the city’s ballooning debt crises now estimated at R5 billion.
This ballooning debt includes water and electricity.
The municipality recently stated that it targets to collect about R1 billion of this money and has employed a carrot-and-stick approach in its efforts to get customers to pay their accounts.
It has encouraged residents to come forward and make payment arrangements with a promise of a discount on the debt and has also hired debt collectors to go after the communities that owe money and is threatening to remove its infrastructure from customers that refuse to comply.
A source in the council, who has seen the list, said it paints a damning picture of the municipality’s failure to address issues of theft.
“These people get free electricity as their meters have been bypassed. The meters show no readings. The customers buy no electricity tokens yet they have electricity 24/7.
“No action is taken against these thieves. The credit control policy clearly instructs officials to disconnect these customers, to open criminal cases against the thieves and to remove the infrastructure. This is not done, making the officials party to the corruption and theft.”
Msunduzi chief financial officer Neli Ngcobo declined to speak directly about the report seen by The Mercury, saying: “I cannot confirm or deny that as you know we are working on these issues.”
She said the municipality has established a task team that is auditing meters, including those in businesses, she said. Where they discover breaches, they changed the meters and imposed penalties.
Msunduzi Mayor Mzimkhulu Thebolla said such a list would be with officials but he personally had not seen it.
He said theft was a problem “with water and electricity and we are not getting what we should for those services (considering) what we pay for”.
He said ageing infrastructure also contributed to this.
“But we cannot deny that there is a theft problem and people who are involved should face the law.”
Thebolla said businesses implicated in electricity theft will be named and shamed.