Vumacam has been accused of stealing electricity from City Power by getting into third-party agreements with Joburg residents to run its 927 crime-prevention cameras.
Vumacam, which has started putting up security cameras in mostly northern suburbs across the City of Joburg, has been accused of contravening by-laws and stealing electricity from the municipality. The company offers footage from these cameras to private security companies and law enforcement when a crime has been committed.
Instead of getting electricity supply straight from City Power, the company has been approaching residents to connect to their electricity source to power their cameras. Vumacam then pays the customers for the electricity usage.
City Power spokesperson Isaac Mangena said they were made aware of the matter by concerned residents who wanted to check whether it was legal for them to enter into third-party agreements with Vumacam.
In a letter of demand from City Power written to Vumacam on September 3, legal adviser Mashudu Monyai stated: “We wish to advise you that such activity is unlawful as it is in contravention of the City of Joburg’s by-laws and the Electricity Regulations Act 4 of 2006 which provides that no person may, without a licence issued by the Regulator in accordance with this Act, be involved in trading.”
The company was instructed to “stop and remove all the connections that you have already with our customers within seven days”.
Vumacam said the letter from City Power wasn't a legal letter of demand, and has received no court order to cease.
“We believe we have taken all reasonable and practical steps to be compliant, including obtaining legal opinion and advice, inspection and approval from registered, independent electrical bodies and confirming our installations were at all times legal and compliant.
“Vumacam does not see these connections as different from the hundreds of boom entry gates or ‘street solutions’ with guard huts and security lights that have been put up to secure a specific public space area,” said Vumacam chief executive Ricky Croock.
While City Power said the agreements between the company and residents are third-party agreements, Vumacam disputes this and said: “We don't refer to these as third-party agreements, as it is only an agreement between Vumacam and the homeowner,” Croock said.
Mangena said the connections are illegal. “We see this act as constituting illegal connections which may warrant us to proceed with the cut-off in the event of them failing to stop.”
Croock said before rolling out the cameras, they approached City Power requesting direct access to electricity. Croock said the company was presented with commercial contracts “that were prohibitively expensive for Vumacam to connect its cameras directly to the electrical grid”.
Vumacam then decided to get the electricity straight from residents who already had accounts with the municipality.
“When Vumacam first engaged with suburbs requesting a CCTV solution, residents asked if they could get the cameras up sooner if they voluntarily provided power. Although many residents were happy to provide access to power for free, Vumacam felt it important to enter into a contractual agreement and worked with their legal team to draw up an agreement for willing residents to give access to their power. This is voluntary and is wholly up to a resident to decide whether or not they would like to aid in powering up a Vumacam pole,” he said.
Croock stressed that Vumacam wasn’t trading with City Power customers.
“Though Vumacam reimburses property owners for the cost of the electricity, the property owner derives no profit from providing electricity to Vumacam. It simply allows Vumacam to draw electricity that is being supplied to the property, which Vumacam pays for at tariffed rates. In addition, the property owner receives no value - such as goods or services - in exchange for providing the electricity. It simply agrees to grant Vumacam access, with Vumacam to pay the cost of the electricity,” Croock said.
The contracts are set for one year while Vumacam is looking at alternative power sources such as solar, or if a solution with City Power emerges, then renewal is not necessary.