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Relief for municipality as court bars Eskom from cutting supplies

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Staff Reporter

Residents of Lindley, Ntha, Petrus Steyn, Reitz and surrounding areas can rest assured they will not have their electricity supplies interrupted – at least for the next six months – after the Free State High Court barred Eskom from disconnecting the local municipality over a debt that has since ballooned to R300-million.

In a ruling handed down on 7 January, Judge PJ Loubser interdicted the national electricity supplier from interrupting bulk power supplies to Nketoana Local Municipality – an administrative area in the Thabo Mofutsanyane district of the Free State that also includes the towns of Mamafubedu, Leratswana and Petsana – pending a resolution of the disputes between the two parties within six months of the date of the court order.

The municipality had filed an urgent application seeking an interim relief to restrain Eskom from implementing electricity restrictions with effect from March 13, 2018 in a bid to force the municipality to settle its arrears.

Nketoana also sought to have the power company ordered to render a complete reconciled account, fully motivated and supported by the underlying contracts, vouchers and meter readings, if applicable, on which Eskom relied to hold the municipality liable for electricity payments.

In its response, Eskom filed a counter-application seeking certain relief designed to place the municipality in a position where it simply had to pay without any further delay.

The power utility declared Nketoana was, at the end of October 2018, indebted to Eskom in the amount of R209 322 105.59, being an amount due and payable in respect of the electricity supplied to it by Eskom.

Eskom, which claimed the municipality was liable for interest at the prime rate charged to Eskom by its bankers, said failure by the municipality to pay the aforesaid amount as envisaged in the electricity supply agreements entered into between the municipality and Eskom would entitle Eskom to discontinue the supply of electricity to the municipality after having given a further 14 days written notice of its intention to do so.

As at December 2019, the outstanding amount had rocketed to almost R300 million.

The municipality accepted that it was indebted to Eskom in respect of the bulk electricity supply, but it denied the amount of indebtedness.

In particular, it denied the amount of R209 million, saying that the accounts of Eskom were incorrect from the beginning because Eskom was indebted to the municipality in various amounts.

This was still the case, it alleged, and it said that certainty regarding the quantum of Eskom’s claim could only be achieved by a debatement of the account.

“It is clear, therefore, that the municipality is relying on the fact that Eskom is owing it money, and that this indebtedness should be taken into account when final figures are calculated,” Judge Loubster noted in his ruling.

In order to attain clarity, the municipality wanted to engage in an informal debatement process and if that process was unsuccessful, it intended employing the services of an expert to obtain a total audit or reconciliation of the account.

“I am not persuaded that a process of informal debatement would result in a successful resolution of the existing problems between Eskom and the municipality, having regard to the history of those problems,” the judge said.

“In my view, such a process would only serve to delay a resolution even further, while the arrear debts of the municipality are increasing by the day.”

“It is clear that there is a dispute between the parties,” he added.

“The dispute not only relates to the quantum of Eskom’s claim, but also to the ability of the municipality to pay the amounts demanded and the timing and the method of payment of the arrears.

“It follows that a ‘dispute’ exists for the purposes of Section 41(3) of the Constitution.

“Section 41(3) provides that an organ of state involved in an intergovernmental dispute must make every reasonable effort to settle the dispute by means of mechanisms and procedures provided for that purpose, and must exhaust all other remedies before it approaches a court to resolve the dispute.”

The judge therefore issued an order interdicting Eskom from implementing interruptions in electricity supply to Nketoana pending resolution of the disputes between them within six months of the date of the order.

The parties were also ordered to make every reasonable effort to resolve the disputes by means of the mechanisms and procedures provided by statute.

Should the parties fail to resolve the disputes in the manner aforesaid within the period of six months, the judge ruled, they are each granted leave to approach the court again for appropriate relief.

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Mangaung warns residents to brace for heavy rainfall

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DISRUPTIVE DOWNPOUR LOOMING . . . Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has warned heavy rainfall is expected to pound the capital

The Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has warned residents in and around the Free State capital to brace for heavy rainfall that could cause flooding this Friday.

The municipality is urging drivers to take extra caution by reducing speed and switching their headlights on, while pedestrians are being reminded to be careful when crossing the road and to avoid crossing rivers and streams where water is above the ankles.

“Residents of Mangaung Metro, particularly in the former Naledi region, are urged to be cautious on the road and in their homes as the South African Weather Service has issued an impact-based warning . . . for possible disruptive rainfall,” the metro said in a statement.

“This warning is valid for Friday, 20 May 2022 until Saturday, 21 May 2022.”

“Heavy rains are also predicted in Bloemfontein on Friday,” it added.

“Localised flooding can be expected in susceptible low-lying areas, roads, formal/informal settlements and bridges.” – Staff Reporter

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Mangaung speaker vows not to be silenced by charges

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DEFIANT . . . Mangaung council speaker Stefani Lockman-Naidoo

Mangaung council speaker Stefani Lockman-Naidoo has vowed not to stop fighting corruption in the metro after she was summoned to a disciplinary hearing set for next month for disobeying her party, the ANC, resulting in the axing and suspension of senior officials in the municipality.

The ANC Mangaung Interim Regional Committee (IRC) has summoned her to a disciplinary hearing on June 7 to answer to charges of knowingly and intentionally defying a resolution of the ANC Caucus in council after she allowed a motion to be debated without referring it to party structures in the council.

Lockman-Naidoo’s tiff with her party dates back to January when the Mangaung IRC announced her suspension after she was accused of defying the ANC’s instruction no to proceed with a sitting which resulted in then acting city manager Sello More being removed from office.

The Mangaung speaker also told The Free Stater on Thursday that she was being targeted for presiding over a recent council sitting that resolved to suspend several allegedly corrupt officials in the municipality.

“We are being charged for suspending a corrupt HOD (head of department),” said Lockman-Naidoo, referring to David Nkaiseng who heads corporate services.

A council meeting held on May 12 – after receiving an investigation report from Matlho Attorneys – resolved, among others, to bring charges against Nkaiseng for his alleged role in unlawfully appointing the officials resulting in the flouting of municipal policy of appointment of officials as well as flouting municipal staff regulations and the code of conduct for municipal officials.

“We are being targeted because we are purging these corrupt officials of Mangaung,” charged Lockman-Naidoo.

“I will not tolerate any corruption . . . Wherever I go I will be known as that speaker that didn’t tolerate corruption,” she added confidently.

The speaker was however quick to point out that those charging her had no authority to do so.

“But you see, the charges are not from the ANC because they didn’t ask for permission from the provincial coordinator (Paseka Nompondo) to charge us,” she said.

“The region itself is an illegitimate structure. Its term has expired and these are just factions . . .

“It’s a faction of the region that is charging us – it’s not the ANC.

“They are the ones that are purging us because we are not part of their faction.

“This is what’s going on. They don’t tolerate me.”

Lockman-Naidoo claimed the faction was not happy with the suspension of the HOD.

“The council resolution . . . says several criminal charges must be opened against the HOD himself and relevant officials,” she said.

“And I’m wrong for suspending a person like that?

“I don’t mind being charged at all because we did the right thing as council.

“They are saying . . . they are charging us because I allowed the item to sit in council.

“It’s not my item – it’s a council item. I couldn’t remove it. There was nothing I could do.”

Council also resolved that Nzimeni Maswabi be charged by acting city manager for his role in approving unlawful staff appointments.

It also wants Thabang Joseph Mpeli to be charged for his role in the drafting of unlawful appointment letters.

However, ANC Mangaung IRC spokesperson Ncamisa Ngxangisa has dismissed Lockman-Naidoo’s claims saying the party was not targeting anyone but it simply wanted to put its house in order.

In a separate interview, Ngxangisa said there were concerns some councillors could be working with the opposition, hence the probe.

“We are not targeting individuals. We are dealing with members of the ANC who happen to be councillors in this regard,” he told The Free Stater.

“This is after we received concerns that there could be some members who are voting with the opposition, against the position of the caucus of the ANC in that municipality.

“We took everything as it is, and referred the matter to our sub-committee that deals with issues of discipline so that they inquire into all these allegations levelled against all these comrades.

“But at the same time, it gives these comrades an opportunity to respond or query any evidence that may be presented against them.”

Ngxangisa said every organisation implements disciplinary processes when something goes wrong and the ANC was only exercising its right to do so.

“We are a political party, we contest elections,” he said.

“We are relying on our councillors to make sure that our policy position and decisions find expression in that council.

“If there are allegations that such is not happening, any self-loving political party will stand up and do something about it.

“These accusations are neither here nor there – no one is targeted.

“There are concerns that the centre is not holding in that municipality.

“Our caucus through the chief whip is not given enough support by our councillors and there are such allegations.

“That’s a cause for serious concern which must be attended to so that the ANC can at least enjoy its majority in that municipality.”

The Mangaung IRC spokesperson emphasised that the ANC was firmly against any corrupt activities but indicated that councillors were expected to represent the interests of the party and not their own.

“When we say all councillors must toe this line, we expect everyone to toe that line. Anyone who goes astray is a concern to us,” he said.  – Staff Reporter

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Centlec warns cable theft masterminds

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STOLEN . . . Part of the copper cable recovered by the police

Power distribution company Centlec has issued a stern warning to people believed to be hired by unknown individuals or syndicates to steal copper cables from the power lines saying it will not allow them to destroy such key infrastructure and put the country’s economy at risk.

“This is war and we will fight it tooth and nail,” said Centlec in a statement.

“We want to send a strong message to the criminals and their handlers that we will not rest until they are behind bars,” added the company, which distributes electricity to Mangaung and surrounding municipalities.

It said it is aware that most of the criminals are just fronts who are sent by kingpins who then process the copper before selling it.

Centlec warned the kingpins that they would soon face the full might of the law.

“Some of the fronts happen to be vulnerable foreign nationals who are being used to steal our cables by their handlers,” said the company.

A joint operation by Centlec and the police in recent weeks has led to several arrests and the recovery of hundreds of kilogrammes of copper cable destined for scrapyards.

In the latest three incidents, a man was arrested in Botshabelo after being found in possession of copper cable believed to have been stolen.

Several people were also arrested following inspections at two scrapyards in Botshabelo where large amounts of copper were found.

At a scrapyard in Bloemfontein, a man was issued with a fine after he was found with copper weighing 150kg which he failed to account for.

Investigations are still underway to ascertain the real owner of the scrapyard for possible arrest.

“We are worried that many of these scrapyards are becoming a haven for criminals and promoting criminality,” said Centlec chief executive officer Malefane Sekoboto. – Staff Reporter

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