- Claims reputational damage after press statement
- To review agreement to allow 30 days to pay account
Centlec, the power supplying utility for the Mangaung Metro in the Free State, is demanding an apology from electricity giant Eskom after the latter sent out a press statement threatening to cut off power to the municipality because of non-payment.
In an interview with The Weekly yesterday, Centlec Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Andries Mgoqi said his company had suffered reputational damage following a press statement issued by Eskom insinuating that Centlec is not up to date with its electricity account.
Mgoqi charged that Eskom included Centlec in a public demand for monies allegedly owed even though the utility only has the current account to settle with the electricity generating entity.
In a press statement on Monday, Eskom said it had served a notice to stop provision of electricity supply services to three Free State municipalities due to non-payment.
Eskom noted it had served notices of intention to terminate its services with effective from December 3, 2019 to Centlec (delivering a service to Mangaung), Mafube Local Municipality and Mantsopa Local Municipality.
But in a hard-hitting response yesterday, Mgoqi said the impact of being painted with the same brush as municipalities that had been in arrears with their payments to Eskom for years while all it has to pay is the account for the month ending November, cannot be left unchallenged.
“We do not owe Eskom anything and for them to issue a statement claiming we are facing power cuts because of non-payment warrants an apology from them,” he noted.
Mgoqi pointed out Centlec had been paying its dues to Eskom ‘religiously’ over the years and was caught by surprise when they heard of the news of a possible power cut that was not communicated with them prior to issuing the statement.
“For the man in the street, Centlec is going to be viewed as having not met its obligations to pay Eskom for its electricity. What people don’t know and what Eskom’s press statement does not explain is that the R170 million it claims Centlec owes is for one month electricity supply to the metro,” he said.
He added as far back as 2017 Centlec had approached Eskom with a concern over the power utility’s billing system, saying his office proposed to be allowed 30 days allowance to make payments on its current account.
This was because the 15 days which Eskom demanded to be paid within, did not allow Centlec enough time to do collections.
Mgoqi said the result of late payments by a day or two after the lapse of the stipulated 15 days is hefty interest charges added to Centlec’s account.
“At this present juncture, the added interests on the ‘late’ payments by Centlec amount to just above R14 million.”
The CEO said this was not going to be the case if Eskom, which in correspondence seen by The Weekly had initially agreed giving Centlec 30 days to pay its current account – did not suddenly make a U-turn and nullified the agreement, reverting back to its demand of wanting payment in 15 days.
“Both the Municipal Finances Act and the Public Finances Management Act allow for 30 days payment for services. We have been engaging Eskom throughout on this matter with no help, hence we have decided to review our contract with them to align it with the law,” he indicated.
The panic caused by Eskom, he said, caused unnecessary anxiety among members of the community and the business fraternity on the likelihood of a dark Christmas.
Mgoqi accused Eskom of not being entirely efficient in the running of its affairs, citing an incident last year when the power utility undercharged Centlec by R60 million, an error he said was picked up by Centlec and made the national power utility aware.
“We also supply Eskom with electricity here in Mangaung and they also default on their payments but not once did we go to the media and portrayed them in a bad light. I’m just shocked they went to the media with this despite our long standing good relationship,” he quipped.
Efforts to get Eskom to comment last night before going to press proved futile as the telephone numbers provided for its deputy spokesperson Dikatso Mothae and the parastatal’s media liaison officer, Nto Rikhotso, just rang without answer.
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Thembeni Nxangisa yesterday encouraged Centlec and Eskom to have continuous discussions and ensure that they deliberate on contentious issues before making public statements that may cause unnecessary panic and confusion amongst consumers.
He indicated he had given Eskom and the concerned parties – Centlec and the municipalities – until today (Fri) to have resolved their issues.