Thursday, February 25, 2010

NERSA Declares War against the Poor (SA Council of Churches)

The SA Council of Churches has launched a scathing attack on the decision by the Energy regulator, in South Africa to hike electricity prices. The statement reads as follows: 
The South African Council of Churches (SACC) considers the recent NERSA approval of the ESKOM electricity tariff increases the worst and most devastating news the poor of South Africa have received this year.
Clearly NERSA has neither listened nor heard the cry of South Africans. Forced by legislation to conduct so-called public hearings, NERSA went through the motions and in the process caused South Africans of all ranks and class to cry out for it to intervene decisively and constructively. Essentially, NERSA has made a mockery of these submissions. Clearly NERSA has taken the side of ESKOM. NERSA has chosen to side with the powerful. In the process NERSA has dealt yet another blow to the poor whose ranks are swelling by the day. Even if there are electricity subsidies for people considered “poor” according to some random statistic, this increase will impact on food prices and prices of manufactured goods – all requiring electricity somewhere along the line of reaching the consumer.

While the SACC understands the increasing demand for electricity in order to satisfy economic growth, we are shocked at this insensitive slap in the face of the poor and the ordinary consumers, at such a precarious time. The message of this action of NERSA is obvious: the South African poor are on their own. By the time the middlemen, municipalities and agencies have added their own levies and costs, passing all of these to the hapless consumer, the 75% increase over 36 months will in fact be more like the 105% ESKOM had asked for in the first place. In effect, steps taken in the National Budget to be pro-poor are being undermined.  The words which our government has fed us over the past fifteen years pertaining to a ‘war against poverty’ now ring hollow. War has been declared against the poor! The sweet-talk of government is patently negated by devastating short and long term impacts of decisions such as NERSA’s.

The SACC and South Africans know about the poor quality of leadership, the high levels of inefficiencies, the immorally high salaries of ESKOM managers, the environmental disaster into which ESKOM technologies are driving us all, the corrupting monopoly that ESKOM has over our  lives  and the inept interventions of government in ESKOM. These are the things South Africans are being asked to fund. It is shocking that a government given an overwhelming mandate by the country’s poorest citizens is allowing these developments.

We must now brace ourselves for higher rates of unemployment, more small businesses collapsing, more environmental degradation owing the technologies used by ESKOM, slower economic growth, a degradation of the quality of jobs, higher levels of poverty and more ‘service-delivery protests’ – the only ‘weapon’ seemingly available to the poor and marginalized in this country.

The SACC is outraged that yet another instance of long-term incompetence and lack of planning has to be suffered by South Africans. The mere fact that ESKOM now seems to be planning for the next three years is no excuse for missing fundamental developments in the past 14 years. The SACC also wonders why government bail outs are available for other parastatals, but apparently not for ESKOM. We are also concerned that the price hikes seem to be benefitting  environmentally damaging and irresponsible technologies only, as we have yet to hear how the extra income will be used to diversify sources of energy and invest in renewable energy.

SACC reminds government and NERSA that this independent regulator is supposed to base its decisions on the national interest. We appeal to government to produce concrete strategies by means of which the poor will be assisted to deal with the misery that will accompany the lucrative tariff hikes approved for ESKOM. To this end we call for:
a) responsible and competent oversight of the parastatal ESKOM by government;
b) a sustainable vision for the energy sector, including substantial investment in renewable energies;
c) a diversification of the energy landscape in South Africa – it is dangerous for a country to be in the hands of one electricity provider only;
d) pro-poor policies.

For further information please contact
Prof Tinyiko Maluleke, SACC President           082 925 5232
Eddie Makue, General Secretary                      082 8538781 or 011 241 7817

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