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Taxpayers cough up to power ministers’ homes

South African taxpayers, who have to dig deep into their pockets for plans to sidestep load shedding, are paying to buy generators and to keep those generators running at the official residences of ministers “and deputy ministers” in Pretoria.

That is, the official residences that do not escape load shedding in the first place.

After three and a half months into the current financial year, the expenses for diesel and maintenance of the generators are already 1 900% higher than the entire previous financial year as load shedding worsens. This is shown in figures provided to City Press’ sister publication Rapport by the public works and infrastructure department.

According to department spokesperson Thami Mchunu, the taxpayer coughed up R1.3 million in the previous financial year to buy generators and install them at the official residences of Cabinet members and deputy ministers. So far in the current financial year, which started on April 1, the figure is R681 000.

Running the devices cost R31 750 in the previous financial year. With the dramatic increase in load shedding since April 1, and the recent stage 6 load shedding, the amount has risen to R621 000.

Mchunu confirmed that Bryntirion Estate in Pretoria, where the official residences of President Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President David Mabuza, and several ministers and deputy ministers are located, does not have to endure load shedding.

However, there is no agreement between the department and the Tshwane metro council to keep the lights on.

The metro council, which is run by a DA-led coalition, therefore makes its own decisions.

The council declined to answer questions about this, apparently for reasons related to “state security” and to maintain the confidentiality of its contracts with customers.

However, the council is being questioned by the DA’s spokesperson on public enterprises, Ghaleb Cachalia, who said the decision was nonsensical.

Vally Padayachee, special adviser to the Association of Municipal Electricity Utilities, who has played a leading role in setting the standard adopted by the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) and in regulating load shedding, known as NRS 048, also believes that state safety cannot be used as an excuse for not answering questions about load shedding.

Cachalia has taken issue with the fact that ministers in Bryntirion Estate are exempt from load shedding while even hospitals have to suffer through it.

Cachalia said:

The DA will write to Nersa calling for an immediate review of the NRS regulations. Hospitals should be designated as exempt from load shedding as a matter of urgency, and the pampered Cabinet’s Bryntirion Estate should be placed on load shedding schedules just as everyone else.

It was pointed out to Cachalia that the decision to exempt Bryntirion rests with the Tshwane metro council, where his party colleague Randall Williams is the mayor.

Asked if he had called Williams out on the issue, Cachalia replied that Tshwane’s mayoral committee member for infrastructure, Daryl Johnston, had explained to the SABC during a discussion that Bryntirion was not experiencing load shedding simply because it is served by the same substation as the Union Buildings.

The Union Buildings, as the seat of government in Pretoria, and Parliament in Cape Town are the only two properties that are explicitly exempt from load shedding, according to the standard.

However, the standard makes it clear that if any property in the other categories that qualify for exemption also escapes load shedding, the power distributor must isolate that property so that others do not escape load shedding as well.

According to sources in Tshwane, however, it would require too much manpower to isolate the Union Buildings.

Grandi Theunissen, Freedom Front Plus caucus leader in Tshwane, told Rapport that the party would request a report from the section 79 oversight committee for utilities to find out what the process was to apply for exemption and what exemptions had so far been granted.

The matter will also be escalated to party structures on provincial and national level to ensure transparency, he said.

Load shedding must be applied as widely as possible because if one consumer escapes it, others have to go through it more often to ensure the savings that Eskom requires, according to the standard.

Padayachee says anyone is free to apply for an exemption, but they will have to motivate for it according to the guidelines in the standard.

However, both the Johannesburg and Cape Town metro councils admitted to the publication that they had no formal application process.

Padayachee says requests can be made telephonically in case of an emergency, such as when a hospital’s generator fails, but then it must be done formally so that there is a record of such decisions.

According to the standard, the power distributor can exempt certain consumers such as hospitals and exclude them from load shedding in emergencies. Others, such as oil refineries, must be omitted. If the distributor wants to exempt any property that is not provided for in the standard, it must apply to Nersa, which must publish the list of such properties if they are approved.

However, Nersa spokesperson Charles Hlebela confirmed that the regulator had not received such applications, so there was no such list.

Professor Bernard Bekink of the public law department at the University of Pretoria believes that it is extremely important that the standard be applied in a transparent manner.

He says:

If there is a permanent exclusion, the public must be allowed to request the reasons for the decision to determine whether the decision is justified.

According to him, the Tshwane metro council cannot hide behind state security to draw a veil over its decisions.

“Load shedding has a wide impact on the rights of the public. It cannot be applied arbitrarily. It affects safety, health, the economy and transport, and there must be good reasons to exclude someone from it.”

He says secrecy creates room for irregularities, mismanagement and unethical actions.

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