/ 19 March 2008

Outrage at proposed Eskom tariff hikes

Political parties and union leaders were outraged on Wednesday over Eskom’s proposed tariff hike of 53% and the devastating effect it would have on the country.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said it was absolutely horrified at the proposal and demanded an extended consultation process on Eskom’s latest plans.

It wanted a freeze on price hikes until all options had been considered.

Cosatu said it had already condemned the National Electricity Regulator (Nersa) in December last year for giving permission for Eskom to increase electricity prices by 14,2%.

”We said then, and repeat with greater force … that the costs of meeting the country’s energy needs must not be passed on to already hard-pressed consumers and poor households. Alternative sources of income must be explored.”

The African National Congress (ANC) said the proposed hike would affect poor communities most.

”We find it unfair that while Eskom has not demonstrated any ability in dealing adequately with the current power crisis, they are eager to call for tariff hikes that would hit consumers hard in the pocket,” the ruling party said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Nersa announced that the power utility had officially applied for a 53% tariff increase.

The ANC said: ”The South African Reserve Bank has … warned in its quarterly bulletin that higher electricity prices remain a threat to inflation.”

The party urged Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin to take up the matter with Eskom.

The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) said it was ”outrageous” that South Africans would have to pay more for electricity despite continuing power cuts.

”There appears to be no end to the outrageous demands and failures of Eskom,” said ACDP MP Hendry Cupido.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) said the proposed increase was ”an absolute national disgrace” and it would oppose the ”shameful” hike in any way possible.

It said the poorest of the poor were going to be affected the most and that the blackouts, excuses and contradicting statements by Eskom had destroyed all confidence in the organisation.

”Their latest blunder of advising the construction industry that they will not be supplied with licences, or power, for future large developments was the last straw,” it said.

FF Plus spokesperson Willie Spies said the party would later on Wednesday request that Nersa and the Public Protector investigate the proposed tariff increases.

The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) said the hike was ”very radical”.

”Not only will it have serious cost implications for consumers generally, it will seriously affect business competitiveness throughout the economy and impose constraints on growth,” said Sacci president Alwyn Louw.

”This request by Eskom is far higher than the current inflation rate. If granted it would push inflation rates up and would be tantamount to fast-forwarding this cost structure much, much ahead of projected inflation targets,” he said.

Business Leadership South Africa said that while it was ”extremely mindful” of some of the consequences for consumers, inflation and business, the tariff increases over the next few years were integral to solving the energy crisis in the country.

It said, however, that it was not ”necessarily endorsing the current specific request” by Eskom.

”Though this may appear to be harsh medicine, the depth of the energy crisis does not allow South Africa the luxury of easy alternatives,” the association said.

Eskom was expected to release a statement later on Wednesday. — Sapa