New report lays bare problems with govt's free electricity access policy

The study interrogated how the situation had worsened over the past two decades, tracking large gaps between the funding provided and the number of households who benefited from it.

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JOHANNESBURG - A new report by the Public Affairs Research Institute (Pari) said that of the 10 million poor households meant to be receiving free electricity, 5.5 million did not receive this while 2.5 million others were not connected to the electricity grid.

The study interrogated how the situation had worsened over the past two decades, tracking large gaps between the funding provided and the number of households who benefited from it.

The free basic electricity policy was meant to reduce the amount of money that poor households spent on electricity by providing them with 50 kilowatts per hour of free electricity per month.

While the report highlighted that this amount was less than what households needed every month, the policy faced even more upheaval as it made it near impossible for households to qualify for the service.

But that was not the only problem as Pari’s senior researcher, Dr Tracy Ledger, explained that there were serious problems with implementation.

"For poor households that live extremely marginal lives where every rand counts, it was an important policy. But what we've seen is that the implementation of that policy has resulted in more than two-thirds of households that should qualify for basic free electricity aren't getting it."

She said that sometimes households were registered as indigent, getting other free services such as water but not electricity, even when they had connections.

Ledger said that communities should know that they could act on this injustice.

The report blamed among others, a lack of oversight mechanisms to realise the goal of universal access to energy.

MUNICIPALITIES IGNORING MANDATE TO FUND FREE ELECTRICITY TO POOR HOUSEHOLDS

The Pari report also said that municipalities across the country pocketed R6 billion in 2019 meant to fund free electricity for poor households. However, most municipalities simply ignored this mandate and went on to use the money to fund other activities.

The report said that maximising the number of households that had access to energy had simply not been a priority for local government, something that should have been done for years.

The departments of Mineral Resources and Energy, Cooperative Government and National Treasury were among those carrying the blame for failing to make it their objective to ensure that the service was carried out.

Over five million poor households currently not receiving free electricity as promised lost out on three million megawatts hour of electricity yearly. They’ve had to supplement that with their limited income, sacrificing expenditure on essential items and worsening poverty.

Dr Ledger said that the problem had been highlighted in other studies over the years, but there had been no action from government.

"Firstly, we need to enforce this requirement that municipalities must disclose in their budgets and how many households they have supported so that it’s a matter of public record."

She said that the number of households receiving free electricity benefits had declined over the years while the number funded in the national budget had increased.

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