26 March 2012 – In response to parliamentary questions, the government of South Africa has admitted that national electricity utility Eskom was owed R533 million by 84 municipalities, and a further R10.3 million by government departments.
However, South Africa’s energy minister Dipuo Peters in providing this response did not disclose how long these debts have been outstanding nor which municipalities were in arrears, claiming client confidentiality that prohibits disclosure without their consent.
Jacques Smalle, opposition party Democratic Alliance’s deputy spokesperson on energy, says that as these are all public entities it follows that in a constitutional democracy the public is entitled to know if they are in arrears. “Customer confidentiality should never trump transparency and the public’s right to hold government to account.”
He notes that Eskom is under severe financial strain, and South Africa’s electricity distribution supply grid infrastructure maintenance backlog is currently at R35 billion and growing at an amount of R2.6 billion annually.