/No time for Christmas, Parliament must shine a light on blackouts – Steenhuisen

No time for Christmas, Parliament must shine a light on blackouts – Steenhuisen

It is “unconscionable” that Parliament’s lights are off – not due to rolling blackouts, but because of the recess – while the country is facing an energy crisis, DA interim leader John Steenhuisen said.

Steenhuisen, Western Cape premier Alan Winde, acting Tshwane mayor Abel Tau and deputy mayor of Cape Town Ian Neilson visited the Cape Town CBD on Thursday to hear from small business owners about how they have been affected by the recent blackouts.

In a statement, Steenhuisen said he welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to cut short his trip to Egypt to deal with troubled power utility Eskom, which instituted Stage 6 blackouts on Monday.

“Now that he’s back, he must urgently address Parliament on the matter and the speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, has a duty to ensure this happens. Now is not the time for MPs to be sipping cocktails on the beach – they ought to be doing their jobs in finding solutions to SA’s energy crisis.”

Steenhuisen said he wrote to Modise about the matter and was waiting for a response.

However, he was less than impressed by Ramaphosa’s performance at Wednesday’s press briefing, which he described as “underwhelming”.

“A once again ‘surprised and shocked’ Ramaphosa stated that there was so-called ‘sabotage’ which led to the loss of 2 000 megawatts of power and that the South African Police Service and the State Security Agency will investigate this. There will be no rolling blackouts between 17 December 2019 and 13 January 2020 and Eskom’ s management team is currently working on an ’emergency recovery plan,'” read Steenhuisen’s statement.

“While this may provide some limited reprieve in the short term, it fails to address the root causes of insecure energy supply. We cannot be putting band-aids on bullet wounds. Since 2014, President Ramaphosa has been in charge of turning around Eskom’s fortunes and yet he still has no grasp of the magnitude of the crisis, and the reform that is urgently required.”

John Steenhuisen

DA interim leader John Steenhuisen outside a coffee shop in Cape Town CBD, where he spoke to small businesses about rolling blackouts. (Jan Gerber/News24)

The DA has set out six steps the national government could implement immediately to reform the energy sector. These are:

  • Eskom must be immediately be split into two entities – one for generation and the other for supply. Unlike the ANC’ s proposal, these entities must be operated independently of each other. Allowing Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to generate and supply power to the grid will secure supply and bring down the cost of electricity through competition in the energy market. This must include renewable energy sources, including wind, solar and hydro-electric power. The DA’ s Cheaper Electricity Bill aims to achieve this and Parliament should pass it;
  • Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe should at once sign permissions for IPPs to provide additional power to the grid via qualifying municipalities. “He has the power to do so with the strike of a pen. If Mantashe will not do so, President Ramaphosa must instruct him to do so, or relieve him of his duties”;
  • Eskom should be permitted to procure coal from any and all sources, and not be contractually bound to the current restricted supplier list;
  • Eskom must be sold diesel by PetroSA at a tax-free cost price;
  • All electricity consumers must have smart-meters so electricity revenue can be collected on time; and
  • Eskom employees must be declared an essential service in the economy and barred from going on strike.

He said the DA-led Western Cape, City of Cape Town, and City of Tshwane governments were in the process of formulating and implementing disaster management plans to mitigate against the effect of rolling blackouts.

On Monday, Minister of Public Service and Administration Senzo Mchunu said he didn’t know if his official ministerial residence had a generator and didn’t answer outright whether he experienced a blackout at the residence.

Steenhuisen said he stayed in the parliamentary village Acacia Park, where they have experienced blackouts. Neilson and Winde said they too have experienced blackouts.

Steenhuisen said he had it on good authority that the Department of Public Works installed generators at high costs to ministerial homes and added that ministers won’t appreciate the effects of blackouts if they’re not affected by it.

“Shed one shed all should be the motto for all public representatives,” he said.

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