Labour, business sceptical about energy ‘quick fixes’

Business and labour representatives are sceptical about whether the state of disaster and the appointment of a new electricity minister that President Cyril Ramaphosa announced during his state of the nation address (Sona) this week will alleviate the energy crisis.

“We are not convinced declaring a state of disaster will help address the crisis,” Business Unity South Africa (Busa) said in a statement. However, Busa welcomed Sona’s focus on the energy crisis.

The new minister means three government ministers will be responsible for energy. The two existing ministers are Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Minerals Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe.

Cosatu parliamentary coordinator Matthew Parks told Radio 702 that South Africa did not need “a plethora of ministers” responsible for energy but one accountable person.

He welcomed the declaration of a state of disaster.

Busa said the creation of the role of minister of electricity was a bad idea as it would add to the confusion and turf wars rather than solve the problem.

“It is yet another example of failure to take bold decisions and opting instead for the soft but expensive option of adding another ministry rather than holding those ministers responsible for the crisis accountable.”

Ramaphosa said the minister of public enterprises would remain the shareholder representative of Eskom.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma gazetted the declaration of the state of disaster with immediate effect.

“The state of disaster will enable us to provide practical measures that we need to take to support businesses in the food production, storage and retail supply chain, including for the rollout of generators, solar panels and uninterrupted power supply. Where technically possible, it will enable us to exempt critical infrastructure such as hospitals and water treatment plants from loadshedding,” Ramaphosa said.

Eskom said it would study the Government Gazette to understand the implications of the state of disaster. However, the power utility declined to comment on the new ministry.

Ramaphosa said the auditor-general would monitor expenditure to guard against any abuses of the funds needed to attend to the disaster.

“We are in the grip of a profound energy crisis, the seeds of which were planted many years ago. We cannot undo the mistakes that were made in the past. What we can do is fix the problem today,” he added.

Busa said it was concerned about the potential for more corruption, such as under the Covid-19 state of disaster.

National Treasury is finalising a solution to deal with Eskom’s R400-billion debt burden.

“Government will support Eskom to secure additional funding to purchase diesel for the rest of the financial year. This should reduce the severity of loadshedding as Eskom will be able to use its diesel-run plants when the system is under strain,” Ramaphosa said.

“As indicated in July last year, we will proceed with the rollout of rooftop solar panels to address the loadshedding crisis,” the president also announced.

Busa welcomed the announcement that the government will provide incentives for rooftop solar panels.

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