R1.5bn budget cut to electrification of SA homes after Covid-19 adjustment
MPs have slammed a proposed R1.5bn budget cut aimed at the department of energy and mineral resources' programme for household electrification.
The cuts were presented on Tuesday to the energy and mineral resources portfolio committee by the department's chief financial officer, Yvonne Chetty, in an adjusted budget.
The adjustments were made as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown which led to finance minister Tito Mboweni tabling a new budget last month.
The cuts left MPs questioning their rationale as they will affect provinces like KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.
MPs from across party lines were unanimous in their criticism of the cuts, which will see a number of South Africans waiting longer for their homes to be electrified.
The cuts are proposed for the department's integrated national electrification programme (Inep), run by Eskom and municipalities.
Chetty's presentation showed the department would be cutting R500m from the Inep run by municipalities and a further R1bn of the same programme run by Eskom.
ANC MP Thokozile Malinga questioned the rationale of the cuts, and was supported by the DA's Kevin Mileham, who said the department was defunding one of its few service delivery items.
“It strikes me that there are savings that could have been made elsewhere which would not have affected the service delivery aspects of the department as harshly, particularly, for an example, travel, catering and consultants,” said Mileham.
He said the department could save around R500m had they targeted travel, subsistence and catering which, according to him, were “nice to haves”.
EFF MP Khonziwe Hlonyana also opposed the cuts, saying they would deprive recipients of 43,000 electrical connections, and suggested the department go back and motivate for more money from the department of finance.
“We can no longer make our people stay without electricity connections,” said Hlonyana.
The ANC's Matthews Wolmarans also criticised the move, asking the department to come up with a plan to address a backlog that would be caused by the cuts.
Cheryl Phillips of the DA warned that the delay in electrification was going to be more problematic for municipalities because it forced residents to connect illegally.
“We are fooling ourselves by not electrifying the homes of people who need electricity. All we are doing is perpetuating illegal connections, and those illegal connections are costing millions of rands in damaged infrastructure for municipalities,” she said.
Chetty defended her department, saying the cuts were necessitated by the Treasury.
“This was a very difficult negotiation with the National Treasury, which had done its own pre-calculations on major service delivery programmes.
“They had put out very strict guidelines on which programme should be looked at and why. All we were looking for was to move the implementations, where possible, to a little later date into the next financial years,” said Chetty.