Sipho Mabena

By Sipho Mabena

Premium Journalist

Electricity state of disaster cost more than R1 million in legal fees, achieved little else

The declaration of an electricity state of disaster has been described as no more than a political ploy to appease the public ahead of the elections.

Government’s decision to withdraw the electricity state of disaster is likely to cost the taxpayer over R1 million just in legal fees, while there was no need for the declaration in the first place since there was existing legislation to manage the crisis. 

This is according to Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse’s (Outa) head of Accountability Division Advocate Stefanie Fick, who said the declaration was entirely based on political considerations ahead of the next year’s elections.

“It was more of a political decision. I do not know how to put it differently… In law they were not able to declare a state of disaster,” she said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced during his State of the Nation Address on 9 February that government had declared a National State of Disaster to respond to the electricity crisis and its effects.

But on 16 February, Outa approached the High Court in Pretoria to review and overturn the decision, arguing that though the electricity shortage was a crisis, there was concern this would be used to enable corruption, while existing law could be used to manage the crisis.

Also Read: Eskom’s accounting exemption is as corrupt as it gets

Costly blunder

“The energy crisis is a disaster but is it a disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act? So that is why we brought the application. We filed our affidavit and they had to file the record on which this decision was based,” Fick said.

She said after the state had filed the record, Outa filed a supplementary affidavit pointing out it was clear from the record that two days before the declaration, everyone agreed there was no need for the electricity state of disaster

On 5 April, the State Attorney’s office informed the organisation of the, rendering the application moot, and offered to pay Outa’s wasted court costs in the case.

ALSO READ: Govt withdraws Eskom’s national state of disaster on electricity

Fick said their costs for the case could easily come to R1 million and that the state also has to pay trade union Solidarity’s legal costs, as the union had also filed papers for the case.

She said the withdrawal of the State of Disaster, which would have relaxed regulatory requirements, including procurement regulations, will have no impact on Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa to deliver on his mandate to end load shedding.

“There is existing legislation to enable Eskom to procure faster…there is preferential Procurement Policy to be able to that,” Fick added.

No end in sight

But Politics and Public Policy Lecturer at the Tshwane University of Technology Dr Levy Ndou said government had no choice but to declare the national state of disaster to rapidly solve the power crisis.

He said government’s blunder was rushing to make the declaration without ensuring that this adhered to the Disaster Management Act.

“Without the [electricity] state of disaster, we might be stay with load shedding for the longest of time because in terms of procure policies, they might take longer to purchase quicker. With the state of disaster in place it would enable government to relax the rules and regulations so they could purchase what is needed as quickly as possible,” he said.

ALSO READ: Is DA contradicting itself over energy crisis state of disaster?

Ndou concluded that the withdrawal of the state of disaster will hinder Ramokgopa’s ability to end load shedding sooner.

Director of Student Governance and Development at the Nelson Mandela University Dr Bernard Sebake agreed that the state of disaster would speed up decision-making, logistics and procurement to fast track the end to electricity crisis.

Electricity minister duplication

He said Outa’s challenge to the state of disaster was based on the massive corruption that followed the declaration of national state of disaster to deal with Covid-19.

Sebake said the government is aware of the source of the crisis, which he said was primarily corruption and low generation capacity.

He said the fact that load shedding was hovering at stage six demonstrated that the problems that have been there prior to Ramaokgopa’s appointment would not be removed overnight.

“Problems remain relatively the same; they require massive infrastructure repair or a political appetite to look at alternative energy generation. Having a [electricity] minister will not change this overnight,” Sebake said.

He added that the minister of electricity was a duplication of those in charge of Eskom who are aware of the real problem.

Ramokgopa is yet to respond to questions on how the withdrawal of the electricity state of disaster will impact on his ability to speedily end load-shedding and what was he able to achieve before the declaration was lifted.

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