Pre-paid meters are a boon for Council or another ratepayer burden?

Pre-paid meters are a boon for Council or another ratepayer burden

When the Cape Town City Council recently trumpeted the convenience of pre-paid electricity meters, it hid some inconvenient truths – the not-so beneficial results for ratepayers.

On the surface, the Council’s motive for changing to pre-paid electricity meters makes perfect sense. It does away for the need for electricity meter readers. It also eliminates the cost of sending out monthly electricity bills. Best of all from the Council viewpoint, pre-paid meters mean a drop in bad debts.

But while this action would make sense in any business, common business practice is not the way of municipalities, even one as well-run as the Mother City.

For example, reducing the number of council employees is not mentioned. Indeed, overall numbers of permanent council staff have been rising substantially.

And meter-reading, once done by Council workers, is now done by contractors. That adds more costs to be borne by the City’s 800 000 ratepayers – pretty much all of whom have had their rates substantially increased in the last few years.

None of the efficiencies claimed by the Council have been passed on to the consumer (the City’s rate-payers). Instead, council tariffs have continued to rise and the burden on consumers has simply increased.

Boasting about the success of pre-paid meters would carry more weight if it was accompanied by showing how much – in Rands and cents – pre-paid meters have saved the ratepayers.

The truth is that pre-paid meters make every householder an unpaid meter reader for the Council. Pretending that such meters are being introduced for the benefit of householders is a little rich.

Geoff Jacobs
President of the Cape Chamber