Never a dull moment

With many of us away visiting GIFA/GMTN 2015 in June there was one development that you might have missed. Dubbed as “Danny Jordaan’s R100 million electricity ‘gift’ to business”, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality council has approved a deal involving 13 high-energy users in Port Elizabeth. It is not surprising if you missed the story because it was not widely publicised.

Following years of litigation and failed attempts to write off R149 million worth of debt by the companies – resulting in them withholding payment in protest at the tariff hikes imposed in the 2011/12 financial year – Jordaan managed to negotiate a settlement resulting in R100 million of that amount being written off. It has been agreed that only R45.9 million will be recovered from the businesses over a period of six months.

The agreement reached is part of a bid to save thousands of jobs, ensure the companies’ doors remain open and attract more investment. In its motivation to support the writing off of the debt, the metro maintains that it will recoup the money in the long run from the 3 800 people whose jobs were saved, as well as from the other ratepayers. Council gave city manager Mpilo Mbambisa the go-ahead recently to sign an out-of-court settlement with the companies.

The move comes after the 13 companies took the Metro to court, seeking to have the 2011/12 budget declared unlawful after the municipality introduced electricity-tariff increases of 35% higher than if they received electricity directly from Eskom.

Amongst the companies to benefit from this development are three that have a foundry as the core of their electricity consumption – Autocast SA, Borbet and Weir Heavy Bay Foundry.

There are many important factors that emanate from this decision, none more so than an ANC led Metro has realised that jobs were more important than their self-serving attitude. Rumors abounded that the companies threatened to close up their operation in the area, others were going to close shop and take their business to other provinces or countries such as Mozambique.

Threats aside, it proves that big business can stand together if they want to, and with this decision it sets a precedent that others can follow.

We are all aware of the PRASA debacle that is currently happening with the Spanish-manufactured Afro 4000 diesel locomotives, which they insist was incorrectly and misleadingly reported in the media. The lead engineer, Dr Daniel Mtimkulu, the agency’s executive manager, stands accused of not having a BTech in engineering, a Master’s or doctoral degree. He had also come under fire for not having registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa, as required by the law.

This has clouded the recent announcement that The Gibela Rail Transport Consortium (Gibela) is gearing up to start the construction of its R1 billion, 85 000m² factory complex at Dunnottar in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng. Gibela’s has a R51 billion contract to supply PRASA with 600 new trains over 10 years. The opportunity to become involved with local supply is tantalising.

However, I ask myself, has anybody checked the dimensions of these trains and are the lead engineers real or fake?