A court row is brewing between two companies vying to sell prepaid electricity online to Buffalo City Metro customers.
There was chaos and confusion yesterday when contrasting company statements were sent to customers.
Residents braced themselves for the sudden arrival on October 1 of a new online company selling prepaid electricity, Utilities World.
BCM said yesterday that the old online company, Wire-IT, was out of the picture and consumers would have to register online with the new outfit by October 1.
The late announcement of the switch comes only weeks after BCM increased electricity tariffs.
Yesterday BCM sent out a flurry of text messages to customers informing them of the change.
The text is bluntly headlined: “Buffalo City Prepaid Electricity vendor change 01 Oct 2017.”
BCM then directs residents to register with Prepaid24.com, the new electronic funds transfer (EFT) and credit card payment platform.
BCM stated it had signed an agreement with a new prepaid electricity supplier, Utilities World, effective from 1 October.
Wire-IT, the company online buyers had signed up with, some for more than eight months, announced in a second statement online yesterday that they were going to court tomorrow to seek an interim interdict to stop BCM from giving the tender to Utilities World.
The new deal will kick in on Sunday.
The matter was apparently set to be heard by the East London High Court.
Attempts to contact Wire-IT on the number provided led to a call centre where the Dispatch was put on hold.
Wire-IT stated: “BCM went out on a tender for a fully managed prepayment vending and bill payment system. Contour Technology submitted a bid.
“On 28 July 2017 we were notified that our bid was unsuccessful.
“It was brought to our attention the municipality awarded the tender to Utilities World.
“We subsequently logged an objection, but BCM has categorically stated that it will be going ahead with the implementation of the new tender.
“It would have been prudent for the implementation of the new tender to be suspended until such time that the independent internal appeal was finalised, however BCM has decided to continue with the implementation while continuing with the internal appeal process in parallel.
“This makes absolutely no sense and puts the municipality and its customers at huge risk.”
Ratepayers’ associations across East London reacted with surprise and confusion.
BCM service delivery petitioners’ movement spokesman Giovanni Redcliffe said: “BCM does things without the public’s knowledge, and that is not legal.
“Some time ago, we investigated a suspicion of a third party involvement in prepaid electricity but the municipality denied this when we asked them.
“They can’t justify why prepaid electricity rates are so high, and it makes no sense.
“It’s just sad that members of the public don’t want to take a stand against BCM.”
Former chairman of the Gonubie ratepayers’ association and current DA councillor André Swart said he knew nothing about the switch.
“I’m just wondering what’s going to happen now. As long as it won’t affect people who are using the prepaid electricity services.”
Asked for comment, BCM spokesman Samkelo Ngwenya said he was surprised the news was out already. “I had intended to send out a media release tonight [Wednesday evening].
“Buffalo City has signed an agreement with a new prepaid electricity supplier, Utilities World, effective from 1 October 2017.
“This means that from 1 October 2017, people will not be able to buy through the regular online channel.
“In terms of this new agreement, Prepaid24 has been appointed as the preferred EFT and credit card payment platform for online prepaid electricity purchases in Buffalo City.”
“From 1st October, residents will be able to buy prepaid electricity online through Prepaid24 – 24/7.
“Our main priority is to ensure that the transfer from one supplier to another is seamless.
“We have sent a communique via e-mails, SMS, and even made telephone calls. We will be also be taking up adverts, posters and attaching the messaging through accounts.”
Ngwenya said new electricity purchases also could be made at selected retail stores, petrol stations and banks.
“This is a normal tendering process when a contract runs out.
“It is advertised and companies bid for it as per laws governing this country.
“We are optimistic that our people will be well taken care of and get an even better service.
“We also call on consumers who were not using the online purchasing systems to make use of this platform, especially those in remote areas where vendors are far in between.” — email@example.com