Poverty has received scant attention from an energy perspective. This is remarkable given that energy is central to the satisfaction of basic nutrition and health needs, and that energy services constitute a sizeable share of total household expenditure in developing countries.
This working paper focuses on how the affordable energy access goals of South Africa’s energy policy have been undermined: our analysis indicates that this is the result of a combination of poor system governance, the failure to allocate clear accountability for delivering affordable access, haphazard institutional alignment and an overarching failure to identify and address critical competing policy tradeoffs, particularly between affordable energy access for households and municipal financial viability.
Many of these negative outcomes originate in the local government sphere of the state — in the structure of its revenue model, in the priorities emphasised by national departments with key oversight roles over municipalities, and in the central gatekeeper role that local municipalities play in determining who gets access to subsidised services and who does not. Certainly, there are multiple weaknesses in the overarching policies that local government is responsible for implementing (which weaknesses need to be addressed), but the manner in which these have been implemented by local government has made a bad situation even worse.
The current operation of the energy distribution system is actively and significantly contributing to increased poverty and inequality, as is detailed in this working paper. Key oversight institutions are effectively reproducing and entrenching these outcomes, either by neglecting their mandated oversight roles in respect of energy access, or by emphasising competing outcomes inherently at odds with a pro-poor energy agenda.
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