By: Anna Majavu
Government-funded solar system grants for small tourism businesses are delayed in a 14-month backlog because the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) does not currently employ enough water and energy efficiency auditors to assess the energy needs of guesthouses. Vutivi News reported recently that the Tourism’ Department’s Green Tourism Investment Programme, which is managed by the IDC, opened another round of funding for bed and breakfasts to apply for solar power and rainwater harvesting tank grants of up to R1-million per business.
The grants cover between 50% and 90% of the cost of the new green water and energy systems, and SMMEs have until 30 June to apply. However, Vutivi News has been informed by an affected business that there is a backlog dating back to March 2022 in processing the grant applications. “The IDC needs to onboard more energy and water auditors. As it is, some applications submitted last year March 2022 still don’t have audit reports finalised,” said an SMME owner who did not want to be named.
“The department keeps opening new application windows, but previous applications are nowhere near finality. People are sceptical to apply because of the length of time it takes for the applications to be finalised,” said the owner. They added that rural guesthouses in villages were even more disadvantaged because the IDC application for the grant was in Excel and needed to be returned by email, which many of them lacked the capacity to do. “This goes to transformation. Can MaGogo who is running a B&B in the rural areas, who does not use Excel, access this funding?” asked the source.
But IDC head of corporate affairs, Tshepo Ramodibe, told Vutivi News that load-shedding and the rising cost of electricity had meant a huge number of SMME guesthouses had applied for the grant from March 2022. “The knock-on effect has seen an unprecedented level of applications from establishments applying for funding and posed a material challenge to the speed with which applications can be processed… the technical expertise required to conduct these audits is limited and undeniably overwhelmed by demand,” said Ramodibe.
He added that the auditors had to spend considerable time visiting each small tourism applicant – some of whom were located in the most outlying areas of the country – and monitor their electricity and water usage before advising the SMMEs which green energy system would work best for them, and only then approve the grants. The IDC was currently trying to appoint more assessors to reduce the delays in getting green energy systems funded, Ramodibe said. Meanwhile, it would continue to allow new businesses to apply for the grants because the new applications could be part-processed while other applications were audited.
Ramodibe added that rural village guesthouses were not at a disadvantage because the IDC had held several workshops on how to apply for the grant. However, Just Transition researcher and author Woodrajh Aroun said the “government is being very slow to speed up the renewable energy transition in a way that would benefit small tourism enterprises”. He said the IDC should have anticipated this problem, given the flood of applications. Also, it made little sense to offer funding and then later establish there was no capacity to audit the applications.
“There is also a tendency to prioritise megaprojects over SMMEs. There are always experts on hand to audit and process applications that are more profitable. The IDC also needs to provide a dedicated desk to assist applications from rural guest houses,” Aroun said. “I have serious doubts about whether a few workshops will suffice to meet the need of rural village guesthouses who were marginalised over all these years, especially with the focus on ecotourism shifting to guesthouses with more resources and access to lucrative markets.