• SA Ratepayers now have their very own Facebook group! Please go online and join at http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=taxpayers&init=quick#!/group.php?gid=372830810387&ref=search&sid=568424523.2514304017..1
• I have received several letters from people interested in starting or resuscitating Ratepayers Associations. This is the best possible news. Just to assist, perhaps a little background would be useful: before 2000, ratepayer associations were relatively active and successful. However, after the new Demarcation Act was introduced, the government proposed Ward Committees, which were supposed to do the work of Ratepayers Associations. The idea was, actually, a good one: instead of just ratepayers being represented, all residents – not just ratepayers – in a ward would enjoy equal representation. However, like many good government ideas, this one just didn’t work. There were a few instances where the ward committee did its job, but in most cases the ward committees were very quickly dysfunctional. This vital link, therefore, between local government and residents was broken. Ratepayers’s associations rose up again, as a result of the huge gap. At first, the local government did not want to acknowledge the legitimacy of RAs, which caused a problem. However, the law clearly states that all citizen groups must be acknowledged as role-players in government, which is why the RAs are enjoying a resurgence. There is no doubt that a good, active RA can make the world of difference to service delivery. Many organizations have called themselves Residents Associations, in order to include non-ratepaying residents, and these are even more successful. So – if you are thinking of starting or joining your local RA – what are you waiting for? If you care at all about your quality of life, this initiative has proved to be the most active and effective way of engaging with local government.
• Mrs Esme vd Merwe of Durban contacted me with a problem. She had bought a house from the railways in the late 90s, and the then-SAR paid up rates for a year in advance. The first time she received a rates bill was after the re-evaluation of properties in 2008, when her property was valued at R800 000, and she began paying rates accordingly from the new valuation. A few months ago she received a letter from the municipality, telling her that they had now discovered they had not been billing her for the better part of ten years, and that her arrears had suddenly become due. They required an immediate payment of R38 000. Esme went to visit the municipal office to ask if it was possible to pay this sum off over a period of time, as the lump sum was beyond her means. The municipality replied by cutting off her electricity until she is paid up in full.
I have advised Esme to declare a dispute with the municipality with immediate effect. Firstly, the arrears bill she received does not comply with the Property Rates Act, as it does not state the previous value of her property or the means by which the municipality arrived at the sum owing. I am also not too sure about the proscription of this debt, as it is decades old. She is to give the municipality 24 hours to reconnect her electricity, and if they do not do so, the NTU will support her in getting an interdict. There might be some costs involved, and she is in no position to pay for a lawyer (one of the greatest ironies of civil action is that it usually requires you to rack up legal debts, while the municipality uses your money to fight you in court!). However, I am going to try to get someone to handle this case pro bono, as it is a test case for Durban.
There are many people in similar situations, who are faced with exactly the same arrogance and insensitivity from officialdom. I will keep you informed.
• In related news, the RA of Underberg is about to declare a dispute with their municipality over budget discrepancies. They are already in talks with KZN MEC for Finance, Ina Cronje, who has been tasked with investigating local governments in KZN that are abusing funds. If their talks with Mrs Cronje (who, I must say, is a very competent MEC) do not bear fruit, they will take the step of declaring a dispute.
• Kimberley’s four refuse-removal trucks are non-functional, and the residents of Kimberley are forced to remove their own refuse. This has been the case since the middle of March. The municipality says that all four trucks are beyond repair and they are waiting for the delivery of two new ones. In the meantime, rubbish has been piling up on street corners and in informal dumping areas, where in many cases it has created a health hazard.
• The Cullinan Ratepayers Association says it has established a good relationship with the new Acting Municipal Manager and is optimistic that progress with be made. The relationship with the previous municipal manager was adversarial and confrontational, but the approach of the new incumbent is very different. This is again a case of where a Ratepayers Association is forming a vital link between the residents and the municipality.
• Municipal workers in Brits have gone on strike, demanding the removal of the town’s mayor. They are unhappy, they say, with political interference in the running of the municipality, and the council’s appointment of outside contractors to do municipal worker’s jobs.
• Local Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka has said that government departments are also culprits when it comes to non-payment for services. He was speaking at the launch of the turn-around strategy. He expressed dissatisfaction at the level of skills in municipalities, but promised that the government was busy upgrading skills at the local level. Personal comment: This is all fine talk, but at least the minister has set deadlines. Let’s see if these deadlines are met and what the results will be.
• April: every municipality will have been visited to find out the situation on the ground
• May/June: the budget requested by each municipality for a roll-out of the Turnaround Strategy will be approved.
• August/September: each of the 3 890 wards will be told which specific projects have been earmarked for their improvement.
• In a bizarre case of political deployment, the mayor of Welkom is trading places with the mayor of Bethlehem. Neither of these two officials are known to be good at their job. The reasoning behind the swap has not been explained, nor has there been any explanation who will pay the costs of accommodation or travel for these two traveling mayors. If anyone can give me a follow-up on this story, I would be very grateful.
• The RA of Brits is gathering affidavits in order to get a warrant of arrest for the mayor and the acting municipal manager. This follows allegations that the municipality is charging increased rates and tariffs that have not been approved through due process, and that they are allowing raw sewage to flow into the river from which Brits gets its water.
• In Beaufort West, the municipality began with legal action against its Ratepayers for withholding rates. However, they dropped the charges when it was discovered that the municipality had not applied to NERSA for permission to implement the new electricity tariffs. The RA issues a regular bulletin over ratepayer issues – if you would like to be on this mailing list, please contact Louis at email@example.com
• If you would like to be placed on this mailing list, please send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org
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