R300m debt haunts Ficksburg’s plans to rebuild

2012-11-10 16:47

The Setsoto Local Municipality has appointed a debt collector to reclaim R300 million in outstanding rates and services bills.

The move looks set to put the municipality, based in slain community activist Andries Tatane’s hometown of Ficksburg, on a collision course with the Meqheleng Concerned Citizens (MCC).

The organisation’s spokesperson, Sam Motseare, said the residents were unhappy to pay for services they didn’t get. But municipal manager Tshepiso Ramakarane said it would be irresponsible to simply write off
the debt.

Motseare said: “One of the key challenges facing local government in the country is spiralling debt, which cripples the ability of municipalities to render basic services.

“It would therefore be irresponsible to simply willy-nilly write off debt of R300 million when the municipality is faced with such huge challenges.”

He said appointing a debt collector was part of the municipality’s efforts to strengthen its revenue and debt management efforts.

“This is a standard practice the world over – you owe, you pay – unless you are indeed an indigent in line with municipal policy.”

Ramakarane, who was seconded to the troubled municipality last year, said the municipality was busy fixing the sewage spills and building a pump station, which was not properly constructed when the project was first implemented.

Earlier this year, he told City Press that previous contractors got away with R197 million after they failed to properly lay down sewage pipes – digging trenches and simply filling them up again.

The bucket eradication project, he added, was “fundamentally flawed” at the start “and as a result, remedial or corrective measures are going to be very costly”.

Ramakarane said: “A detailed plan with costing implications has already been submitted to the ministerial
task team at the department of human settlements. As an immediate response to the problem, however, the municipality has been able to mitigate against spillages that resulted in raw sewage flowing through the streets of Meqheleng.

“This intervention was made possible through support and funding by both the departments of water affairs and cooperative governance. We can safely report that the refurbished pump station is now fully functional and the pipeline to the pump station has been completely installed.”

He explained that the first draft of a report from a forensic investigation team – set up to investigate irregularly awarded contracts, alleged nepotism, fraud, theft and maladministration – was submitted to the cooperative governance department and the final draft will be released soon.

“Suffice to say, depending on the findings and recommendations to be submitted, the municipality will leave
no stone unturned in ensuring that those responsible are brought to book.”

Ramakarane said a dedicated water pipeline to Meqheleng, which began in May, is “about 45% complete”.

The tarring of a 2.3km stretch of road and a storm-water drainage project are 90% done and are expected to be finished by the end of the month.

And all but one vacant senior positions have been filled.

All buildings burnt down or damaged during the community protests have been repaired either through insurance cover or by the provincial department of public works.

The multi-purpose sports complex in Meqheleng was the flagship Municipal Infrastructure Grant project for the year.

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