Shiceka chased over unpaid bills

2010-01-31 09:24

IT took two years for Co-operative Governance and Traditional

Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka to pay his municipal bill of R40?000.

Shiceka, who last November settled his bill for electricity and

refuse removal, municipal rates and taxes, claimed he would not pay because his

neighbours were stealing his electricity. But this week City Press visited the

leafy suburb of Vorna Valley in Midrand, north of Johannesburg, and spoke to the

neighbours, who rubbished the minister’s claims.

The neighbours asked for anonymity for fear of possible

victimisation, but they were livid.

A 28-year-old IT specialist who has been Shiceka’s neighbour since

2003 produced municipal statements proving that he had been paying his rates.

“How am I stealing his electricity if I am paying the municipality?

If he says I am stealing it, tell him to f***k off,” he fumed.

“This guy stayed here for the whole of 2007 and 2008. If his bill

dates back to June 2007 he is talking bulls***t. It sounds like he is abusing

the system, saying ‘I am a minister, I do not want to pay’.”

Another neighbour, a 45-year-old engineer and businessman who lives

opposite Shiceka, said: “If this is the case, he must report the electricity

thieves to the ­municipality. He is powerful; nobody is going to steal

electricity.”

City Press did not see any sign of illegal connections. In fact,

high walls and electrical fences surround Shiceka’s house.

The City of Johannesburg’s power utility company, City Power, could

not confirm whether or not Vorna Valley had illegal connection problems.

“We do have illegal connections all over the city but I cannot

specifically confirm whether we have that problem in Vorna Valley unless we

investigate it,” said spokesperson Louis Pieterse.

The IT specialist neighbour said Shiceka’s two sons were occupying

the house and they hosted many parties. He said they appeared to be unemployed

because they hardly left the property.

Shiceka is responsible for ensuring municipalities are

well-governed and financially viable.

His municipal turnaround strategy emphasises the importance of

paying for municipal services, yet the City of Johannesburg’s lawyers had to

hound him for more than a year to recover an outstanding balance of nearly R40

000 for services to his private house since June 2007.

Shiceka lived on the property until he moved into a state house in

Pretoria late in 2008 after he was appointed a minister.

He claimed that his bill was not accurate, which was why he had

delayed settling it.

“The reason for me not to pay the bill was that I felt it was

­inaccurate,” Shiceka said.

“It was discovered that a neighbour was stealing my electricity. I

was being charged an amount that was unfair.”

More than a year after the city’s debt collectors started

repeatedly contacting his family and his office, Shiceka finally made a lump-sum

payment to the city of R43 340 on November 6.

He claimed this week that the city conceded the “unfair” bill,

installed a new meter and promised to credit the whole amount to his municipal

account after ­finalising its probe into allegations of electricity theft and

­inaccurate billing.

Shiceka would not say why he did not pay uncontested bills such as

refuse removal, water, municipal taxes and rates. He did not know the names of

his alleged electricity thieves, but said he would recognise them if he saw

them. He had not raised the ­matter with them because they were tenants, he

said.

He insisted it was the city’s ­responsibility, not his, to take up

the issue with the “thieves”.

The City of Johannesburg would not respond to written questions

about Shiceka’s municipal account, the original amount he had owed or when and

how the bill had been settled.

Spokesperson Stan Maphologela would not say why the minister’s bill

was allowed to accumulate for two years and why water and electricity were not

discontinued as is normally the case with ordinary ratepayers.

In a terse, one-sentence response, Maphologela said: “We have done

our investigations as per your request; the account is in good standing and not

owing the City of Johannesburg.”

He sidestepped queries about the history of Shiceka’s municipal

account and would not provide a breakdown of the bill and services rendered.

Municipal records in City Press’s possession show, however, that Shiceka then

owed the city R37?323.74.

The account was handed over to Randburg-based law firm Van de

Venter, Mojapelo Inc around October 2008. Three days after a lawyer’s letter was

sent to Shiceka on December 8 2008, an amount of R12 487.87 was paid ­directly

into the city’s account.

No further payment was made from that day until a lump-sum payment

of R43 000 was made on November 6 last year. The city then cleared and updated

the ­account, which now owes R3 629.

But the Shicekas did not pay without a fight. Between January 29

and November 2 last year several people from the family and ministerial office

made empty promises to settle the account.

On June 8 they made an arrangement to settle the account in full as

soon as possible. This was followed by another empty promise to pay by September

1.

They ignored several reminder SMSes over the next 30 days.

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