Debt write-off

2008-12-22 00:00

With all political parties in agreement, the Msunduzi municipal council has decided to write off more than R100 million in debts that cannot be recovered. Much of this amount was attributed to rates and service charge arrears owed by indigent people living in low-cost housing.

It is a sad reality that there are a great many indigent people in the community, and it is certainly preferable that they should be provided with decent housing rather than be left in dangerous and unhealthy informal shacks.

It is quite right, too, that sufficient powerand water for essential needs should be supplied free of charge, and there is a real problem when the revaluation of these homes, rather than increased income, makes genuinely indigent people liable for service charges.

All this granted, R100 million is an enormous sum to write off, especially for a municipality whose essential infrastructure is (as council was also reminded recently) in danger of collapse. Residents are all too aware of potholed roads, ill-maintained verges and dead streetlights, and not all the decay is quite so visible. While sacrifices need to be made in the interests of uplifting members of a caring society, people are entitled to demand that their municipality take proper care of the interests of those who can and do meet their obligations. Many will question whether the defaulters are indeed all genuinely indigent. Perhaps some education is needed to bring it home to indigent households that once they exceed their free basic allowance, they do become responsible for excess consumption. Theft and wastage of electricity and water need to be curbed. And, as Democratic Alliance Councillor Mark Steele observed, better debt management is called for. These debts have accumulated over a period of two years. More frequent and regular monitoring would surely help the consumers and the municipality to manage their finances better.

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