Don’t-care council

2009-08-24 00:00

At 87 years of age, Lingapa Moodley is a fit man who continues to take part in just about every fun walk in the city. Well over 200 medals are displayed on a wall in his lounge and he has a cabinet full of trophies. His friends say his fitness helped him withstand the shock dished out to him by the Msunduzi Municipality.

Moodley lives in Northdale, in Andhra Road. It is a misnomer to call it a road — it is just a concrete path. His is a semi-detached, two-bedroomed council house made of blocks. The walls inside and out are not plastered; there are no ceilings, just an asbestos roof. Tin doors complete his abode. This is a house the municipality built and now clearly considers an architectural feat. It has been valued at R1 million. Moodley, a spritely pensioner, was not to be beaten. He filled in the objection forms and wrote a letter describing his property. The municipality, generously reduced the value to R860 000.

After the public outcry over the valuations, council in its wisdom, scrapped the first valuation process, engaged the same consultants, and at an additional R25 million got them to re-do the entire process. The value of Moodley’s home stayed at R860 000. He objected during the second objection process. This time the value of his house was reduced to R765 000. Ironically, the other half of the semi-detached property, which was renovated, has been valued at a lot less.

This month Moodley received his consolidated bill from the municipality and agrees that if he did not have a strong constitution, he could have collapsed from the shock. His bill is for over R800, more than half his pension. A despairing Moodley says that after paying the municipality, he will have no money for food. What really upsets him is that after lodging his objections, neither the valuers nor anyone from the municipality bothered to check the property for themselves.

The pensioner’s plight cannot be dismissed as an error; after all, he drew the authorities’ attention to the matter not once but twice. Moodley’s case seems to indicate that whoever is in charge is not reading through the objections, but simply reducing the valuation on each form by 10%. His story is a metaphor for all that is wrong at city hall — no one seems to care, not about the public, not about how they do their job and certainly not about the poor.

No doubt councillors will point out their own dissatisfaction with the valuation process and that they are withholding payment from the consultants. However, this is an example of the back-to- front way council operates. It would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating. The municipality happily paid the consultants R24 million for re-doing the valuation and is now quibbling over the outstanding R1 million that still has to be paid. Such is council’s determination that it is even prepared to go to court over this matter. It is ratepayers who will have to foot the bill for this frolic.

A Witness reader has pointed out that the municipality has a phone number — 033 392 2296 — for valuation inquiries. He says that if you call this number the response is: “The municipality is busy processing 9 000 objections and you will get a letter in due course. In the meantime you must pay the bill in full. If you should get an adjustment, money will not be paid back to you, but will be credited to your account.” He adds that the unspoken part, but clearly stated on the bill, is that if you pay less you will be charged high interest and could have your services disconnected. Surely, he says, “this cannot be legal or ethical”.

The reader implores The Witness to do something about the situation. Yes, while the newspaper can play a watchdog role, more needs to be done. Where are the residents’ and ratepayers’ associations — the voice of civil society? Why are we all so silent? Perhaps our silence leaves us the municipality we deserve. It is not just the valuation process: there is much more going on at city hall that requires an active and vigilant citizenry.

One example is the council paying R230 million of ratepayers’ money for an electronic meter reading system for the city. All well and good, but what about the city’s ageing infrastructure — water pipes bursting all over, power sub-stations exploding and a limited budget to carry out repairs? We may end up with spanking new electronic meters, but no water or electricity to measure because the pipes and wires are no longer functional. The electronic meter reading tender certainly requires closer scrutiny.

A more pressing issue for now, however, is helping Lingapa Moodley.

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