Future under threat

2013-07-10 00:00

THE Mayor of uMngeni Municipality’s response to an open letter in The Witness (June 27) by the chairperson of the uMngeni Residents/Ratepayers Association (URA), should not go unchallenged. What is clear from the discourse is that our future is not safe in the hands of political parties alone; it has to be overseen and safeguarded by civic organisations such as the URA.

The mayor stated she had met with the URA on many occasions. In fact, she only met with members of the URA once (May 23). Despite an e-mailed reminder, she failed to respond to the requests tabled at that meeting, and only did so when the URA resorted to public exposure in the media. For over a year, formal requests for disclosure, including the submission of a Promotion of Access to information Act application, have fallen on deaf ears, and as a result are now subject to legal action.

Blatant misinformation has been disseminated by political interests within the uMngeni council to confuse public opinion deliberately, but in respect of the long-standing closed Interim Finance Committee, the URA’s position is simply that it is not compliant with legislation, and erodes constitutional rights of meaningful public participation, transparency and accountability. Any council meeting which bars the public from oversight, and all but three councillors, for over two years, is surely unacceptable in a democracy. The minutes reveal that the representatives were threatened against going to the press or even discussions with their own caucuses. Legal action to ensure a conventional finance committee is established is consequently also at an advanced stage.

The mayor’s attempt to distance herself from the previous term of office, excusing the current leadership as having inherited parlous municipal finances, is disingenuous. She fails to point out that, as general manager operations, she was a senior official jointly responsible through the prior official management committee.

The mayor’s surprising dismissal of raw sewage pollution into the Umgeni River is disturbing. The uMngeni community has been promised for six years, to no avail, that the sewage pump stations which spew raw human waste almost daily into the Umgeni River, as well as an unacceptable occurrence of below-standard treated effluent from the Howick Waste Water Treatment Works, would be rectified. The health danger to Shiyabazali, Muthandabisi, Thokoza, and Siphumelele residents, as well as all who utilise the Umgeni River downstream, for water, washing or leisure, is obvious for all to see — or smell. You’ll be hard-pressed to see a tube rider on what used to be the “Howick Riviera” anymore. The Howick sewerage plant would be better in the hands of Umgeni Water which could source the required funds to ensure compliance of waste-water treatment standards; and uMgungundlovu District Municipality should be called to honour its undertakings, in the Municipal Turnaround Strategy, to upgrade the sewerage pump stations with automatic screen cleaners and generators.

The municipality’s water, sewerage, electrical, road, storm-water, pavement, traffic lights, buildings, and other infrastructure have been allowed to deteriorate to such an extent (through not spending anything under the pretext of restoring the municipality’s finances under the closed Interim Finance Committee) that application of “sticky plaster” maintenance is merely cosmetic. The restoration, let alone expansion, of public infrastructure will now need hundreds of millions of rands. Although increased to R30 million, the maintenance budget is insignificant in the face of the backlog, and in any event, it remains to be seen if it will all be spent on maintenance anyway.

The mayor states that revenue collections have reached 70%. The 30% which will not be collected represents a significant sum, that together with an ongoing electricity loss of R2 million per month (10% of the entire budget per annum!), cannot be arrested without political will; it has been over a year since ratepayers were promised that this drain on the municipal coffers, which could otherwise be used for social wellbeing and infrastructure, would be turned around. While the substantial rates revenue enhancements that she refers to, and now relies on for credibility, together with her current council, were not of her doing, but in fact bravely identified and pursued by members of the uMngeni Residents/Ratepayers Association in the last term of office (from which she distances herself), despite extreme political and administrative resistance.

Democracy requires meaningful public participation, transparency, and accountability. As well as freedom of the press, which the mayor merely demonstrates she is threatened by in her reply, by playing the man and not the ball.

• Tim Lindsay-White is a former DA councillor in the uMngeni Municipality.

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