Interdict for district over water saga

2014-06-12 00:00

AN urgent court interdict had to be served on uMgungundlovu District Municipality to remind it that it was illegal to cut off the water supply of its residents.

However, what astonished lawyer Pat Stilwell even more was the refusal of municipal officials to accept the papers indicting the municipality to restore his client’s water supply.

“They do not realise that their actions could result in their mayor and municipal manager being incarcerated for contempt of court,” said Stilwell. However, municipal manager Sibusiso Khuzwayo believes they won’t be seeing handcuffs any time soon.

The saga started when businessmen Dawood and Yusuf Desai from Richmond bought a property in the town in 2012. It seemed the previous owner of the property had run up a water bill of some R70 000 with the uMgungundlovu District Municipality. The Desais took transfer of the property in March 2013 and shortly thereafter rented it out to three families. On May 28, the municipality allegedly cut off the water supply to the house because of the outstanding debt. Stilwell said that neither the Desais nor the tenants had signed a water supply contract with the municipality.

The Desais went to court last Friday and got an urgent order against the municipality to restore their water supply.

On Monday, June 9, the Richmond sheriff went to the municipal offices in Richmond to serve the court order. According to Stilwell, the officials there refused to accept the court papers, saying they were merely a pilot office and that the papers had to be served in Pietermaritzburg.

He said he had now instructed the sheriff to attach the court papers to the outer door of the municipal offices.

“If the municipality thereafter disobeys the court order another application will have to be made to court for the mayor and CEO of the municipality to be incarcerated for contempt of court,” Stilwell said.

“The rules of court specifically provide that in the case of corporate entities such as a municipality, the place where documents must be served is that entity’s principal place of business within the jurisdiction of the court. It is astonishing that the people in charge of the local office have been so poorly trained that they do not know this. It is equally astonishing that the municipality are continuing with the practice of cutting off water supplies even though the Supreme Court of Appeal decided in 2012 that it is illegal to do so,” he said.

Khuzwayo responded that according to the municipality’s records, the account holder for the property was a K. Moodley. The current balance on K. Moodley’s account was R83 410,17.

“Since 2009, the account holder had only paid two instalments of R1 000.”

Khuzwayo said numerous notices and demands for payment had been sent to the account holder in accordance with the municipality’s credit control and debt collection policy. No responses were received.

“Also in accordance with the said policy the account holder’s water supply was then restricted on May 26. The water supply was not disconnected as alleged,” Khuzwayo said.

He added that it was only then that Desai sought to change the ownership of the account. He was advised this would be done only once the current outstanding balance had been settled or an arrangement was made to do so.

“It is common cause that a purchaser of a property must obtain a services clearance certificate prior to transfer. This was not done and no attempts were made by Mr Desai to pay for water services rendered since the sale, transfer or occupation of the property,” said Khuwayo

He added that the actions of Stilwell — the Desais’ lawyer — were in contravention of the Municipal Systems Act as well as the court rules. “Accordingly, the municipality has not been served with any court process. It should be noted that uMgungundlovu District Municipality is the duly appointed water services authority (WSA) and not Richmond Local Municipality, and thus the attorney must serve papers with the WSA and not take issue with the local municipality which has no jurisdiction on this water matter.”

Stilwell said his clients paid all the money requested by the conveyancing lawyers when the property was registered and believed the property was free of debt when transfer was registered.

He added that the court was satisfied that the case was sufficiently urgent to justify the granting of an order and that the municipality have the opportunity to oppose the granting of a final order on July 11. In the meantime, however, the municipality must reconnect the water until then.

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